Community Experience in Perspective [Part 2]

By
Goose Wright
February 21, 2018

There are plenty of raw nerves in X-plane these days, just as there are around the rest of our divided, polarised world.

Sometimes it seems as if we, as a species, thrive on conflict…that we enjoy provoking conflict where none existed. Perhaps this is nothing more than seeking a competitive advantage over others, and that, whether we want to admit it or not, almost all human endeavour can be traced back to competitive economic factors. Regardless, this is the world we live in so sometimes it’s better to accept that as fact than it is to row against the tide.

In X-plane, we’ve had the .Org vs XA wars for the last umpteen years. Indeed, it’s been going on so long I doubt most people know what it’s all about anymore, and if you don’t – consider yourself lucky and move on. If you’d like the condensed version, read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a parable about artistic integrity vs critics and other second-handers. Once you’ve been around and drawn your own conclusions from Rand, you’ll begin to see that the developmental environment in X-plane has, over the years, split into two camps. At least this is the common misconception.

In this dramatic production, one camp, the ‘artist with integrity camp,’ has tended to pitch their tent over at X-Aviation. These are the guys who tend to take two to three years to make one aircraft file, but when it comes out it’s stunning. This group is best personified by IXEG and Leading Edge Simulations, but increasingly more and more freeware scenery developers are found in this camp, too.

The second camp, the ‘in it for a quick buck’ camp, tends to market their wares where they’ll get the most exposure, and hope that, as a result, they’ll score The Big Bucks with as little effort as possible. There are some good developers in this group, too, but some of these good developers will cut corners and perfection is often an accident, not a goal. Yes, this is the Org, but there are lots of places like this within the varied niches of flight simulation. Places where aircraft and scenery files that ought to be freeware end up selling for twenty bucks…because hey, one is born every minute, right?

When we first started XP+10+Reviews, now more than ten years ago, this whole Org vs XA thing was an ugly mess, and for newcomers the landscape in X-plane seemed more like the aftermath of a big earthquake than a quiet little hobby. Bad blood and bad vibes rumbled through our community like aftershocks, but like all seismic faults, things subsided until – now, these days – hardly anyone worries about the Big One.

Because, the thing is, worrying about the Big One is rarely productive.

And the Big One, if you believe in such things, is fast becoming irrelevant.

Because right now, today, X-plane is all about the changes breaking over the community on the version 11 wave. HDR, PBR, VR…we all know what this stuff means now, and what it means to the future of X-plane, too…but there’s one other beast lurking out there in the shadows, too. One far more consequential, and dangerous, to the future of X-plane than any war of egos waged between two little software retailers ever was. It’s a war of perception, and as always, it’s being waged by the Easy Money camp vs the ‘Artists with Integrity.’

So let me draw you a picture, or maybe tell you a story – that goes a little something like this:

“The future of X-plane will be determined by how many FsX/P3D developers can be enticed to come over and develop for Laminar’s X-plane. And HORRORS! There have already been a few such developers who’ve shown up in X-plane, trying to peddle (some decidedly mediocre files over at you know where) and, HORROR of HORRORS! they didn’t make near as much money as they thought they would – so they’re going to pick up their toys now and go home.”

I mean, I read this crap over at another X-plane “news” site…so it must be true, right?

Well, some people just love to stir the pot, right? Because there’s money in creating conflict, isn’t there?

Well, come on Toto, let’s go see the wizard and see if he can take us back to Kansas before it’s too late – and the Wicked Witch takes our shiny red shoes off to her castle…

No, first let’s go back to the late version 9 era, in the months leading up to the release of version 10, when Austin was hitting the flight sim convention circuit pretty hard, drumming up business by showing glimpses of his v10 roadmap…where he planned to take X-plane in the coming decade or so. And you know what? He did a fine job, too, and lots of FsX developers thought about coming over. Then, both Orbx and PMDG let the air out of X-plane’s balloon – when they said they’d “never develop for X-plane…”

And they didn’t, at least not until things began to look pretty bleak over in FsX Land, and when Austin’s developmental roadmap began to produce better results than anyone over there ever anticipated (if only they’d had even just a little imagination).

But you know what happened next, don’t you?

Well, Austin & Co saw all those vain pronouncements coming from Orbx and PMDG and decided to something that sounded a little like this: “Like…hey…wait a minute. What if we make WED really good? And what if we make a really good, really extensive scenery library, and then we make building really good airports really easy. And say, what if we turn our default 747 and 737 into really good aircraft files. Maybe a King Air C90 and Beech Baron, too. And…say, Tom, what about that MD-80 you guys were working on over at the XPFWP? Then, you know what? If Orbx and PMDG won’t come to X-plane, we’ll keep X-plane on track with our own assets!”

In short, Laminar took a look at the big boys across the tracks and shot them the finger.

Fast forward a few years, and tone down the volume on your Irony Alert, and now some clowns from the other side of the tracks are griping because they apparently can’t compete against the better freeware files coming out of the X-plane community.

The same community they flat out ignored for the past umpteen years. The same community they said they’d never develop for.

Okay, got that? With me so far?

But here’s the thing, and this is the important part so hang in there a little longer.

We’ve been looking at freeware files in X-plane for a long time. Way more than ten years, anyway. And yes, it’s true, some of the latest freeware scenery files coming out of the X-plane community are stunning. Many are so good, well, they’re as good as, or even better than, some of the mediocre FSX files that are being converted to work in X-plane.

Note: re-read the words in that last sentence, please.

Especially the “FSX files that are being converted to work in X-plane” part.

Say what? Excuse my French, but I beg your fucking pardon?

You want to recycle your ten year old files in X-plane, files that don’t take advantage of X-plane’s newest tech, and now you’re unhappy that they’re not selling like you hoped they might – when you went calling at the Org in search of Easy Money? You’re pissed off because you can’t be bothered to make a file as good as freeware files being produced by the X-plane community? Is that what you’re saying?

Really?

Now, let’s look at AeroSoft. In fact, let’s look at their latest EDDF Frankfurt file. There is not one freeware developer in X-plane that has come even close to this level of quality. And guess what? AeroSoft isn’t having any trouble selling scenery files for X-plane. And the reasons why ought to be obvious to you by now, too.

Look at the window textures on EDDFs main terminal buildings, at night, and then, you know what Mr FsX Developer, look at the simple pale blue smears you call windows and tell me you can’t do better. If you can’t…yeah…go home. You can’t make it in FSX, so what makes you think you can here?

Because here’s the thing, folks, the real deal. Some in FsX development community looked at X-plane users as a ripe target, a place where they could score a quick buck passing off some old crap – all without having to do a lot of new work. They just didn’t count on the user base in X-plane being so hard to crack, because they didn’t realise how hungry this market is for “really good stuff” – and of how tired we are of having crap in our sim. They also didn’t realise that the X-plane user base is actually quite attuned to crap, because for years that’s all we’ve had.

Anyway, after listening to Austin talk about his roadmap, Carenado and AeroSoft set up there own little camp over here in X-plane Land. They did their research, introduced new products – and kicked ass. Ask any dedicated user in Xp if he or she has some of their files and odds are you’ll get an earfull. My aircraft and custom scenery folders are full of their products. I’ve had to buy external drives just to house the overflow from all of their products.

Got that? We clear?

But hey, then our ‘in it for a quick buck’ developers made one more fatal decision.

They obviously didn’t do their market research…they didn’t study the end user in X-plane.

They didn’t find out – until it was too late, anyway – that many users in X-plane cross over between platforms, and they pass along what’s good, and what’s, well, not so good. Not only that, this information isn’t exactly hard for developers with integrity to learn. And to learn techniques for making the best in FsX even better in Xp. And these teams are doing well. It’s not difficult for bad ‘word-of-mouth’ to spread, too. So junk developers who thought they might have a clean slate over here ran into a very firm wall – of knowledge.

Once upon a time our own little blog changed from XP+10+ Reviews to X+Sim+Reviews, because we wanted to document this crossover effect. That was right after v10 released, by the way. Not quite eight years ago, but who’s counting…? We were in awe of Orbx then (as we still are, BTW) and devastated when they opted out of our market. So, by the time the “we’ll never develop for X-plane” crowd came knocking on X-plane’s door…guess what? They ran into something that sounds a little like this…

“Yeah, we know who you are. Welcome to X-plane. Come along for the ride if you want to compete with us, just don’t expect a free lunch…because hey, we’re pretty good too. Maybe we’re even getting as good as you.”

So, X-plane might not turn out to be the land of milk and honey a lot of FsX developers thought it might be. If they want to compete here, they’ll have to up their game – because terminals that look like state of the art in FS2004 aren’t going to gain much traction here. Yeah, sure, the Org will list them for you, and they’ll take their usual cut too, but they won’t give you a lot of guidance.

Because that’s not their job, Bucko. It’s your’s.

You’d also do well to look at the state of play around the Org. The Org is Freeware City, and many of the people who hang out there don’t spend a lot of money, and maybe that’s because many of the old timers over there belong to the “something for nothing” school of purchasing. This means, and pay attention here, they’re quite reluctant to spend money on your payware file. Especially if a decent freeware file is out there – which there usually is. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks when MrX went payware…when the “something for nothings” criticized his work because it wasn’t free. You might think about this response, because you won’t sell a lot of product to that crowd.

So, there’s more than one way to compete in this market. You have to produce better files than freeware developers are making right now, and then you need to market them intelligently. If you want to sell your goods in the middle of Freeware Central, that’s your choice, too.

But you know what? Who would have ever thought that this kind of basic marketing would be a problem? AeroSoft didn’t set out to sell at the Org; they made their own store competitive in the X-plane marketplace – then – they let the Org sell there stuff, too. Carenado took the same approach, too. And they could because they had a marketing presence in X-plane. But these days, guess what? New stores are opening to compete with the Org, with X-Aviation, and with the AeroSoft store, too, because that’s what competition is all about.

So, if you want to earn money in this market you’ll have to do your homework. You’ll have to find out what files are Really Needed. You’ll have to find out what prices are considered okay in X-plane, and what prices will drive away potential buyers – because high prices will kill your reputation almost as fast as your ten year old files will.

Then you’ll have to find a distributor who understands your needs, who can really help you.

And last? You’ll have to examine the best freeware files in X-plane and then ask yourself this one vitally important question.

Can I do better?

If you can’t, then don’t come here. In fact, if you can’t compete with the quality found in today’s freeware, you need to ask yourself why – or maybe think about finding another line of work.

Or come over here and get to work – and compete. I mean, really COMPETE.

If all you want is easy money, go home and take your toys with you, because we’ve been there and done that. And we’re not falling for it again, so get over yourself and move out of the way. There are more developers coming here because X-plane is getting as good as the competition, and they’re hungry for a piece of the action. And some are more willing to learn new skills, and to market their knowledge, then others.

If you really want our money, fine. Come over here and earn it. We are literally – still, after umpteen years – holding our breath, waiting for you to show up, waiting for you to show us what you can really do. And don’t forget, we’re a helluva lot smarter than you think we are. Maybe, even though we got along without you for twenty five years, we learned a few things you never did along the way.

Namely, turds always stink, no matter what ass they come out of, and no matter what the gossip columnists would lead you to believe.

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