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Behind the Screen : August 2020


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Behind the Screen : August 2020

 

Well the sky didn't fall in!    X-Plane is still here and actual still flies, burrrr dom. The Hype of MS2020 or is it MSFS came to a crescendo as the release date of 18th August 2020 got near (in fact it was available on the 17th here in Australia), and then everyone hit the download button, and most crashed at the same time as the herd mentality kicked in. In fact a lot of users had serious problems in not only getting MSFS downloaded and working and trying to keep it working through crash after crash and a fix is coming soon (3rd Sept). So did I do the download the "Wonderkind Simulator"? no...  I never (thanks to Apple) will never ever, ever now download a release versions of any software, I usually wait until the bugs and first updates are installed and the running is solid before now using any software... I always wanted to be first, but my hand has now been bitten far to many times to answer and I will not be a guinea pig tester for any business, I will wait thank you and considering the launch details coming in it was a wise choice. But I have seen and looked at the new "wonderkind" simulator and like everything brand new it has a lot of great new features, but also it is also seriously buggy and actually quite basic in what you would call "simulation depth", so a game is currently the right moniker to label MSFS, I will be doing a roundup review of the X-Plane v11.50 and the current situation of the effects of MSFS on the X-Plane simulator soon, so watch out for that.

 

The MSFS release did however give me a lot to reflect on in the advancement of simulators. That you think that the forward progress is slow, but go back even only six years and the changes are simply staggering, as we have now so, so much more for only a step up or two of computer power. One thing to keep in mind though is like any industry it is the tick/tock effect of progress, for years Microsoft's Flight Simulator was the total upper commander "tick", but then X-Plane bounced ahead with it's far better dynamics and brilliant HDR lighting "tock", then FSX and together with P3D they bounced back with clever work around the old core disability "tick", then FS finally went bust and most users finally took the X-Plane plunge "tock". The effects of that final movement was very, very perceptible on the X-Plane simulator, and it finally not only got the users to "give it a try" but brought the developers over as well...  They hated it of course, because it was not their platform and financially to their perspective then X-Plane was not a viable business proposition, but the effects of them finally creating X-Plane product did have a very significant impact on X-Plane, quality airports did get the "crossover" treatment as well as a lot of their old FS junk that they couldn't sell any more either also arrived, but X-Plane users were not going to buy that game, so thankfully (except for Aerosoft) most went away again. Would they try the same old charade trick again with the new MSFS, I very much doubt it this time.

 

But now X-Plane is in the "Tick" situation were as a new from the ground up built simulator has certainly a few advantages. But looking back over the years at X-plane as I did a lot in August, the worry is that some of the significant aspects that were very prominent back then are the same aspects that are the main deficiencies now and that aspect is very worrying, and it is these same aspects that puts X-Plane in this "Tick" situation.

I am not noting the extraordinary world modeling capabilities of MSFS either, but the areas that should have been easily addressed by now. Don't get me wrong, in many images in doing reviews this month then the visual aspect of X-Plane are actually quite stupendous...  take for example this image of the SSG 747-8F leaving EDDF.

 

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But MSFS even in it's early stages does give a big spotlight on were Laminar has dropped the ball in either under resourcing critical areas of it's simulator, to a point I would say that Laminar have been a bit lazy over the X-Plane11 version (that will cause Ben Supnic to spit out his coffee), that is not Supnic's fault if again it just reinforces Laminar's biggest weaknesses in financing or out sourcing areas critical to the simulator, the "In House" philosophy is great to a point... but it also shows how they can't cover all their resources to create a competitive modern product. To a point X-Plane users have lived with this philosophy as part as X-Plane's DNA, but has time come for Laminar to become more professional in the world of the big boys. I don't mean financially either as that is not fair against a company with resources like Microsoft, and X-Plane/Laminar has always punched well above it's weight.

 

But even if MSFS had not come back to the game, then would have Laminar just gone on it's merry way as it has done over the last few "golden" years, if MSFS will do more than anything else it will be to finally get Laminar to address the inescapable gaps in their simulator. And this is were competition is good, as it makes for changes that in most cases would never happen or to be constantly be put in the "Too hard to fix" basket, now with a very competitive competitor as then will have to face the critical issues and (finally) fix them.

 

I saying all of this, when we looked at the new wonderking MSFS, and then switched over to X-Plane, the differences are not as glaring as we thought they would be, in fact X-Plane as noted has come a significantly long way over the last run of X-Plane11, and you have to put it into perspective of that we have world of two very high class simulators more than he early factor of one being very highly advanced and the other a secondary product. Both are up there, both are giving us an amazing experience and each have their pluses and minuses. As noted in my last BtheS (July) in that it will not be X-Plane that will suffer the most with the reintroduction of the Microsoft Simulator but the old legacy FS (FSX) and Prepar3D, both are basically finished as simulation platforms as MSFS gathers speed (Mathis Kok from Aerosoft has already announced that all FSX development has already ceased).

 

More on MSFS and X-Plane future aspects in the v11.50 roundup review.

 

Obviously there was a lot of talk amongst the (aircraft) developers on if they are going to abandon X-Plane for the goldfields of MSFS. Overall the consensus is to not abandon the platform, as the earlier reasons they chose X-Plane for their skills is still the same now for staying, but it would not be impossible to lose a "biggie", for once having now sampled such products as FlightFactor's A320U, Rotate's MD-80 and ToLiSS Airbuses, Aerobask's quality, Thranda's ingenuity and even the coming FLyJSim Dash Q400 would be now very, very much appreciated in the other world simulator. In fact missing such deep immersion simulations is a big attraction in staying currently on the X-Plane platform, after all simulation is about actually flying the aircraft and not what happens around them, in fact the FS world has suffered with poor product over the years in this significant bracket, yes PMDG are brilliant, but since when have they released a new aircraft series, that is not going happen anytime in the future as well, Carenados are also feeling a bit dated...  but X-Plane still pushes them out, with higher quality and better features, we don't have the scale of Flight Sim, but X-Plane produces excellent product.

 

Money is going to be the interesting aspect of going forward. Most MSFS developers are rubbing their hands at the revenue they are hoping the MSFS will deliver, but these Covid 19 times are very different from say even last year, money will not be as freely available and how many users out there will want to spend up again big on product (like I mentioned again last month in BtheS) that they have already purchased twice or even three times before and for the same product. Most products are being put out on a crossover price, but many stubborn (if greedy) developers are asking a full price replacement (again). I really don't think that the punters will have the deep pockets of last year going into the future, and looking at the expensive collections in FSX and P3D they are very unlikely to do the same all over again...  an interesting note is the Carenado CT182T Skylane in the MSFS "Marketplace" was noted as US$44.95... the X-Plane version is US$34.95, that is a US$10 hike for the same aircraft? A mis-spelling mistake or Microsoft Marketplace markup, I don't know which.

 

If anything as expected the release of Microsoft's new version of it's "Flight Simulator" series has like most things in 2020 has changed all aspects of our on-line simulator and real lives. Is such disruption good? to a point yes, but as with everything there are winners and losers in these huge changes. Has there been just too much change lately, certainly yes and a lot not to the good, but change is inevitable one way or another and the winners are the ones that accept change and readjust to the new situations that are the survivors, in other words turn a negative into a positive. One thing is really important to note, is that in the next few years is going to be the most interesting that Simulation has gone through for years, or even decades.

 

See you all next month, and a promise that no mention of MSFS will grace the next edition.

 

Stephen Dutton

1st September 2020

Copyright©2020 X-Plane Reviews

 

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Hi Stephen, since you mentioned the lack of work of LR on default scenery, I would like to let you know that in a recent interview Austin Meyer stated that he has people working on new scenery. I think you are right that both the new MSFS and XP11 have their strengths.

By the way I know you sometimes did review a glider. Do you know Condor 2 ? It is a pure glider simulator that simulates Cumulus cloud based upon terrain.

 

 

Greetings from Germany

Chris

 

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In terms of developers for MSFS it will be interesting to see if the market is for the same sort of complexity in add ons that we’ve seen in the past. MSFS is attracting a wider group of players. Many of those will want better than the stock aircraft but whether they will want or pay for the complex add ons that have been marketed on other platforms is unproven. I believe that the market is limited for those types of add ons.

So will people pay for adds ons that simulate every sort of systems failure? Adding features like that are expensive in the development process. Perhaps rather than $150  for a 737 add on the sweet spot for sales is going to be an eye/feature candy rich $20 one?

As for the existing scenery developers if sales take off there, which I doubt, it’s going to bring a huge amount of new competitors to the platform. Scenery development doesn’t require the specialist aeronautical knowledge that aircraft add ons need. If nothing else the thought that $30 for a small or regional airport is a fair price might not last long. 

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Thanks for your comment. I have thought about that aspect a lot actually...  but we have already sort of tested those ideas out...  we have the full study aircraft with what you could say have the full "bells and whistles" and the FlightSim approach of a basic aircraft that flies but have no depth in systems... this was the Aerosoft ATR 72-500. Overall this approach was rejected totally by the community, we are as noted in simulation, not in gaming. So yes full depth systems are totally relevant as that is what simulation is at its core...  and your biggest argument is that will users actually pay for that depth, the answer is yes, in fact the opposite is true in that give us an aircraft that does not represent a full system immersion (a la ATR 72-500) and we will seriously reject it, total immersion does require a big investment but I totally think that true simmers will always pay for that, and even demand more study aircraft, and they certainly don't want weak simulation like the MSFS direction... it does really only what is says it is...  in being a gamers aspect. I found that argument was very eminently vocal in the release of MSFS.

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20 hours ago, Tian said:

Hi Stephen, since you mentioned the lack of work of LR on default scenery, I would like to let you know that in a recent interview Austin Meyer stated that he has people working on new scenery. I think you are right that both the new MSFS and XP11 have their strengths.

By the way I know you sometimes did review a glider. Do you know Condor 2 ? It is a pure glider simulator that simulates Cumulus cloud based upon terrain.

 

 

Greetings from Germany

Chris

 

 

Yes I have already mentioned that Laminar has brought in a new art team to tackle the scenery aspect (Eastern Europeans apparently), Gliders struggle because the current X-Plane weather system is just too basic...  an area to urgently addressed.

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I don’t think you understand my comment. I never suggested that the simulation community as we understood it would accept dumbed down add ons.What you are missing is that MSFS has different demographics to legacy platforms like X-Plane. If nothing else the median age of users on MSFS is likely very much lower. Adding consoles to the mix will only change those demographics even more.

MSFS will bring more people to the hobby, but many, if not most, of those will be casual users (call them gamers if you want). Those casual users will likely have different criteria about what they want compared with those existing simmers moving to the new platform. They will almost certainly have different price pain points.

 

Gaming has moved on from the days of FSX. People don’t focus on one game, or a couple of games exclusively. They own many games. Those that invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in a single game, either for hardware or add on software is a small minority of users.

 
Think (before MSFS) how many copies of FSX were sold, particularly after it became widely discounted on Steam. How many of those users stayed around and how many of those bought expensive add-ons?

 

My point was, and is, selling a lot of copies of MSFS is an opportunity for the add-on developers. But if they believe that their new customers have the same buying needs and depth of wallet that they had with their legacy client base they might be surprised. Scaling up (like Orbx) and rushing off to MSFS and leaving their legacy customers behind may for some turn out to be a huge mistake.

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It is called "cashing in" and there will be a lot of that, but yes you are right... simulation won't survive as a game, yes a lot will just fly around the Effiel Tower a few times and bomb their houses, but if you do that a few it then gets boring. The demographics will split into those that treat it purely as a game, then go off and kill more soldiers...  but to stay interested is when the depth side of simulation kicks in...  here I am after ten years with an attention span of weeks on anything I really like, then discard it to move onto something else, but simulation has kept that attention span working for over ten years, so there has to be something else to hold me to that aspect. Like you and to the hope of Microsoft and even X-Plane as users start to explore the depths of what simulation really is and the skills required to fly aircraft really well, or correctly then the bug bites and so you become a follower and not a passer by...  as you noted MSFS will bring a lot of people to the simulation table that have no idea that it even exists.

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To our point VerticalSim today released for MSFS Plant City Municipal airport. What is interesting is that it’s priced at $5.49

 

Now it’s a limited size scenery (and probably I’d suggest of limited interest) but at that price point it’s a micro transaction (below $10). It’s also around one-third of the price Orbx are asking for their small airports for the same platform. It’ll be interesting to see how pricing develops for add-ons for MSFS over time and whether that then starts having an impact on pricing for other platforms.

 

Now I’m a big Orbx fan, and most of their product for X-Plane is excellent but personally I think one way to win on the MSFS store is going to be pricing within that micro transaction level that gamers are used to. 

 

 

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Stephen I’m not talking about the discount for MSFS from owning in another platform. Check pricing yourself. MSFS sceneries are much cheaper on Orbx than other platforms. Take London City. For X-plane and P3d the scenery is AUD 32.95 and for MSFS AUD 20.99. A small airport like Orca island (KORS) AUD 17.99 for MSFs for Xplane AUD 34.95.

 

One theory from the Orbx forum for the price differential is that MSFS only includes textures for the airport wheres other platforms have surrounding photo real scenery ehich is expensive. I think there’s some validity in that, but not enough to support the price differential. 
 

Nothing to do with crossover.

 

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To a point I agree with you, if the developer utilises the default ground mesh textures then yes the product could be cheaper...  but in most cases the Lo-Res to the Hi-Res required for the airport detail would mostly require new ground textures, however Microsoft could have a deal to purchase such better resolution textures of the airport. I do like however the idea of one full texture mesh for both the surrounding environs and the airport textures themselves being totally seemless.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I’d commented before on whether MSFS might start to move scenery prices down, the idea of micro transaction pricing. I’d offered up VerticalSims Plant City pricing as an example and you’d suggested that was a test on pricing. Now FSDreamTeam are releasing Key West at $9.99. Are you sure that this lower pricing isn’t a trend rather than a test?

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But why is scenery a $25 item? Why is a lower price ‘giving it away’? Yes, that’s pricing that we’ve become used to, but with more competition and potentially more sales perhaps that’s changing? Orbx have developed Key West for other platforms so perhaps that’s probably a candidate for MSFS except now, with FSDT’s pricing maybe they’ll be less keen to release.

 

VerticalSimulation pricing for many of their regional airports for Xplane directly from their website are $6. Even Tampa is $16. I wouldn’t have picked up many of their airports and missed out on the great quality if they had been $20 or $25. 
 

I don’t want developers to starve (quite the opposite) but I’ve always wondered if the high price of add-ons, in particular scenery, was the real barrier to getting more sales and ultimately through volume more profit.
 

With scenery in particular there aren’t many barriers for new entrants. There’s going to be a lot of competition and pricing is going to become a big element.
 

 

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3 hours ago, Medellinexpat said:

I don’t want developers to starve (quite the opposite) but I’ve always wondered if the high price of add-ons, in particular scenery, was the real barrier to getting more sales and ultimately through volume more profit.

 

 

I think the real barrier is serious flight simulation itself - it will never have mass appeal so niche market pricing seems like a natural result (not the cause) to me.

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But if MSFS does make It more of a mainstream hobby? I’ve always believed that it is the wider audience on MSFS might not accept pricing that we’ve been used to. It’ll be even more interesting when MSFS starts to go on sale (Black Friday?) which will make add on prices, in terms of content for your dollar, seem even more distorted.

 

A lot of us Quietly rebel against that niche market pricing anyway. Take Orbx, and I’m a big fan and have plenty of their stuff, but for the most part I wait for the sale. When Carenado recently had a big sale I bought five aircraft that I wanted and generally I’m not that price sensitive. So we in a world of niche pricing have all learnt hoe to play the game.

 

Steam pricing is interesting as well. I live in Colombia and the local Steam store pricing, even without sales, tends to lower than in the US or Europe. For example Aerosoft’s fairly recent Ibizia is $23.95 on the Org store. it’s the equivalent of $13.95 on Steam here. That’s not a cherry picked item either, just an example. So niche pricing isn’t consistent. 

 

Perhaps VerticalSimulations might make a good interview to understand how they came to their new pricing. 
 

But you’re probably right, as a niche market pricing was never going to be that competitive but if MSFS now means we’re moving away from niche, maybe the dominos will start to fall. 

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42 minutes ago, Medellinexpat said:

But if MSFS does make It more of a mainstream hobby? I’ve always believed that it is the wider audience on MSFS might not accept pricing that we’ve been used to. It’ll be even more interesting when MSFS starts to go on sale (Black Friday?) which will make add on prices, in terms of content for your dollar, seem even more distorted.

 

A lot of us Quietly rebel against that niche market pricing anyway. Take Orbx, and I’m a big fan and have plenty of their stuff, but for the most part I wait for the sale. When Carenado recently had a big sale I bought five aircraft that I wanted and generally I’m not that price sensitive. So we in a world of niche pricing have all learnt hoe to play the game.

 

Steam pricing is interesting as well. I live in Colombia and the local Steam store pricing, even without sales, tends to lower than in the US or Europe. For example Aerosoft’s fairly recent Ibizia is $23.95 on the Org store. it’s the equivalent of $13.95 on Steam here. That’s not a cherry picked item either, just an example. So niche pricing isn’t consistent. 

 

Perhaps VerticalSimulations might make a good interview to understand how they came to their new pricing. 
 

But you’re probably right, as a niche market pricing was never going to be that competitive but if MSFS now means we’re moving away from niche, maybe the dominos will start to fall. 

 

Yeah good point, but I wonder exactly what it is that MSFS will make mainstream, though? As Stephen has mentioned, at the moment it is more of a game than a sim, and it will be a long time before it becomes anything approaching "study-level". And how far will they take that? My guess is that most gamers won't go along for that ride - thus no more mass market. And MS is all about the mass market. I just think the number of people interested in real aviation will always be small, and the number of those willing to go through a lot of tedious study to become better virtual pilots even smaller.

 

I personally don't begrudge the more vertical pricing (as long as the product is good), because I know it's simply unavoidable with such a smaller market. Maybe not as much for the bigger multiplatform publishers like Aerosoft and Orbx, but a lot of our vendors are tiny shops or even one-man-shows, who do it mainly for the love of XP. I can't imagine a lot of them are making any real money in our market.

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Does MSFS have to be a Sim rather than a game to sell add ons, in particular scenery? I think that all the third party developers were rushing to MSFS just because it was going to have large numbers of players (and therefore target audience) rather than it was going to be the most realistic simulator.

One thing that will be interesting to watch is whether MSFS changes the sceneries that are available. X-Plane has little beyond the US and Europe for example. There’s very little if anything for Asia. You can buy an excellent Fresno (Orbx) but not a Narita. The early releases for MSFS seem to be following that same trend. Lots of niche airports in Europe and the US.

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