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Behind the Screen : March 2021

 

On the Laminar Research Facebook page in early March the announcement suddenly came up in...  "Something BIG is coming". Immediately the one BIG thought that flashed into your mind was X-PLANE12 or whateveritwillbecalled in X-Planesomething. Now we know or very quickly some sleuths worked it all out, that it was not anything to do with X-Plane12 or even with Laminar Research, but the formation of the Flight Simulation Association, that was formed by the same people Reiter and Coyle that brings you the yearly FlightSimExpo.

 

The association was to bring in all the diverse elements of the main Simulation platform creators, third party hardware and software suppliers and all the different aspects of simulation together into one hub for Simulation flight Sim Enthusiasts, and to get access to all that you paid a membership fee that cost US $30 per year, although a 30-day free trial was then available.

 

Well that went down in a firestorm of hate and bile and the chair throwing, and even so was the full dinner set was thrown against the wall...   "oh why pay for something we can get for FREE", they bawled...  the poor guys from the FlightSimExpo, just ducked and dived and were naturally horrified at their misconception of what a terrible, terrible thing they had all done, into to try and get the FlightSim community to come together and have a association to represent the niche (meaning very small) segment of what we call our simulation world.

 

Let us be clear, the membership fee was obviously for cover the administration and site costs, and yes even a little profit for the work required to run the site and do the work of running an association. But hey, you HAD to PAY for it! I seriously doubt the project will survive, as the FSA will linger on for a while, but with no income, then for how long can you do a volunteer volume of work before throwing in the towel.

 

My perspective was it showed the real nasty side of simulation users, even if the FSA was a bit inept at the start, and was filled only with some average deals and products, didn't we really miss the whole point of why we desperately need something like the FSA. In the long run the nasty rebuff could also sink the FlightSimExpo (already suffering badly with last years virus cancellation, and the same virus could even could still sink this years event, of which actually is extremely important to the FlightSim community. So would you expect two guys in just trying to "have a go" and then to walkaway from a community that does not really want anything but for anything that will only satisfy their own selfish needs. There was something very nasty about it all.

 

Maybe it is the pent up frustration, created certainly by Laminar Research in announcing "something" in the New Year and here we are months later with no details on any future roadmap or not even a sweet/candy wrapper to show for our devotion. Yes Laminar will always be Laminar and will walk to their own time and space continuum that even Einstein would have not been able to work out. That frustration was and still is out there, still bubbling away and building, so the announcement of the FSA was certainly badly timed, the FlightSimExpo in early June would or should have certainly been the better timed event for the announcement.

 

Instead of solving a lot of the FlightSim community issues, it overall just showed us all the real problems within it. In a culture were everything is free, Music, News, Entertainment and Simulation, many people don't realise that behind every keyboard is a person, creating the product and the abundent information. It is a shock to anyone that we actually have to pay rent, buy food and clothes... just like you do, worse is the fact that with no income to attract talented people, then the services and product is now getting more and more second rate...  so why bother with Simulation when an App can make you millions, even a video game can make you rich, and  "hey", Microsoft has also now a great income stream started, so why not go there, and they have in their hundreds...  but the one thing that can be harder to create is an income by doing something that is not going to bring you in any rewards for your talent and hard work, and why, because it has to be eternally and always free.

 

Yes this is becoming a constant theme in these monthly utterings, because again what has happened with the FSA, and it shows that if you "have a go", but then rock the boat on the free gravy train...  you will be lambasted and ruined back into extinction.

 

The events have worried me in that the reaction to the FSA was the most nasty I have seen in a long time, and believe me there has been a lot of this nasty venom stuff thrown around in the past. The point of Flight Simulation Association, was to bring the community together, to give us a bigger voice out there in the bigger world, to expose the ideas and fun associated with Simulation as a serious hobby, to even give us a chance to survive as a community and as a cohesive one. FSA certainly was not perfect, but it was certainly a starting point in going in the right direction. And to survive and have clout, it needs real funding, not venom...  I did note in the announcement news post that;

 

"so (here is) a body to do serious promotions is seriously welcomed, the point is will or can they actually promote Simulation other than say a jazzy website and yearly Expos, that for me is the big question, but if you invest in the body, then you would also expect results...  on that aspect we will see if FSA will deliver, as I want to see Simulation promoted to people that don't know it exists".

 

We will now certainly never know if the FSA would have or could have made a difference, most would shout that aspect down anyway...   the truth is we will now never get the chance to find out unless the partners get together and save the FSA. Certainly they will have a lot to talk about at the FlightSimExpo in early June, and that is if that event now actually happens again or if forever in the future.

 

The WIP debate

Over the last year there is the comment that no aircraft (or scenery to that matter) is ever finished in X-Plane, and there is a lot of truth in that statement. Everything is a so called WIP, or Work In Progress, and I totally respect that aspect. But the declaration of Work in Progress has taken on over the last few years a much more very broader spectrum.

 

The traditional developer approach was that the developer worked on the product until a release candidate, it should at this point be about 95% complete with a lot of feedback from qualified betatesters, in other words it should be a pretty refined product that you buy. Yes there will always be a few post-release updates to cover small glitches and bugs to cover the users wide variety of systems out there, plus that users are actually a finicky lot and want certain other aspects covered. Then from then on, there is only the odd yearly update would cover the aircraft to keep it up to current standards and X-Plane version changes. But the overall point is that when you buy that product it is a quality product. X-PlaneReviews will do a review of the release product and the summation of the value of what you get and what you are actually paying for in quality.

 

But developers have been sort of fiddling the system in the last few years, or even manipulating it to suit themselves. The aspect of Work in Progress is still a very wide range that could be assumed still to be anywhere within the original framework. The question is "what is not" finished or completed when the product itself will never ever be a completed entity?

 

A developer noted to me that my review is unfair because the product is still a "WIP" or work in progress, but that is the whole point...  it is not ACTUALLY finished is it?

 

The debate is the line the product reaches a quality release point, not what is going to added in later over the next year, or so. There is always the price point line were as a product is made to that price and that is a developer's choice. But I personally see product released basically half-baked, were as only a few months of development can not only clear up the final errors, bugs and refinement, but can grade the product into the quality product it can actually be. The one thing that makes me simply mad is that the work and the talent is all in there, but the product is shortfalling itself on not only the quality, but also the price returns for the developer in reward for all their hard work... "Why do that", literally sabotage your precious work and good returns, for the sake of just a few more weeks or a couple of months of development. The attitude is simply "put it out" and I'll fix it up later.

 

Many other developers do what I call "cash up front" developing, as you pay now to access into the development, and enjoy the experience of being involved into the full development process...  personally my thinking is that the developers get early cash up front to to fund their development, and in that aspect it is good idea, and a sort of Go-Fund me. Because an aircraft can take up to two years or even three with a large project, before they get any remuneration for their work. Certainly not fair to the developer, but is that also not fair to the purchaser?

 

Yes you get access to the product, but this is also a pretty early representation of the product, and mostly with a lot of systems missing and even early average textures and no detailing...  things can change a lot as well, engine modeling might change two or three times before a final decision is made on the correct profile or design...  yes you do get to input and even have a say in what you think is the correct profile and have an involvement in the entire development process, and many users relish that aspect.

 

So is there a right or wrong way with the "Work in Progress" debate. Certainly the early access is a great thing to many users, but that development can drag on for years and years. The Magknight Boeing 787 is a good example of that early access system, and to be extremely fair in that to date Magknight has certainly delivered of what was promised, but there is however still a huge WIP feel of the project, or will it ever be actually finished or ever be a fully rounded simulation.

To counter that project, currently FlightFactor are already beavering away on their own Boeing 787 project that you can assume that will be mostly fully 95% or more completed on release later in the year, so which one would I like to fly, certainly a fully formed and system ready aircraft, and undoubtably far more so than an inconsistent WIP aircraft, even if I did have a personal involvement in the earlier development process.

 

I have also noted a trend in developers lately in using just plain modeling items with colour, rather than texturing the item. Done cleverly the developer can get away with this aspect, but too much of this practise and the aircraft or scenery can suddenly look incomplete or not very realistic... I can be very discerning about this area, but to the developer they could just be trying to keep the product under a certain price point which is a fair point, or just plainly shortcutting in detail to get the product out more quickly, however I tend to always say it is in the second aspect, in simply cutting corners to get product out quicker...

And the one red flag that comes up very obvious, is that if a developer is putting out a lot of product very quickly, then they will certainly have to cut corners to do so...  myself I would rather have a far more quality (finished) product at a higher price, than a lot of products at a WIP low cost price, because at the end of the day, quality is the key to making money, and not releasing a lot of average product. But far too many developers lately are doing more the secondary approach than the first. Worse is if the developer pushes out a lot of average product they will be then also be labeled on being an average developer, or as I note a "B Grade" developer, and once the stigma sticks, it is very hard to remove.

 

You could call me "Old-Fashioned", or even an "Old Bugger" if you want to. But my motivations are in being realistic is in that if X-Plane is to attract money to developers and more users to the Simulation platform, then only quality and fully rounded products can do that...  yes X-Plane itself was founded on the hobbiest approach to aviation simulation and yes experimental aircraft and ideas are it's foundation.

 

X-Plane is now however now a far more highly graded simulator, but it is only as good as the products you install into it. So yes we admit, we will be even ruthless in accessing new product that is introduced into the simulation system, and with half-baked releases, that just don't cut the grade will be called out, and for more than one reason, but overall you do deserve a quality product for your money, but helping the developer to achieve their goals is a great thing as well. 

 

This month showed the quality system at work. Early work by Aerobask was very good, but the developers still had a long and steep learning curve to climb. They did so and the results now show of what is a product, that is both on release is of a very high quality product with excellent features, but above all a great investment and also gives you a high return in maximum enjoyment for your simulation...  that is the constant goal, for everyone, for the developer, the reviewers and also the users of the X-Plane Simulator.

 

See you all next month, and a very Happy Easter

 

Stephen Dutton

1st April 2021

Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews

 

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On FSA I don’t disagree with your comments but it was woefully thought out, executed and responded to. They had the successful conferences which the pandemic had derailed. Why didn’t they stick closer to that idea, say Quarterly online conferences and then some priority access to the ‘real’ conferences in the future? They also did not seem to have refined a target audience. There is a lot of free content available about flight simulation but a lot of it is self promoting and thin in content. Having unique content, from developers, that was much deeper than what you commonly find online would have had an audience. Not a huge one perhaps but it would have been the base to build from. They might even have worked with that more knowledgeable base to build beta testing teams for developers. What would you rather have, 10% off Inbuilds products (which you can probably get anyway) or potential access into say their A310 beta team?

Inbuilds departure from the group within 24 hours needs also to be recognized as an issue. As soon as there was noise they jumped? 
FSA thought out properly could have been a platform for several good things. Something like a Developer Code of Conduct that developers could have signed up to and promising standards and good practices around things like customer support. It might not have hurt the platform developers like Microsoft and Laminar to sponsor the effort. FSA would have promoted flight simulation, effectively for them its free advertising, a little cash would not have hurt.
Personally, and many will disagree I’m not totally sure that a multi platform site is an easy sell. If nothing else you need to focus on the individual platform streams under a universal site. MSFS is so big and so much attention is focused on it that the other platforms often get short shrift. As I’ve posted before I gave up on the PC Pilot magazine after too many MSFS ‘specials’. 
So FSA you could have built a platform with content from your developer base providing content such as the trials and tribulations of building the Beluga. A twenty minute interview. Would I watch that rather than watching Captain Annoying streaming a three hour flight free. You bet.

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