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Some thoughts on Flight...


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353 replies to this topic

#1 rsrandazzo

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 05:12 AM

Captains-I've let a few days go by without commenting on the topic of MS Flight not because I haven't anything to say, but because I have been rather engrossed in all the year end/year begin administrivia required to keep both PMDG and my aviation consulting business in compliance with all the various regulations and tax codes... (Translation: If you want to know how to have fun, hang out with someone else. :( )

The topic of FLIGHT has been an interesting one. When I was a kid, I recall watching a movie or TV show about the airship Hindenburg catching fire. I was fascinated that the participants were enthusiastically waiving even as you could see their ship beginning to consume itself in flames. The image was horrible- and it left me wondering how those aboard could have been so happily distracted that they remained blissfully unaware of their impending doom...

I find myself equally curious about the topic at hand.

Let's just get something right out on the table: If you are reading this, then you are not likely to be the target audience for FLIGHT- and this is why the reaction by this community has ranged from tepid acceptance to outright bewilderment at the unveiling of MS's newest game.

You see, FLIGHT has gone through a number of changes during the course of it's development. I was initially "briefed in" on the project that would eventually become FLIGHT all the way back in August of 2009. At that time, it seemed to me that a good faith effort was being made to get MS back in the genre, and that a significant amount of effort was going to be put into creating the simulation that FSX should have been when it was prematurely released in 2006.

Since that time, I have watched (at times in dismay) the project transitioned from "modest proposal" to "green-lit console-style game" to "resurgent FSX replacement" and back to the console-ish game that the product seems to have become in it's final format. Love the idea, or hate it, it appears to me that the marketing people have once again won the battle of demands and the end result is a fast-action point-and-score type game that is envisioned to ring in unit sales by appealing to those who are interested in action, leveling-up and point scoring rather than true simulation as it is known to all of us in this community.

Again- you are likely not the target audience, so any similarity between FLIGHT and the hobby we know as flight simulation is purely coincidental.

I mentioned that we have been watching this process in earnest for quite awhile now. Early in the process, our opinion was solicited on a wide range of topics, and semi-occasional updates seemed to indicate that strides were being made on a project that had some potential to give us all a next generation platform to work with... Something all of us in the development and sim-consumer community would LOVE to see. But there were undertones that caused us some concern. Namely, there was a theme that continually floated to the surface that seemed to indicate that MS was looking to "monetize the secondary development market" in order to increase the long term revenue stream upon which development of the platform would be based.

To put it a bit more bluntly: It became obvious to me very early-on that MS was looking to get a piece of the secondary market in which companies like PMDG, Aerosoft, Flight1, Level D and the like make our living. This idea has been looming over the horizon since at least late 2005 when a gaggle of FS developers were invited to Redmond to view the upcoming FSX. There were hints dropped at the time, and behaviors that, to me indicated a growing desire on the part of MS to learn just how much money the secondary market was generating. There could only be a single reason why they would want to know this information...

I am not generally swayed by fear or hysterics, so when the same behaviors were present at the 2007 meeting hosted by MS, I began to expect that whatever version followed FSX would come with some licensing requirement in order to help MS generate revenue from the secondary market. This in and of itself wouldn't be a terrible thing, especially if it kept the platform vital and moving forward- but as we all saw there was a decision to cut ties with the ACES development team, followed by a brief period of quiet, and then the word of FLIGHT came along.

In our conversations, the inevitable discussion of "monetizing the secondary market" finally came about. The talk was faint at first, but approximately a year after being initially briefed into project, the talk became more solid, more definite. Requests for information were not immediately answered, or they were answered obliquely in a fashion that any negotiator will tell you is designed to mask the true answer. Then the product details began to dribble out. I won't repeat them here as many of them changed and many other details have already been published in other places, but a couple of developers, including PMDG, were asked to make a strong commitment to FLIGHT in order to help get the secondary market up and running in a manner that would generate buzz and entice users to move to the new platform. At PMDG, we demurred....

You see- we nearly put PMDG out of business by adopting our entire development process for 2006/2007 around the release of FSX. When that platform proved to be unready for the market it had disastrous consequences- and while we were very much excited by the idea of a new and more capable platform- there remained the obvious fear of "going down that road again" with FLIGHT.

Eventually we were presented with a picture of how our lives would have to change in order to support FLIGHT:
  • All commercial products would be marketed exclusively by MS and we would not be allowed to sell our own products from our own sites.
  • No freeware, not even free expansions to our own products. (Think: liveries)
  • Unclear controls regarding pricing.
  • The inability to market our own products in the brick and mortar retail market without purchasing licenses to our own products in advance of production. (This would increase our costs dramatically, making it impossible to support a retail operation...)
  • All developers would be required to pay a sizable per-unit license fee on all FLIGHT products.
If the sales figures we were being promised were to come true- then all of the restrictions above would have been a minor inconvenience- but as one of my favorite pilot friends likes to say: "I didn't get to be this old by being stupid." PMDG has been in this business for nearly 15 years- and while we do occasionally make mistakes, I feel that we have a pretty good feel for the simming marketplace, its size and how it operates- and this new business model gave me pause.

PMDG has always had a good, honest, open relationship with the team at MS- so we provided them with open, honest and candid feedback that we felt was respectful, and candid. In spite of repeated requests for a commitment, we demurred. Shortly there-after the communication channel went dead. Calls and emails went unanswered, and advance alphas stopped arriving. Shortly there-after we received a perfunctory email advising that our input was no longer desired.

I wish I could tell you that I was surprised- but I was not. After all- we were being asked to effectively surrender years of very delicate and careful work to build a brand and a relationship with all of you. This was not something to be taken lightly...So at the end of the day, I was surprised and disappointed to see that the developers of FLIGHT elected to bring in a bunch of people to see FLIGHT, while very noticeably keeping out many of the same folks who have supported MS and the genre for years. The message was made loudly and clearly that our input was not desired and that the strategic objectives of FLIGHT do not involve the community that companies like PMDG, Aerosoft and the like represent.

In other words: This game is not supposed to replace your FSX simulation.... You are not the target audience.

So where do we go from here?

Well- first- I'm not overly concerned. As hardware advances- FSX is really just coming into its own on the average consumer's hardware- so we intend to continue FSX development for the foreseeable future! There are a number of directions in which we can go- and PMDG has already been taking steps to sort out what platform our future products will feature. There has been some loose talk about PMDG and Xplane10- but I must tell you that while we are evaluating that product, and while we do have someone on staff helping to map out the process by which our products wind up in Xplane10- we are still some way out on that project line...

From a developers standpoint Xplane10 certainly seems to be a good solid platform that will help our products to shine- but, like FSX it has some weaknesses and we need to evaluate whether it makes sense to allow XPlan10 at this time.

I don't yet have an answer to this question.In the mean time, we continue at full steam to put the 777 together for you. I am not sweating the small stuff at this particular juncture- but I promise that whatever direction we go- you will be welcome to follow!Happy New Year- everyone!

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#2 VLJ510

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 05:37 AM

Nice write up Sir. I always felt it would turn out this way and also always wondered (and deep down knew) MS wanted a part of the add-on market. They sell a 50 dollar game that has a whole little economy behind it. One MS was not getting their hands on.I've told my FS friends that FSX and PMDG, along with other quality scenery developers have and will provide us with will be more then enough until and new platform arrives to keep me simming for many more years. Even if no other scenery was developer as of now and just the NGX I'd still be happy for years to come. Add PMDG WIP projects and who needs MS.Funny and realistic part is my live in girlfriend & non simming buddies just don't see the thrills in it and well it's plain too see MS doesn't either. I hope the next generation of aviators don't think aviation is about flying planes under bridges and all that garbage.

Edited by VLJ510, 06 January 2012 - 05:38 AM.

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#3 raddragon

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 06:14 AM

Well put Robert. I must say I'm very dissapointed with the direction MS is taking. I couldnt think of anything worse than MS being the sole source of a FS game and all the add-ons.Really looking forward to the 777 - hopefully it is only a few months away.

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#4 aceridgey

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 06:44 AM

We will follow like Sheep to the shephard guys, Flight in game, does look pretty, the performance is great. But it just not replace FSX.You know what?! I am happy with FSX, I went over to it straight away on release, and I am so glad that PMDG are staying with it!Now, I would a post like this ^^ but purely on the 777! :D, pretty pretty please Posted Image :(

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#5 MarkW

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 06:55 AM

No mention of P3D ?

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#6 777-Pilot

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 06:56 AM

Robert, there is a load of my mind! I was afraid if I had to give up FSX with all the Add-Ons and money I spent in. So I am really happy that, after ORBX, another important developer like PMDG will stay with FSX!!!!!David
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#7 learnfromhistory

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 07:11 AM

Very well put sir. I remember over 15 years ago picking up my first copy of Flight Simulator (then version 5.1). That game was intense...after all it came on 4 floppy disks! I was in heaven, and as the years progressed I watched as the franchise grew....and grew....and well, lost it's direction clearly. I am beyond disappointed that once again a software developer feels the need to cater to the lower echelon of society. This is not to say there is no room for games like Flight, but does anyone remember Sim Societies? Maxis did the same thing when they felt Sim City had grown too much to appeal to a wide user base, so they turned the game into a ridiculous and watered down shell of what it use to be.I will be emailing and calling Microsoft today to voice my displeasure with their decision, and I can only hope that I am as professional sounding as Robert when I do so.Joshua Weinstein
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#8 brian747

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 07:12 AM

Robert,Thank you for sharing that assessment with us; and although your conclusions are, sadly, not entirely surprising, it is helpful to hear the facts and supporting evidence — which of course were previously a matter of surmise for those of us on the outside.But whilst Microsoft's corporate greed (IMHO) will now merely result in attracting a few games players, the good news for the serious simulation market surely has to be that fsx will now continue to establish itself even further as a stable platform for further development. The unusually long time since another "replacement" version of the sim has been rushed to market has already permitted a rich crop of long-development carefully-crafted add-ons (of which the NGX is undoubtedly the finest example to date) to be produced, and this news will hopefully encourage everyone with an interest in developing for the platform to continue to do so, and perhaps even increase their efforts.As for those of us who over the years have already invested a good deal of money (and time) in creating our individual flight simulation "worlds", we can look forward to further opportunities for investing in our hobby (or perhaps obsession) to obtain further fine vintage add-ons which Microsoft never could or would produce, let alone have the vision to invent. With products like the 777 and PFPX already in the pipeline, here's to 2012 being another memorable year for flight simulation — and for companies like PMDG who have supported us throughout, and hence deserve their honoured place in the community!Cheers,Brian

Edited by brian747, 06 January 2012 - 07:13 AM.

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#9 themose

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 07:36 AM

Good post Robert,In terms of platforms to eventually move to, have you seen, or even better what are your thoughts on Aerofly FS.This just looks incredible..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAZwLM_mVzo
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#10 badderjet

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:13 AM

Ahh yeah it does indeed. TBH I have yet to see more convincing distant landscapes than visible in 1:35 and 2:50, or trees in 1:55. Dunno why but the look and feel seems way better than what I have in FSX, but then again I'm not running the fancy add-ons here so that might change a lot as well. In any case, thanks for the HU.Posted Image

#11 masneoquil

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:28 AM

Honestly Robert, your word made me sad.I completely agree with you. I don't like the steps MS is taking, and i had a little hope.You see, I'm a beta tester for Flight, and I had some hope that maybe in 2 years it could be a good platform. I was innocently believing that at some point they would release an SDK, but after reading the answer the gave you, i don't believe it anymore.Good news is we will have PMDG for some years and that makes me happy.Happy new year to you too.

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#12 Kosta

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:39 AM

No mention of P3D ?

I was wondering that myself. Since all eyes are now on P3D, I would have expected PMDG at least looking that way... but not even mentioned. Must be something else here.

#13 mataus

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:41 AM

Thankfully we have people like RSR in this community that can give us a true and clear insight into the hype behind 'Flight'. I think we all knew it wouldn't be what we expected, but we all hoped for maybe a little something. As we all now know that FSX (and maybe XPX) are here for quite a few years, then it will be easier to continue to build on what we have learn't the past 7 or so years.

Thanks, Mataus

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#14 Gavin

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:50 AM

I suppose that like most businesses Microsoft's primary goal is to make a profit for their shareholders. Presumably their current opinion is that the Flight model will be the most profitable. That seems fair enough to me. Possibly, if this turns out not to be the case, they may change their approach in the future. Time will tell. In the meantime I soldier on happily with FS9. At some stage I'm bound to have to replace my current comp and presume that the new one will be able to run FSX. As an existing PMDG customer (747 & MD-11 for FS9) and probably future customer (FSX products), I see many years of enjoyable simming ahead. I couldn't care less about Flight.
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#15 Nathan Cupps

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Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:59 AM

Thanks for all of your insight Robert. Sadly, I'm not surprised the way the MS Flight development team is taking this. If indeed the people that do this as more of a hobby rather than a video game are not the intended audience than I don't see much revenue. A majority of add-on buyers are people who are rather serious players. No one is going to spend $50-70 on something for a game that they don't play often. I think Microsoft is evaluating there market wrong. The path there headed surely seems like it would ultimately be a loss in profit compared to a versatile game for more audiences.
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