Analysis - The State of X-Plane Development in 2020: Coronavirus and Microsoft Flight Simulator

April 7, 2020
Garrett Yalch
nobody, apparently.

As I wrote in early January of this year, “X-Plane is set up for success coming into 2020 especially with a plethora of high quality payware add-ons set to release for the sim in the coming year like FlyJSim’s Q4XP, HotStart’s Challenger 650, Rotate’s MD11, and, my personal favorite, the Leading Edge Simulations DC3 V2.” But, a lot has changed since then.

With the end of the novel coronavirus pandemic still months away, how will X-Plane be impacted? Will Microsoft Flight Simulator affect X-Plane too?

The graph above visualizes the relative number of aircraft and scenery releases reported by Threshold per month. 

To answer these questions, we first have to look at the events leading up to today. In early June when FSExpo was held in Orlando and the new Microsoft Flight Simulator trailer was released, add-on releases for X-Plane dropped sharply. This was likely because of the shock created by Microsoft Flight Simulator’s abrupt comeback: no one knew what to make of it. 

After the excitement in June, developers got back to releasing add-ons at a normal rate. But, the effects of Microsoft Flight Simulator didn’t disappear. Justin from Short Final Design says that Microsoft Flight Simulator has actually had a positive impact on his work. When asked for comment, he stated that “since the announcement of MSFS I’ve tried a lot harder to improve my work and learn new tools like Substance Painter. MSFS is going to raise the bar a lot, which means that you will need a lot of skill to even compete with the default scenery”. A programmer for FlyJSim, also named Justin, felt positively about Microsoft Flight Simulator too. He said that “MSFS2020 has made FlyJSim more excited for the future of flight sims and its visuals have been appealing to see.” Regarding how it affects their current projects, he stated that “Jack [FlyJSim’s founder] and I talked to the devs, but we remain focused on the Q4XP at the present moment.” 

Heading into the fall of 2019, the bright future of flight sim, illuminated by the promise of Microsoft Flight Simulator, kept developers motivated. The slight dip in September and October was likely due to developers waiting to release during the pre-holiday peak in November.

After this, releases dropped during the holiday season which was to be expected. Developers had released their products and were busy spending time with family.

Next, after many began resuming development in January, another peak occurred in February followed by a sharp drop in early March. This drop was likely because of the panic and uncertainty that COVID-19 created for everyone, all over the globe. 

Despite this, it seems unlikely that this slump will persist in the long term. Because of social distancing measures, many developers are finding themselves at home more often. In a comment to Threshold, Justin from Short Final Design said that “I actually have a lot more time to spend on X-Plane development due to the lockdown and the fact that all exams at my university were canceled.” Cooper from Torquesim stated that “[Coronavirus] has not significantly impacted our work. We all work remotely already, so there is no office to close.” Likewise, Markus from MadFlight said that the “virus has not affected our development”.

In all, it seems like X-Plane has seen little impact from Microsoft Flight Simulator and the novel coronavirus pandemic. And, most of the impact we have seen has been positive.

COVID-19 has given developers more time at home. And, Microsoft Flight Simulator seems to have raised the bar on quality. Because of this, there is no reason to be worried about a lack of new releases for X-Plane in the short term. When Microsoft Flight Simulator releases though, it may be a different story.

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