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Behind the Screen : June 2018


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Behind the Screen : June 2018


We ended the last Behind the Screen edition in May 2018 with the coming FlightSimExpo 2018 in Las Vegas. And I covered the overview of the event here Laminar Research : FlightSimExpo 2018 X-Plane Roadmap.


The Expo was everything we expected it to be and even more, and the more interesting background of the Expo was just as interesting as the announced upfront details and the following roadmap from Laminar Research. In the short version Laminar did a really great seminar, and in fact were the highlights of the Expo, but that was also the underlying theme of this Expo as was the changes with the overall simulation genre as a business.


There was many highlights to the Expo. First being was that simulation although dwarfed by online and video gaming is not as many predicted dying a thousand slow deaths, but coming from the FlightSim World perspective it may seem that way. In fact simulation and as this Expo showed that simulation is quite healthy in new members and participation, but it is still is a small niche area that is simply not advertised enough as to how good simulation really is today...  in other words not many people out there actually know that simulation actually exists and how good or how great it is.


Secondly is the fact that simulation is going through a major seismic wholesale change, and this year in 2018 will be remembered as one of the most significant moments for the whole of the many simulation platforms, yes this theme has been current for a few "Behind the Screen" editions this year, but it is extremely important to understand why and how this situation is unfolding and then as quickly as it is.


This was highlighted even more by the Expo in Las Vegas, yes all the big guns were there in PMDG, Aerosoft, Orbix, Quality Wings, Rex Simulations, Goflight and more. But there was a significant change in the air as well, as in the past FlightSim Simulation business totally and dominated the expos and seminars, but here the mood was very different. And the only company that had the biggest and over-riding presence at the Expo was X-Plane's Laminar Research, and not only on the stage, but in the event hall as well.


Daniel Klaue (Thranda) summed it all up nicely in his comments of his visit to the Expo and he was certainly active in finding out of where everything was standing in this current simulation business. His notes that Lockheed Martin's P3D was or is never going to be a community driven sim is highly significant and that the platform's user base is sectioned into areas that in reality is not good if Lockheed Martin's funding (military) is suddenly reduced (Although a pro-Trump defence buildup will not see that in the immediate future), but so If Lockheed Martin decided that a small side simulation business is not worth throwing cash or resources at and again it mirrors the Microsoft decision of a decade ago, then the complete current FlightSim business model and even the user base around it is totally and completely over and in effect the Microsoft platform days are then well and truly over as well. And as Dan Klaue notes..


"if the funding for the development of the sim comes from a 51-billion dollar military industrial complex, interested in the sim primarily for its value in training military personnel, it seems pretty detached from the market forces that could make the sim a better sim for end-users and hobbyists. interested in the sim primarily for its value in training military personnel, it seems pretty detached from the market forces that could make the sim a better sim for end-users and hobbyists."


Yes FlightSim may survive the loss of Dovetail Games and FSW, but it certainly won't survive the loss of P3D, and is the Lockheed Martin philosophy and business model one to invest in a five year or more business plan? Dan does note that Lockheed Martin don't even know what to do with P3D themselves, either keep it in the military theme or go public and compete head on with Laminar Research, but overall they are not a private commerce based business but a giant aerospace company. So you can easily see the working of the worry beads by even the most entrenched FlightSim developers and although their smiles and thumbs up said "Everythings OK" the reality is however very different.


But Laminar Research and X-Plane is still a very different platform as well. Built by hobbist's and run by hobbist's it is very community driven and that is very good. But X-Plane is also still very different from the user and business likes and not's of the FlightSim community, so hence the real hesitation of the major FlightSim business to come and develop for X-Plane.


This fact is highlighted very well or even very badly for X-Plane in the latest user data from Laminar Research..  "Usage Data as of June 2018". As 61% of all flights in the simulator are with still with and only includes the basic default X-Plane aircraft, and default and simple are the word to be noted here. Next down by a long way at 4.5%  is the Boeing 738x Zibo mod aircraft which is again free and a development of the same aircraft as the default Laminar Research B738 version?

So currently 65% of ALL fights in X-Plane are only with freeware aircraft, and just think about that. My real horror at those numbers was that the two new Airbus aircraft with the FlightFactor A320U and more so with ToLiSS's A319 were not even registered, they are noted as something like a percentage of 0.09%. Yes I will admit they are in a high price point, but the numbers are not good at all if you want to base your payware business model on X-Plane and certainly in the heavy aircraft genre that most of these FS developers have most of their investment. In fact it destroys any chance of any business model at all, and this point is very significant for the future of the X-Plane platform in the simulation business. If the hobbist twiddlers are wanting to keep out the monster FlightSim community out then they are certainly doing a very good job about it, but that sort of mentality is also very, very detrimental and even fatalistic for the future of X-Plane as a simulation platform and certainly as a payware business.


This leads to two very different future scenerios for X-Plane and both are not good for the simulator. The first one is that the FlightSim developers group together and create a new simulator in their own image and business model or even buy out the Lockheed Martin platform. This is not hypothetical either as they already have once before as a group tried to buy the original Microsoft Flight Simulator licence, but Dovetail Games put in a higher offer... but that is not saying it will happen again as desperate times create desperate measures.

The reflection on X-Plane in this case will be that it will go along on it's merry hobbist way, but there is a significant issue in that even X-Plane devoted current developers will slowly disappear as the returns for the amount of development time will widen and top quality products will gradually become scarce, and in fact innovation instead of going forward in the payware features will slowly disappear. In other word X-Plane will be PlaneMaker based again (Like the Magknight B787) with only a few developers willing to produce aircraft for a very small market as only freeware or a minute share of if any payware aircraft will dominate the simulator. And to be honest even I would abandon my beloved X-Plane if the high quality product stopped coming or decreased, as I hate to go backwards for a minority view of even for a few hobbists.


Second scenerio is that the FlightSim developers change X-Plane into their own world view, a sort of migration issue in that in time the immigrants change the nature and soul of the simulation platform to suit their own conveniences and in that yes they would probably make it actually better, but it wouldn't be the X-Plane in the eyes and feel that we know it today. This is already happening in the way that Orbix is already creating their own hub and universe, as you can buy only from them and only them or you either don't get it or be given any choices, worse is the fact they are hoovering up all the best scenery X-Plane developers like no tomorrow with wishes, good tidings and mostly the chance to earn real money, but note that money all goes back only to Orbix and not into X-Plane, is that really the X-Plane way, certainly it is the FlightSim way...  


So if all these major FlightSim developers do decide to come and eventually run X-Plane as their new universe then the hobbist's will certainly very quickly be outnumbered by the immigrants because they are willing to open their wallets. But then the current miserly user base is very much to blame for their own loss and more so the high loss of a group of very highly talented developers that are only trying to make a living and at least get some sales for their hard work, in reality you just can't blame them going to a market to sell their great ideas and innovation and being rewarded for it, as certainly X-Plane users are all turning their noses up at the work because it is going to cost them a few hard dollars to invest into the X-Plane platform and even then at it's own or even their own survival.


And you can also see why FlightSim Developers are not going to come to X-Plane either, why would you for such minuscule returns on your investments and resources and a user base totally disinterested in what you are provided for the simulator...  why should you as it will always be free or will it.


The excellent and even ground breaking aircraft released already this year with FlyJSim's excellent Boeing 732, FlightFactor's Aircraft A320 Ultimate and most notably the ToliSS319 deserve far, far more than a 0.3% or the noted 0.09% share of the X-Plane market and believe me when this sort of quality stops coming then you will only have yourselves to blame in not investing in the very best, not only in X-Plane but in simulation overall as a platform as well. And don't even get me started on payware scenery.


The problem here though is that X-Plane is like buying an Apple Computer, as when you buy the simulator you get everything you need with it as well, from good (not great) default aircraft and basic but still very good autogen scenery, so why buy any addons. From my perspective you are then only doing yourself your own disservice. Yes I loved my original X-Plane, but if I run my current X-Plane version at a basic level then it does feel even quite basic and even then far removed from the environment that has been created around it with quality addons, yes it costs money to build this more comprehensive world, but to me it is an investment, and not just in paying out dollars to get the very best return from the simulator, but it does not have to cost an absolute fortune either, but an investment it still is and an investment that is certainly worth doing and also doing something far better in supporting not only the talented developers but the future and the quality of the simulator itself.



Everyone at the FlightSim Expo where there waiting for a big announcement from their CEO of great importance Robert S. Randazzo. But I do admit he is a funny guy. Would PMDG go (back) into X-Plane... No nothing announced on that theme, "boo hiss". Next was the announcement of their next aircraft release in the Boeing B748.... "Is that all?" was the response when even a few years ago such an announcement would have been a big huge extravagant big deal, with great in-depth features delivered here that had me thinking "what if this B748 WAS in X-Plane and...  wow), so is PMDG getting like Apple who over delivered for years and any new announcements are now noted as "lukewarm" at any events.


But PMDG's big product announcement was for a Global Flight Operations addon which was quite clever even if it took PMDG ten years to actually build it...  but again the response was "You have got to BE kidding me?" with a lot of "OMG's and the total disbelief that this product was the worst ever and "I mean just like just like..  EVER"


Global Flight Operations is nothing in the way we haven't already seen, but it does bring all the simulation operations together, and the intergration of ACARS certainly adds into simulation another level of real aircraft/airline immersion, and the fact it is not restricted just to PMDG aircraft and open to any quality payware is another bonus, and consider the FF A320/Toliss319 being used, or the Rotate MD88 or the B757/767 twins.


I think it also overall showed PMDG's biggest issue, as this Global Flight Operations would actually work very well strangely enough more in X-Plane because of the higher and more committed, intergrated and connected community base, it is actually more suited to US than their main current FlightSim market... so they are pitching it to the wrong user base. And that is a very interesting point in many ways, not only for X-Plane but for the FlightSim user base as well.



But the FlightSim Expo in many respects was the best yet and Laminar Research again really delivered and the particle effects were certainly the highlight of the event for X-Plane as was the ongoing and promise of the development of Vukcan (nee Metal) and the announcements of new the systems and avionics with GFC-700, KFC-250/Century and rate-based S-Tec 55, KAP-140 and the Piper Autocontrol brand autopilots, new oxygen systems, and anti-ice and de-ice systems and better autopilot systems by Phillipp Ringler, and with not too many sleeps either before beta v10.30 with all these goodies enclosed will hit our simulator, with my guess that will be around late August or early September 2018.


A small apology in the fact the X-PlaneReviews site was a little slow in a few periods in June, I again came down with a small virus, so that made me a bit of say "unwell", but overall thankfully X-Plane releases were also a little slow...  but as they say "life happens".


So until the the next edition of "Behind the Screen' at the end of July, then 99.01% of users can look at the excellent ToLiSS319 on this month's header image and wonder out loud what they are really missing out on...  but for a full 0.09% rest of us it is heaven in simulation.


See you next month.


Stephen Dutton

1st July 2018

Copyright©2018: X-Plane Reviews


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