Community Experience in Perspective [Part 5]
There have been two recent releases, both a scenery and a utility file, that drive home the point of what our community is all about – and yet, there still seems to be a little confusion about our community within the group of FsX developers trying to “crack the nut” and develop files for XP. Another recent event has made this analyses all the more relevant, and that’s the end of iBlueyonder – and Bill Womack’s reintegration with the Orbx universe.
The first thing that set me to thinking about all this was the HungaryVFR release. I don’t know if you’ve tried the file yet, and in some ways it’s quite worthwhile, but this release also speaks volumes about a certain kind of spirit driving freeware development in X-Plane.
If you wander the back corridors of the internet long enough – looking for all things X-Plane – you’ll soon come to at least one conclusion: a strong sense of nationalism drives a lot of development within the X-Plane community.
Look at, for instance, this HungaryVFR release. It could have, and quite easily, too, been released as a club venture to a small circle of users in Hungary. But…
No, it was released at the Org, for wide distribution as a freeware product.
And, so what? Why does it matter?
Well, there’s an expectation driving this release, and it’s not an unfounded expectation.
For as long as I’ve been involved in X-Plane – and that’s way more than ten years now – this same nationalistic spirit has animated a lot of development for the sim. Need I mention xpfr (uh, that fr means France, if curious)? Or how about x-plane-at, for Austria? These two groups, to name just two, develop files all the time, and these files aren’t closed to the group, they’re free to anyone in the X-plane community. Still, these development programs are loosely organized (compared to, say, Orbx or Aerosoft), but even so they represent a national identity within our community.
Is this a bad thing? No, not really.
And yes, it’s true, similar structures existed within the FsX/P3D universe, but there’s a difference, a vital difference. The FSX weltanschauung is now and has always always been shaped by the realization that if you wanted, for example, a good airport file for Copenhagen, all you had to do was hit your favorite store and pick up a copy.
Not so in X-Plane.
We’ve had to do without…and we have since XP was first released (and yes, our thirtieth anniversary will be on us in just a few years). We didn’t have developers courting us, marketing their products to our community – though we wanted that to happen very much. No, they left the whole X-Plane universe to wither and die, though things didn’t turn out the way they thought. So for, literally, decades, our community grew dependent on freeware development teams, often organized along national lines, creating the files we’ve used to “fly around” in our simulated corner of the universe.
The other recently released file that made me think was TerraMAXX, and this file represents another dynamic somewhat unique to X-Plane.
Microsoft had a large development team working on FSX through all its varied development cycles; X-Plane had Laminar, a small band of engineers and programmers that often numbered in the handful. Microsoft could respond to customer demand in a way Laminar never could, because they had the personnel and the resources to take big chances. For years, decades perhaps, Laminar adhered to one person’s vision, and the development timetable we know today as big version releases interspersed by smaller betas and larger release candidates belongs to that one man.
So things like clouds and seasons were left to the community to develop…and yes, most of our payware developers started off as freeware developers. TerraMAXX was preceded by a few freeware offerings years ago, then John, the developer, saw an opening in the clouds and off he went.
And the thing is, this paradigm has worked out pretty well for us. Sure, we still can’t go to the sim store and get a copy of Copenhagen – while folks using FSX can choose between several versions of Copenhagen files. And sure, that’s frustrating. But instead of whining about it, we’ve made do with Hamburg or whatever freeware file happened to available in the area.
That has shaped our community in ways newcomers to XP just can’t appreciate. But, as a result of this scarcity, while FSX users lived in a land of plenty, the X-Plane community grew extremely self-reliant.
But was this really so unique to X-Plane? Consider, for instance, that Orbx as we know it today is quite different from the Australian roots the company sprang from, or Aerosoft, from their origins in Germany. Do we view these companies as Australian or German companies now? Probably not, but perhaps that transformation happened as their corporate identities diffused from the specific to the more generalized identity we now take for granted.
The issue as it stands now is that the nationalist origins in the FSX universe dissolved years and years ago, yet the experience in X-Plane is still as fresh and vital as it was ten years ago. The cultural maturity the FSX market enjoys never happened in X-plane and, as a result, its not all that unusual to hear veiled discussions between groups in the various forums that have a slightly nationalistic tinge to them. Kind of a: “well who cares if Germans make better cars, WE make better airplanes for X-Plane!” Yes, this may be fringe but it’s still out there, and again, the point is...perhaps that ethos has run its course in the FSX world...but maybe it’s still alive and well in X-Plane.
So, developers in the FSX universe have come to realize that X-Plane is here to stay, and that it might be possible to penetrate this market. It is, after all, a market ripe for new aircraft and scenery add-ons…primed the way the market in FSX was twenty years ago. I could truly be another golden age for many of these developers, but understanding this market has become a tough nut to crack.
Or…maybe it just seems that way?
Everyone ought to realize that there are new synergies just waiting to be explored, and there are literally dozens of developers who’ve mastered the X-Plane development paradigm ready and willing to help. These people represent a vast pool of resources the FSX community can tap, and with a judicious sense of hiring even the nationalistic undertones can be tackled and tamed.
John’s latest TerraMAXX offering represents the best that vibrant entrepreneurship can bring to the community, and I think I wanted to mention his efforts because he too is key to understanding the X-Plane community. We’ve rewarded risk takers like John when they’ve been straight shooter with us, and when he’s presented a development outline, or timetable, he’s stuck to it. I think the community is very receptive to that kind of openness. I think this market also grows quite skittish when developers get too coy about their plans. There’ve been far too many developers who’ve floated trail balloons over the years, announced projects that went nowhere, and so now there’s a latent mistrust that lingers around all project announcements from newcomers. Better to just announce your product about a week before release, and then stick to the settled upon release date you know you can make.
So, in a sense, the nationalistic paradigm represents the old way of doing things in X-Plane, while John’s entrepreneurship embodies the new.
I think of Threshold as another embodiment of that spirit, too. A “come clean with the past, it’s time to move on” move if ever there was one, Threshold represents a chance to change how we communicate within the community, and a new way to market files, too. With reviews posted by independent writers, and without the unnerving, almost paranoid atmosphere that pervades some other outlets, the Threshold Store represents a clean break from a checkered past, an ideal place for FSX/P3D developers to come and gather, to see – and to inform. It’s exciting to witness a new effort to break with X-Plane’s often somewhat clannish past come to be; to see new blood, and new ideas flourishing in an open and supportive atmosphere.
It’s been a long time coming, too. The owners of Threshold have stated it’s their goal to have developers help shape this experience, too. While that’s almost unheard of, it also represents a vital part of the paradigm shift Threshold represents. I’d say come take a look, see what you think, see if you can’t make something big happen.
And maybe it’s time for all the old-timers to step aside, let the next generation move ahead?
It ought to be interesting to see where we go…all of us.
Original UI Image By Markus Leupold-Löwenthal - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8922571