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Behind the Screen : May 2021

 

Noted it is already 1st June...   5 months of the year 2021 have already passed, and where are we? Non-Covid then later this week the FlightSimExpo on the 4th June to the 6th June would have been running in San Diego, but that date has now been moved to September 24-26, 2021.

 

The FlightSimExpo 2021 this time around after the no-go of 2020, was a huge focus on the state of play in simulation and of the whirlwind of the changes surrounding simulation, a sort of "touch base" scenario or to see where we are all relative to all the significant changes of late. But mostly the focus would have been on Laminar Research... would have they released or at least previewed X-Plane12 (or what ever XP12 would be called) this weekend? My gut says they would have certainly previewed or announced the new up and coming simulator version with a razzmatazz do-da at the Expo, right under the noses of Microsoft and their full on desire to show off their own do-da Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS). In other words a head to head battle for users for a certain specific platform or for the cash they deliver, but that extreme clash of the simulation titans will now not happen, or not yet anyway.

 

So the obvious question is? Will Laminar Research still announce the new X-Plane version as per the old SimExpo dates (this weekend), or now wait until the rescheduled Sept SimExpo. It gives Laminar even more time to refine the details and make even more of a announcement splash further on up the road. It is a big question.

 

Laminar has a few options, because historically the northern summer is a very quiet time in Simulation, users are more interested in the beach or fishing than sitting behind a computer, oddly I am in the Southern Winter, but the weather here is just as pleasant as the Northern Summer (If not as perfect) so you want to be outside more than inside with the glorious weather...  so would an announcement now from Laminar go simply nowhere? Or if Laminar did announce the new X-Plane version, then they would still have months to refine it and get a beta release under way for the same Sept Expo date, announcing does not mean delivering, but  it does start the countdown clock to a reveal or beta release. I left my calendar clear for next week either way, and why?

 

The first five months of 2021 (Covid-19 restrictions aside) it has been in Simulation terms very quiet, they all bubble along nicely, but not certainly with the extreme vigour of the past few years. Again has the Covid aspects been a factor in that, and not in just the health aspects but the actual monetary characteristics as well, personally I don't think so, but much is so out of whack with the virus. But there are aspects that need exploring, and in reality the main players in both MSFS and X-Plane are actually still in a state of transition phase.

 

In the case of MSFS, it has certainly lost a lot of it's release thrill. No doubt the scenery developers are still bowing to the great god for financial salvation, but look closer and the releases are still mostly well rehashed versions of the earlier released FS/P3D product, nothing new to see there, but earlier the volume was absolutely overwhelming and all or mostly it was released at bucket low prices. In X-Plane quality scenery has also gone through the floor, with very little released and mostly only the small regional or just basic airfields to purchase (the quality however is really, really good), certainly there are no mega ports or cityscapes... we are now certainly being punished heavily for our lack of investment in quality scenery...   all the big boys have certainly gone, the question is will they come back, and I told you so, mostly in every monthly BtheS edition I did last year.

 

But is the forecasted deal actually or really working out? No doubt the MSFS developers are in it for the really long haul, but will MSFS actually really deliver the bonanza they are expecting or the high returns they expect to build a long term business model on, personally I am already thinking they might already have realised, that the cash cow they were expecting is not actually going to be there or even materialize, gamers are still a very different breed than Simulation users in that they hop-in and hop-out at will, they are certainly not going to spend money to build up long term portfolios of aircraft, scenery or addons like the dedicated Simulator users do. Lately the early year's absolutely full on MSFS release stream of scenery has already dropped to down to a trickle?

 

On aircraft MSFS is still very much in nowheresville. The release of Aerosoft's big bang and expensive CRJ 550/700, was of actually burst balloon proportions, reviews are horrible, but JustFlight have just released their (in X-Plane excellent) PA-28R Turbo Arrow III IV, so there might be finally a decent machine to fly in the MSFS Simulator, but overall the deeper MSFS architecture is just not there for deep grade simulation, as with the original Flight Simulator series it will depend on if the developers can work around this crucial aspect in a 3rd party design, rather than depending on the actual simulator itself. To a point most important X-Plane aircraft are now also independent of the core Plane Maker tools to operate and a few with CEF (Chrome) and xjet are standalone plugins from PM. But I still think the MSFS architecture is again far to different to workaround as it is again based on gaming engines, more than a flight modeling engine to achieve the required depth and dynamics.

 

Yes I actually have MSFS, but I rarely fly it? I have also not even bought a single product in the platform, and that is not because I am being an X-Plane devotee. I am very much in wanting to experience the best in simulation, but to be honest (except for the visual aspects) it leaves me stone cold, I find the flight model very artificial (what is with the bouncing?) and the visual controls are simply impossible, and I certainly don't feel comfortable in the aircraft, but get the feeling of being set removed or distanced from the dynamics... and it has crashed in one form or the other almost every time I have used it, would that overall experience make you want to actually invest in it?

 

I found Q1 2021 frustratingly slow in X-Plane. There was a few nice and very good helicopter releases, but at times I was actually looking for things to review which was very rare activity in the last few dynamic years, I expected the year to bounce off hard, but it never happened, it just stumbled and groaned. In Q2 2021 X-Plane suddenly felt normal again, with three exceptional aircraft releases, Aerobask with their excellent Embraer EMB-505 Phenom 300, followed by the very much anticipated JustFlight BAe 146 Pro, and finally the mind-blowing X-Trident CH47-D Chinook.

 

The really odd thing about those last few X-Plane releases, was the actual sheer depth of their systems and the flight dynamics. Again another level of Simulation, that to be honest pushed my reviewing skills to the absolute limits. So much to learn and so much to operate in the way you fly each of these aircraft, and personally, I know and is still flying all three consistently to trying to get up to each of the aircraft's extreme level of study and skill bases.

 

That is of course great and the aspect of the Simulator still pushing you upwards in your skill base, but it is also highly fulfilling, satisfaction wise.

But here is the point. Without those extreme aircraft simulations you don't have a Simulator, and you don't even have a viable Simulator if the developers didn't develop these amazing products, and overall that is the huge chasm between MSFS and X-Plane right now, if you are a serious sim-user then where do you have to be to do deep immersion simulation, the answer is simply of course X-Plane.

 

So the question to Laminar Research is that, can you afford to waste the time to wait till September 21 to get the next version of X-Plane out to an eager audience. Their answer maybe in that "well X-Plane11 is moving along quite nicely", but that is not the point here, push your luck too far and you could lose the overall game, and money.

 

To those MSFS developers in the fact that if X-Plane12 (or whatever) is really, really good, then where should your talents go to. "Look the deal is guys, give us the same quality and scenery as you are giving to MSFS, and we will buy it" but don't try to screw us, were as currently you are giving MSFS better quality and diversity, and at a far cheaper price" That is not fair... if like X-Plane or not, the Simulator delivers where it really counts in Simulation, but the X-Plane12 aspect and Laminar's fancy long-winded roadmap can change the game (so to speak) significantly, because the point is if Sim users can get the realism in aircraft and plugins they require, then the only thing missing is the visuals (and the weather), that is what X-Plane12 in context should finally put right...  do you see where I am going!

 

Again I am not going into bat for just for X-Plane, but for the full overall experience of Simulation. If Laminar Research want to face off the might of Microsoft and their wonderkind product in Sept, then build up the momentum before you get to San Diego, than then just trying to overwhelm them (or announce) on the day will not work, because MSFS have a lot to lose, and work the MSFS developers to say that X-Plane IS worthy of your attention, because believe it or not, we do as users actually buy portfolios of your product.

 

After the last August release of MSFS, we are in an interesting place, but actually it will be this coming Northern Summer that will be a setting to the future of Simulation as we know it. Yes FlightSimExpo 2021 in September will still be the epicentre to the clash titans of Simulation, but most significant battles have always been won not on the field, but before and well away from the day itself...  it is your call Laminar Research.

 

See you all again next month...

 

Stephen Dutton

1st June 2021

Copyright©2021 X-Plane Reviews

 

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Welcome back. Excellent comments on the state of the add on industry and many of them were foreseeable. Those that left for the riches of MSFS leaving their old clientele behind. Step up names like Carenado who seem to have deserted Xplane. Even Orbx who other than a couple of releases now seem to have turned into a store for other Xplane add on providors. It would be interesting to get information from the source about just how well MSFS sales are going. Did deserting Xplane improve their finances or was it just the opportunity to retread existing other platform material for MSFs?
 

There have been some positives. The 146 as you say (but the daily bug fixing packages became tedious) and some promising new developers like Boundless who have issued both niche and more mainstream sceneries. There has been some useful updating going on, packages like the Toliss Airbuses have had some useful changes and fixes.

 

As MSFS has shown the industry still struggles with getting content out in a timely manner. You can fly between any two points in the world in MSFS in a detailed aircraft, provided the two points are no more than the range of a CRJ or a Piper. Lessons to be learnt for XP12 there.

 

Sime small developers go against the trend. Vertical Simulations and their excellent US Regional airports. Stick and Rudder who always seem to have something in Beta and maintain a good dialogue with their customers. But as you say, small offerings and the larger ines that came along like Madrid Barajas although much needed weren’t very inspiring.

 

Another trend has been developers avoiding the Org store and trying to sell from their own platforms. One wonders at the success of that. I browse the Org store (including the recent excellent sale) figuring out what my next buy might be. How do I know your Jackson Hole scenery even exists?

 

The pandemic should have been a great opportunity for the industry with people stuck at home. Did they take advantage of it? One would argue not.

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I do not agree that developers are now avoiding the X-Plane.OrgStore. The points are simple in that X-Plane as a community and consumer base has changed and diversed over the years. Overall the composition changed as the X-Plane as a platform moved on from what was basically a hobbyist platform to a more diverse, even say Flight Simulator broad based consumer profile. The point is the actual amount of products now available on the X-Plane.OrgStore compared to even five years ago are far, far more considerable than ever before. Yes developers swap and change, but the ones that go it alone also don't have the muscle of the sales of the X-Plane.OrgStore behind them. Just selling a product from your web site will not not make you more money, and as a few developers have done so in also not giving out promotion product, and then they also miss out also on the valuable exposure that the bigger stores can generate.

A few are doing the restricted sales for a few weeks before moving their products on to the stores, to in trying to maximise their profits, but they still put the product on the X-Plane.OrgStore..   and remember why most users still buy from stores and mostly the X-Plane.OrgStore...  for one it is the service, it is not a faceless shop front, so you get security and value for your purchases, secondly is the quick updates, even in a Skunkcraft update world, it is still a huge benefit to redownload the full file, for maximum efficiency. Note the users who will not buy, but from the X-Plane.OrgStore, and because mostly like this review site, we check and seal the fact the quality of the products, and make sure you get the value you pay for...  in other words the X-Plane.OrgStore is a security blanket, and a blanket that the FlightSim world does not have.

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Stephen firstly you clearly misunderstand my view on the Org store. Did you read it properly? I was intending to be supportive of the store and suggesting that developers who are avoiding it were potentially losing sales. Having the product on your own store only means that once the burst of release publicity has gone how do you even know the product exists?
As for the argument that developers aren’t in some cases avoiding the Org store I’m surprised as several of my recent purchases weren’t available on the Org store. I gave an example of one in my post. What about a well known A300 and Beluga release? There isn’t much Asian scenery on the Org store. There is on another competing platform including Changi and  a fairly new Narita. There’s also a much better Gatwick recently released than the one on the Org store. I could go on.

Now that’s not to say I expect everything to be on the Org store, nor that there won’t be items that don’t meet the Org store standards but there are gaps and you won’t have to go far to find developers on posted feedback saying that they don’t intend to use the Org store. One posted in another forum that it was because the Org. Store didn’t meet their standards, which as I posted there made zero sense.

Much as I like my points on the Org store I do wonder if eliminating that program (which might be unpopular) might allow the store to give a better deal to developers and encourage more complete coverage? Or even the option. Want your points or give the benefit back to the developers? 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Nice article,

I do agree I'm waiting for Laminar Research announcements regarding the future of X-Plane but they have their own time bubble relative to ours ;)

I also think I'm one of those the focus more on the plane aspect than the visuals, this is why my scenery basket is light.

 

I'll continue refreshing LR developer blog in the hope to see something new, but I guess the quite means they are working hard on the future of their product.

 

Cheers

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Yes, no news is good news I suppose in the Laminar Research space-time continuum. There is the point that this version (XP12) really needs to be right in every aspect...  my gut says it will be, thanks for the comment.

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