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.
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!