It's Time To Ditch Captain Sim And Their Dire Ethics

May 25, 2021
Ethical

In flight simulation, there's no shortage of poor decisions and unethical options that are either oversights or, more commonly, conjured to extract every last penny from our bank accounts. Yet, our love for the hobby continues to fuel the ridiculous desires some developers pursue, with the gullible and unaware making up a significant proportion of users who support these developers. With flight simulation becoming an ever-more accessible hobby in recent years, is it any wonder things have taken a sour turn for the worse?

One such developer that couldn't care less for their users in recent years is Captain Sim, a name that will be familiar to many in the Prepar3D scene. Some have jokingly given the company the nicknames “Captain Meme”, “Craptain Sim” or “Captain Scam” for reasons that will explain themselves in this article. That aside, they recently released their first product for Microsoft Flight Simulator, the 777 Captain III, but made no hesitation in how they'd go about selling it in an unethical fashion: throwing a legal threat to a file sharing service for Microsoft Flight Simulator and continuing to claim others' work as their own. And that doesn't even take into account how shockingly lacklustre the product actually is. This is topped off by other poor practices they employ, which are highly questionable and likely illegal.

Before I discuss Captain Sim in more detail, a lot of the controversies we have seen can be attributed to "flight sim drama": individuals or groups seeking attention and/or something that benefits them, and only them and screwing everything up in the process. Much of this is either rectified or forgotten about, but the bigger stories end up tarnishing a developer's reputation pretty badly. Examples of the latter include projectFLY v4, Military Visualizations' failed ATR-72 project for X-Plane, and Flightsimlabs' malware scandal which was so bad, it made headlines in the wider gaming industry. With this in mind, what Captain Sim has done recently or indeed in the past is less "flight sim drama", but stems more from the fact the company has been run pretty abysmally from an executive standpoint.

The 777 Captain III

So where did Captain Sim go wrong with regards to their 777 Captain III? The key issue is with the depth of the systems inside this aircraft: they are there to be laughed or cried at, depending on whether you think your money was well-spent or not. Their aircraft makes use of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s default avionics, and as X-Plane is my primary choice of simulator, I’m very much aware of how the default avionics can be utilised that can make or break an aircraft when it comes to payware products. This logic can be applied reasonably well to this product, which suggests there was an abhorrent or no attempt whatsoever to take the default systems and apply it to their 777.

Let’s take a closer look at why this is so. In the screenshot below, which was on the product page as of the time of writing, you can see a very visually appealing cockpit of the 777 in-flight, but look closer and you’ll notice something’s amiss.

The cringeworthy cockpit of the 777 Captain III, sourced straight from the product page | Credit: Captain Sim

Yes, they’ve used the default 747 avionics. There’s nothing particularly wrong with using default systems as I’ve already mentioned, but it’s how they have been implemented that is the issue. Take a look at the lower EICAS display. Does that not look like two engines on the left wing and crudely hidden by the yoke, two engines on the right wing? Moreover, the FMC indicates the aircraft is in distress and wants to be identified as anything other than the monstrosity Captain Sim created. A keen eye is all that is needed to realise Captain Sim’s efforts are just dire in this department, and the worst part of this is I’m looking at a marketing screenshot on their freaking product page.

This brings me neatly onto Captain Sim’s visuals versus systems. This developer is seriously good at making aircraft look pretty, assuming this is in-house work and not externally contracted (which is common in flight simulation). Away from the systems, the artwork of the cabin, cockpit, and exterior is impressive and is easily enough to draw in prospective buyers into waving goodbye to US $29.99 for good. If you simply don’t care about the depth of the systems and are after pure eye candy, then Captain Sim becomes a very attractive developer to support, but minus the knowledge of the tactics they use to make this the case. This is a large part of why users are happy with their purchases of Captain Sim products, even if they have to spend in excess of US $200 for a single aircraft and its expansion packs. Speaking of, I’ll let you be the judge of those expansion packs, which can more than double the price of one of their base aircraft.

A closeup of the lower EICAS display, showing a 777 with four dysfunctional engines

Furthermore, the flight simulation community is incredibly diverse but the two most important factors for users are an aircraft’s instruments/avionics and flight dynamics realism, according to Navigraph’s 2020 community survey. The visual representation of the cockpit is almost equally as important, but the exterior less so. Therefore, it would make sense to strike a balance between visuals and avionics that would give the best overall satisfaction. Captain Sim, as you can probably guess by now, made the decision to shunt the aircraft out of their production line so fast to make a quick buck, they didn’t just cut corners – they avoided touching anything even remotely important in the make-or-break scenario related to the implementation of default avionics aforementioned, thereby leading to a considerable indifference between the 777's systems and aesthetics.

And it only gets worse. Captain Sim admitted they rushed the product on their Facebook page through some rather shocking replies, and many of their followers weren’t afraid of voicing their stark opinions on top. The release post has a vast mixture of likes, laughing and angry reactions, with the top comment having a bit less than half that number but of supportive reactions. It came from a user who is bitterly disappointed by their efforts, to which Captain Sim replied:

“Advanced systems programing takes years and that 777 could cost $100+.”

When I read that reply, my jaw hit the floor. They already made aircraft that (are supposed to) cost US $100+, so what’s changed? Why didn’t they bother taking that time and giving themselves a reputation to be proud of? Perhaps they like their current reputation. It’s reminiscent of a boulder crashing down a steep mountain: it will only go lower, and in the process what good reputation they do have is continuously chipped away.

Then, Captain Sim asserted their 777 is “worth every penny of the $29.99”. Both of the replies garnered an overwhelming number of laughing reactions, and rightfully so. Hear me out Captain Sim: the 777 Captain III is not worth your asking price. You couldn’t even face the backlash, hence you deleted your Tweet and turned off comments on the Facebook posts. But I suppose your heads are buried too deep where the sun doesn’t shine to get the faintest whisper of what I could communicate to you. 

The Flightsim.to Legal Threat

I’ve seen a few lawsuits – both threats and the real deal – in and out of the public eye in this hobby; this one is up there with Flight Sim Labs as one of the most ridiculous, given the childish nature of the threat. In short, Captain Sim had acted like a dictator with their liveries copyright policy to begin with, but altered it to exert full dominance over the 777 before backstepping a week after the aircraft’s release. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine saved a snapshot of the webpage back in 2016 and it has some spicy clauses, namely clause 10 which reads:

The liveries copyright policy as it was in 2016

“10. All repaints (free liveries) created using Captain Sim Repaint Kit remain a property of Captain Sim.”

Whilst the policy was changed and shuffled about a bit, clause 4 of the policy was adjusted after the aircraft’s release to read:

“4. All Free Liveries for the 777 Captain III must be published via ACE only. No one is allowed to publish the 777 Captain III Free Liveries elsewhere.”

Given an infinitesimally small number of people read legal text, it hardly raises an eyebrow such a legal takedown request was issued by Captain Sim to Flightsim.to and it only harmed the flight simulation community. In Flightsim.to’s press release, the file-sharing website added:

“It is all the more unfortunate that a developer wants to limit the sharing of free content and claims unrestricted ownership of all user-created contents.”

Flightsim.to’s press release with regards to the threat of legal action | Credit: Flightsim.to

I couldn’t agree more. Thousands of us have created liveries for various aircraft and uploaded them to share our love, and whilst we shouldn’t expect them to be completely free of copyright, claiming outright ownership over someone else’s modifications is a really bad move. I cannot think of another developer who employs such a strict policy; creating and sharing liveries is a fantastic way for others to quickly fall in love with an aircraft and Captain Sim turned away a number of customers based on this argument.

Realising they created an autocratic livery system, Captain Sim tried undoing what they did by allowing all community liveries to be uploaded anywhere, but the concrete has already set and the damage is done. I’m a little disappointed Flightsim.to began hosting liveries for the aircraft again as this makes it seem as though Captain Sim’s actions are justified, but at least they realise Captain Sim can still redistribute user-created liveries at will without asking for permission. Their copyright policy has since undergone a very lengthy rewrite and now helps sharpen the clarity of Captain Sim’s ugly business model.

The liveries uploaded/claimed as their own through their website are also poor in quality. Many descriptions read:

“1. Fake 8K with errors and THREE times heavier! 2. Lost transparency of pax windows.”

Again, this goes to show Captain Sim has no set standard and is only in it for the money. Shame they didn’t approve the Captain Sim True Colors livery as seen in the cover image of this article though. Let’s be real – we would have liked that quite a bit.

On top of this, Parallel 42 shut out the possibility on Twitter of developing any further immersion packages for Captain Sim’s products:

“We stand behind community sentiment and will no longer consider Immersion packages or other tie-ins with CaptainSim products. Not only is this action in poor taste, but it's also likely not legal.”

That last bit speaks for itself. Perhaps, Captain Sim has broken consumer laws already...

The Illegal Pricing Structure Of Their Products

When you see a product on sale, the natural thing to assume is that you are getting a deal of some sorts, no matter how small. If you’ve visited Captain Sim’s store previously on several occasions, you will know many of their products have been discounted for long periods. But how long is too long?

According to my research, core members of Captain Sim are located in Russia, Ukraine and Canada. The latter is where correspondence for a registered trademark of their logo points to, and having asked around the community, they too believe the company is primarily located in Canada.

With that knowledge, I looked up consumer rights laws in Canada and sure enough, the Competition Bureau Canada – an independent law enforcement agency – has measures in place that work against Captain Sim. According to subsections 74.01(2) and 74.01(3) of the Competition Act they enforce, it is illegal to sell something with the intent to misrepresent the actual price of the product, including offering the product on sale for a “substantial period of time”.

How long they have discounted products cannot be known for sure, but the Wayback Machine suggests they have been at it for at least seven years. And if my research is incorrect or they are registered in another country, the morals behind this remain the same: Captain Sim wants cash, and they will exploit the unaware in order to do so. I remember Captain Sim releasing their Boeing 767 rendition for Prepar3D in 2020, offering it at full price before cutting that price down five minutes later. It’s a shameful way to run a business and one that should be actively discouraged. To the developers and stores who deploy business models like this: take note.

The Choice We Must Make

Fundamentally, we have the collective power to put a stop to this behaviour or, at the very least, drag Captain Sim kicking and screaming into reality to wake them up. With their loathsome 777 for Microsoft Flight Simulator, illegal pricing model and legal threat over an autocratic copyright policy, the respect they have demonstrated to us is non-existent and it is only fair we match that by turning our backs on them. For some, this developer is comparable to giving up smoking: it is a nasty habit to support Captain Sim by using their products and can be difficult to stamp them out for good.

But flight simulation is not a drug. It is possible to ditch developers whose actions are not welcome in our community; all it takes is a moment of revelation and the confidence to move on with other developers who rightfully deserve your time and money. It is evident from a multitude of communities a significant proportion of users have successfully given up supporting Captain Sim, though it is likely a larger number fell for their 777 and are now hooked on their products.

I can accept that a developer can change their colours and put things right. The problem with Captain Sim, however, is that they have been so ignorant in their actions over the years that it is hard to see any significant change happening without that major wake-up call.

My opinion can be seen as an attempt to further widen rifts in our community but if nobody takes a stand, who will? Captain Sim is unlikely to change anytime soon and we should help our fellow fliers by making them aware of this developer who does not represent who we really are. For now, I shall sign off by joining livery creators and others on Twitter who share the same idea: #BoycottCaptainSim.


Cover image credit: IFR Liveries via Flightsim.to

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