An Open Letter to New Simmers

October 19, 2023

With the newest version of Microsoft's famed flight simulator series being available as a console title, it's now accessible to many people who may have never had an interest in flight simulation. This is an open letter to those people and maybe some of this will be relevant to those who have been around a while as well. To start this off I'd like to tell you about my background in both flight simulation and aviation.

For as long as I can remember I've had an interest in aviation and I'm almost certain it started when my dad would take me to Vancouver International Airport to watch the incoming arrivals on what is now 08R. I also at that same time had an old carry-on bag full of 1:400 scale die-cast planes, my favorite being the CP Air 747 which was very well-loved. As I got older I started to learn how to identify different planes and airlines. When I was nine FS2004 came out and I remember when Dad and I would go to the mall we'd always stop off at RadioShack to look around and the one near us had installed a copy of FS2004 on their demo computers. My dad and I were both amazed by the fact that you could fly in and out of YVR in what looked to be pretty close to the actual airport (at least for 2004 standards). Shortly after my parents separated my dad moved back in with my grandparents and shortly after they upgraded their computer to a Dell Dimension 3000 which just barely had the minimum specs for the newly released Flight Simulator X and this was my first true taste of flight simulation. 

At that time I didn't know anything about flight simulator add ons and as a 9-year-old I wasn't spending any time on forums to learn about them so our experience was the base game and a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro joystick. Early on I was very much drawn to the Beechcraft King Air and because of a recent vacation I spent many hours flying around the Hawaiian Islands. 

Fast-forward seventeen years (ouch) and just based on my steam hours I've amassed nearly 5500 hours between four different simulators. I tell you this in hopes that you can better understand my viewpoint for what I'm hoping to say. 

I've noticed recently that there's a very large divide between great add-ons and those that aren't. This doesn't necessarily apply so much to freeware options as I believe releasing freeware is a great way for developers to hone their skills and for this reason, you won't ever find me complaining about a freeware product (though I may offer some constructive criticisms). However what I truly wish some developers on what we'll call the lower end of the spectrum would realize is that when it comes to hobbies, flight sim gets very expensive very quickly. It's very easy to spend thousands just on the specialized hardware needed. So for some of these developers to be releasing such basic aircraft with many bugs I feel is both unfair and not right. Luckily to combat this tons of developers are willing to put everything they have into their products as well as be there when users experience difficulties with them. 

So for those who have decided to give this wonderful hobby a try, I have some advice I'd like to pass on. When you're looking to spend your money on something in this hobby make sure you do your research. My usual go-to is YouTube. There are many channels dedicated to producing high-quality, factual reviews of flight sim products (for example: Q8 Pilot, AvAngel, and flightdeck2sim). Other places I'll look is different social media websites like Facebook and Reddit. There are also of course websites like Threshold. 

Another piece of advice I'd like to offer is that study level doesn't necessarily mean that it's good. Ultimately, like any hobby, the point of home flight simulation is to have fun. If you're looking to just fly around with friends or maybe recreate a flight you were on study study-level aircraft may not be what you're looking for. I know lots of people who when they boot up MSFS are just looking to explore the world, and for stuff like that the default plane options are more than enough. That being said if you do want the challenge of having to learn proper procedures or fly with more realistic performance then absolutely study level is the way to go. 

The last piece of advice I'm gonna offer is to step outside your comfort zone every once in a while. When I talk to people who are new to flight sims I often hear stuff like "I'd love to try something like vatsim but I don't want to get in the way" or "Group flying looks awesome but I don't have anyone to fly with". One thing I love about the flight sim community is how welcoming most people are. I've made many lifelong friends in this hobby and some of my favorite memories are those little hiccups you hear on vatsim or someone in the group flight overshooting the runway because they got distracted. It's a very welcoming community and many groups are willing to take the time to help you learn whatever it is you want to learn. 

Ultimately I think Microsoft Flight Simulator being available as a console title is one of the greatest things to happen to flight simulation. The more people are exposed to it we get more and more developers who get involved as well as more real-world aviation companies who are willing to have their products in the sim world. 

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