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Behind the Screen : October 2023


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Behind the Screen : October 2023


Developers have been in my thoughts lately. Those creative souls that disappear for a year or two, then reappear with something amazing, something you can immerse yourself in, also to look at the incredible detail and wonder how it was all created and designed.


I have also come to a conclusion. Developers are the soul of a simulator, the life blood as well. Not the simulator developers, although obviously they are important, but the aircraft and scenery developers that produce a constant stream of products that keeps you flying.


What would happen if they didn't produce their work, add to the vitality of the Simulation, the answer is that very quickly the Simulator would wither and die, most would point out there is still enough in there to keep on flying, the free stuff, so why worry about that. But I do and sometimes at night.


The reason for the worry beads is that if you look over the last decade of development of the X-Plane Simulator, and it was always the developer pioneering aspect that drove the Simulation forwards. Every great step forward and innovation came from their agile minds. Set yourself in 2013 and in X-Plane 10, and then look at your X-Plane 12 universe now. The differences are very expansive, it is really is a totally different environment, the feel and the detail.


I have rode that explosive development trail, wondered at the marvels the developers have created and shared, a good example will be the original Boeing 777 from FlightFactor, totally overwhelming for it's time, but below average today...   soon the new v2 B777 will be released, and you won't even begin to compare the two. But the new version will be more expensive, maybe even over that barrier of US$100. Yes a few aircraft are already priced above that $100 barrier, but soon will it become the normal?


There are several problems facing developers, a weakening market and inflation. But before we go there, there was another big debate around Upgrades. First let us note that Upgrades are for payment, and Updates are for free.


When X-Plane 11 was released, the word "Upgrade" was barely visible. Then developers gradually crept in these financial changes. Obviously there was an uproar. X-Plane users expected with a purchase the updates were to be there for life. Another source of income for Developers, was extensions, in buying a basic package, but then to get a different variant or extra features you had to pay to get access. FlightFactor took both to the extreme, certainly with the extensions, with so many packages and options, they even outnumbered the size of the review.


Both options are now the normal. As the X-Plane 12 revolution came around, you found that most developers did do a "Upgrade" transition with this version change, so you got a fair discount on the newly updated aircraft or scenery. The few just updated X-Plane 12 products however were mostly just basic X-Plane 12 changes with no new features or even aircraft revisions. Again most complained that it wasn't fair to pay for something they had already purchased with the Upgrades, but that isn't fair to the developers which either way you looked at it.


The X-Plane 12 metamorphosis is in reality a bigger change for the X-Plane Simulator than any in the past. Yes we have new features and better dynamics and now amazing weather options. But the change is bigger than that of what it looks on the surface.


As long as I have been in X-Plane of over a decade, the Simulator went in a certain direction, but basically the old (in my case the huge collection) of aircraft and scenery would be passed over from one X-Plane version to the next. But X-Plane 12 is different, as that phase really came to an end. Yes a lot of the collections of scenery do still work in X-Plane 12, but for the first time, it was also showing their very dated age. Also the default WED Gateway scenery is improving year on year, but it would never ever replace a well modeled 3d custom scenery.


Also this time was that X-Plane aircraft were also affected, only really the best of the best have been transitioned to X-Plane 12, so again a lot of decade old aircraft are now retired. A few survived by MODS, in users fixed broken areas of X-Plane 12 functionality, they work, but not as complete as they were in X-Plane 10/11. Sadly a lot of these early developer projects are now also gone or retired, but most really couldn't keep up with the exorbitant changes to the modeling quality and features required to compete in today's market. Was it best to completely remodel and design a new aircraft or to walk away, a lot bit down and recreated a better product, like X-Crafts with their sensation E-Jet Family Series, but a lot of developers just don't have the talent or the time to go to such extremes. Thankfully there are new Developer entrants, creating new aircraft, but their learning curve to high quality products is very long, and a still really a Work in Progress, but that is okay, as at least they are in there, creating a future for X-Plane and a reputation for themselves.


This is the trick. Once a developer created aircraft and scenery (even plugins) as a sole output. You could learn PlaneMaker or WED (WorldEditor) and create a product. The only things you needed was the basic skills and a bit of talent. But today that era is very much gone. Only teams or a group of developers can create product, most specialise on a particular area of the design, say Modeling or Systems, but the basic number you require now is usually around three developers on a project. The sole developers time was expanding out as well, an aircraft that could a decade ago could take two years, became three then four as the work required escalated, again a team can split off portions and reduce the development time back to a reasonable 18 months to two years. But if you have invested in a team. Then the product has to be more expensive to cover the returns to distribute a fair share to each team member for their input.


Prices to be honest in X-Plane have been very gradual, most X-Plane 11 $25 aircraft are now $35 to $40, the middle sector between $50 to $65 has been steady for years, then the upper sector of between $65 to $80 has also been very steady if rock solid. But the amount of detail and features delivered has gone through the roof, in fact tripled in the last five years, and the system depth is extraordinary, but expected in the higher cost categories.


Significantly today the X-Plane 12 Simulator price has gone up US$20 to $79.99 from $59.99, after a long decade at the old price, so we have now arrived at an impasse.


Can we still expect more for the same, and the ongoing accumulation of even more features and quality for the same cost? If you want these features and depth of systems, then you will have to pay more for them. But what of that price barrier, can products be priced higher and not lose sales...   the problem is that developers with their time and resources are getting closed in from both sides. The freewheeling past is being confronted by the mid-twenties inflation reality, and something will have to give.


One point maybe that we will have less to choose from, but at a far higher quality, because we always expect the better, better with each release. Aerosoft tried with their ATR a hybrid cheap aircraft, with restricted systems. That idea didn't fly well (Pun Intended), personally I hated it, it felt under developed, and we are still waiting for a decent ATR Turboprop Series years later (yes there is finally one in development), but as you can see, you can't cost cut on features and systems either.


The worry is that current great developers would walk away. Expectation can be a terrible thing, "I want more for the same or less", will not work now going forward. Being a Developer is also being a businessman, at the top of list is profit, or to at least get a remuneration for the years of work put in, or to a least keep the team together to create more products, developers are the unsung hero's of the Simulator world, but they also have their own realistic real world limitations.


In X-Plane 12 going forward we have to change our attitude. If we want expansive clever products then we will have pay more for them, plus if a developer asks cap in hand for an Upgrade cost, then you should be willing to pay for the extra work and service provided of what that upgrade cost will deliver. It goes the other way as well, the developer has to deliver a high quality product and deliver updates over the required time of the new version of the Simulator, then don't bunk out and say sayonara when ever it pleases them, but let the product be ongoing in development by another developer.


The X-Plane Simulator has over the years created it's own doctrine, what was expected, will always seem to be. But I think that the change to X-Plane 12 will be a more significant change as the earlier attitudes and the use of the Simulator, will have to accommodate the more realistic changes this time for the future, to allow the Simulator to not only thrive, but even to survive. Expectation is a horrible word, and that attitude needs to change...  so let us see T-Shirts with the slogan "Support your local X-Plane 12 Developer", and wear it with pride, but also to put your money to where it counts, for X-Plane's future, or they may just walk away.


See you all next month.


Stephen Dutton
1st November 2023

Copyright©2023 X-Plane Reviews


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I agree Stephen, but what makes me thinking... XP should be accessible for a broader range of people, same as MSFS does. Why an airplane needs to cost 100+ if i can have same quality and more immersion on the other platform for about half the price? I know, it's always about development costs and financial return, but not everyone is in a situation to effort a 100+ plane from time to time to keep his Hobby alive. I love XP, but for me the other platform is more fly and forget .... In XP i'm always Tuning Performance.

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I believe that MSFS is being heavily subsidised by Microsoft to build market share, the prices are ridiculously low, even stupid sometimes, no way any developer could get a return for the hours invested on those prices, yes I know that prices are going to get higher. In fact it doesn't make business sense, as a developer in MSFS you are pricing very low, but facing a lot of competition for the obscene amount of released product... something will have to give there.

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MSFS is such a small part of Microsofts business they can just use it as a promotional tool which is why Xplane should not try to go head to head with it. Xplane can survive as a niche product potentially becoming, say, a move up product for those who having experienced Flight Simulation in MSFS want something beyond the eye candy. MSFS development also seems to be moving more towards a game and Laminar needs to exploit that.


I have just upgraded my system from a 2080 base to a 4080, not a cheap or easy thing to do, particularly where I live. I thought XP12 was good on the 2080, on the 4080 and the ability to move sliders to the right you really get an idea of just how good the product is. And there for me is part of the story. If you want fly complex aircraft add ons then you are going to need a decent rig (or spend your days posting on the forums about how poor your FPS is with your latest addition) and the cost of those add ons is tiny compared with the cost of the rig. Developer costs aren’t the issues but video card manufacturers might be.


On scenery developers, the base XP12 airports, at least with the sliders up seem pretty good to me. The number of really good add on sceneries that have been produced for XP12 can probably be counted on fingers and perhaps a couple of toes but the reality is there’s an awful lot of rubbish out there hardly better than the stock. Scenery developers want to make more money, want the ability to charge higher prices. Go look at SFDs SFO. Do that and it will sell.


On upgrade costs it always seems to me what was important was when the software was developed. Lots of developers released last year for XP11 and committed at the time that they would support XP12  in the future - some even saying XP12 would be supported ‘when available’. Now I bought those products as I saw them as part of my XP12 preparation. Not all of those commitments have been met and in my opinion when those commitments were met, unless an upgrade fee was mentioned, the upgrade should come gratis. However for much older add ons it is only reasonable to ask for an upgrade fee and in some cases sell the product as completely new.


Good developers Like Toliss, Thandra, MisterX will always get supported by the community. Why? Because they provide excellent product. I don’t need every Thandra product in my virtual hangar or every variety of the Toliss Airbus A320 family but I buy them. And hopefully others do too.

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