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KerrSpectives - State Of The Sim



KerrSpectives - State Of The Sim

With Kenneth J. Kerr



Well, this is going to be a very different KerrSpective, because there will be no screen shots to show off how wonderful MSFS is. Actually, it's not the article I was planning to write at all. You see, the airport I was going to feature broke a few patches ago. Also, the third-party aircraft I was going to write about has been totally screwed-up by patch 5. Now, before anyone gets upset at what I am going to say, please understand that I now have around 200 hours in the sim, but I cannot confirm that because the in-game logbook stopped recording my hours for a few weeks. None-the-less, my considerable use of the sim has shown my genuine enthusiasm for it. I am a strong advocate for MSFS, and actually love this product. BUT...it is surely time for a "state of the nation" look at this thing, and time to reflect on the "state of the sim."


As I write this, it's just over eleven weeks since MSFS went live. In that time we've seen five patches released from Asobo, plus a very quickly put together hotfix. And, while I see some people almost waxing lyrical about how wonderful each new patch is ("It's the best patch eh-verr"), I can't help but ask... If Asobo had done it right in the first place, would there have been a need for a patch at all? And it's not as if each patch merely addresses a few minor tweaks here and there, instead it's big issues, with changes taking place in broad sweeps across many aspects of the sim itself.


This is why I am forced to say this - We are at a watershed moment in the existence of this product.


Let's start off with this unfortunate fact. No matter what way you cut it, this is a Beta product. Think back... There was a long period of Alpha, but then only a couple of weeks of Beta before it went live. And since then, big re-writes every two weeks. I hate to say it, but every single one of us who paid full retail price for this were suckered into becoming Beta testers who paid for the privilege. This is not a stable and completed product, it is an evolving series of mistakes, test and try, verify and change, and seemingly "make it up as we go along." It's like trying to build a real aeroplane in flight!


And what's the evidence of this assumption? The sim itself is the evidence. With every new patch, they seem to break some things as fast as they fix others. And then, they end up using valuable time, energy, and resources fixing their own mistakes. Look, I don't want to cast dispersion on Asobo's programing skills, but I think they have bitten off more than they can chew administratively, and are fundamentally going about this in the wrong way. They have become reactionary instead of proactive.


This is why it is a watershed moment for Asobo. It's like myself as an author. If I keep on re-writing a chapter over and over again, it's all too easy to end up with something that no longer resembles the first version, and worse, it's possible to lose the plot. If Asobo keeps on acting like a dog chasing its tail, going round in circles fixing fixes, then at some point they are going to end up with such a mess that they cannot go back and correct it without doing a major re-write or a total re-set. Again, a watershed. To Asobo I say, stop this nonsense now, before you break it any further and lose the plot.


But, it is also a watershed for third-party developers. As of patch 5, my Carenado 182 has some issues, my BlackBox Bird Dog is broken in multiple ways, and reports have also shown problems with the Carenado Mooney, Iris Jabiru, and IndiaFoxTecho MB-339. In some cases the doors and windows no longer open. In many aircraft the switches and buttons are totally re-mapped at the custom coding level. More often than not there are livery issues too, even in freeware repaints of default aircraft. In the MS forum, both Iris and BlackBox intimated that they will need to wait for Asobo to fix things before moving ahead, although Iris has since said they've been able to fix some of the issues. And, while it was hoped that the end of October hotfix might have addressed these third-party woes, it didn't. On top of that, we've already seen that bigger developers like PMDG are holding off until the product stabilizes. I suspect A2A and others are doing the same too. Seriously, how can a third-party developer have confidence in supporting this product under these circumstances? And I will never stop saying, it is the third-party industry that represents the make or break for a sim.


I remember when I owned and operated The VIP Group twenty-something years ago. One of the most annoying challenges was having to re-do and re-design everything with each new version of MSFS. Back then, we at least had a breather for two years, so goodness knows how maddening it is for developers now, with changes coming every two WEEKS. And so, some developers might simply give up, and re-focus on old platforms again, or they might just place an indeterminable hold on product development for this new wonder-sim. How long will that hold last? It depends on how long it takes Asobo to stabilize the platform, and based on their current tail chasing, I'm not willing to even begin to guess on that timescale!


So, watershed for Asobo, and watershed for third-party developers. But it is also a watershed for users. Just how many people (long term simmers, not the newbies), have already raised their hands in frustration and gone back to X-Plane, Prepar3D, or DCS? It's not as if these folks have avoided giving MSFS a fair try, they are paying customers who expected better. In fact, some of them even deleted their old sims based on their expectations of MSFS alone, and some are regretting that decision now as they slowly re-build the assets of their previous platforms.


For many people, each new patch represents not an advancement in the new sim, but a game of Russian Roulette. There is no confidence in incremental improvement, rather a sense of foreboding in which the question is at least implied, "Wonder what they'll break this time?", or "I wonder if it will even work now?" or, "Will this be the patch that sends me back to my old sim?" - And sadly, when these simmers express such feelings in the forums, they are denigrated for doing so by people who say "You should have known what you were buying." Really? Which part of the pre-release development videos from Asobo suggested they were going to bring a beta to market?


It is time for this madness to stop. Yes, I know people might say "This is just how the software industry works"... Well if this is the "new normal" in the industry, it stinks to high heaven and is a step in the wrong direction. Asobo has got to put the brakes on now and re-think what they are doing, and how they are going about things.


So what is needed? Well, while the decisions are not mine to make, if I owned Asobo I know what I would do now.


  1. I would stop and take a "fearless moral inventory" of myself, admitting that I've messed up somewhere.
  2. I would have the courage to admit this to Microsoft, suggesting that product sales should be temporarily halted while further development takes place to stabilize the sim.
  3. I would re-appoint a core group of the most experienced and reliable Beta testers ASAP.
  4. I would include within that Beta group every third-party developer with products currently on the market or in development for the platform.
  5. I would temporarily close the public forum, so that I could stop reacting to thousands of disparate voices, with different product experiences and opinions.
  6. I would roll back the sim to exactly what was released on August 18th (They do have back-ups surely?).
  7. I would take the experiences of the past 11 weeks, and use those experiences to begin building slowly, incrementally, and progressively upon that August 18th platform.
  8. I would address one area at a time, put it out to the Beta testers, and respond appropriately to feedback on that one area, completing it and signing off on it before moving on.
  9. I would resist all attempts by bean counters and marketing people to re-open sales until I knew I had a stable product.
  10. I would then, with a stable product, re-open sales and re-open the forum. I would release the newly-revised version, but make no further live changes to it.
  11. I would have a separate development version that only Beta testers could access. Development would continue in a way that did not impact the live public release.
  12. I would plan to release a new version one year from the date of the current release, knowing that it was a stable, sound, and reliable new release.

If Asobo takes steps like this, they can save this product. If they carry on with their current direction, they will fix, break, re-fix, and re-break themselves into a corner. Meanwhile, sensing an opportunity, maybe Lockheed Martin and Google will get together and shock the heck out of the industry. Who knows.


So where do I personally stand now on my use of MSFS 2020? Yes I love the sim, but it is a love-hate relationship. Two nights ago, I decided to fly at night over my local area of the Canadian prairie. In reality, at night there are massive areas of darkness, punctuated by the lights of small towns and villages in the distance. Well, the sim represented this nicely... until patch 5. Now, the prairie is lit up like a Christmas tree, with even gravel roads garishly illuminated by street lamps every hundred feet or so. I literally shouted out "That's enough of this BS", and as my dog ran away thinking I was mad at him, I switched the program off in total disgust.


Later, I fired up an earlier sim again, but it's not the same any more. Yes, it is stable and well-developed with add-ons, but the visuals have been ruined for me because of the taste of what MSFS is capable of. Sad thing is this.... I feel disappointed in the old sim now, but also frustrated with the new. It's a limbo world in which there is no sim-happiness. But then, that's a refection of the real world in 2020 for masses of the global population, isn't it?


See you in the next KerrSpective, even if I have no idea what platform that will be based in!


Kenneth Kerr

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