Willy's Corner - What Is A Mod/Add-On Really Worth?
By Willy Canuck
With the introduction of FS2020, we have seen a new channel of mods and add-ons from the flight simulation community which has revealed some fantastic surprises and some terrible disappointments. As I don't wish to publicly berate any developers whom (I feel) have either deceived or betrayed the trust of the flight simulation community, I will call out specific habits or issues that I have observed with the hope that those in the development sphere might take my thoughts as constructive criticism.
Firstly, I want to name the Fly-By-Wire team as the Golden Light in this new generation of Microsoft Flight Simulator. For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of the FBW A32NX mod for FS2020, don't hesitate! This free add-on is nothing less than incredible and is getting better week-by-week. If you are wanting to know 'what great looks like' - look no further than the fantastic talent of the Fly By Wire team - whom I hope to have the pleasure of interviewing on my show in the near future.
What sets the Fly By Wire team apart is their collaboration with the community and their intent attention to detail. It is nothing short of deep passion that could drive such a team to produce what they have done and allowed thousands around the world to enjoy their handywork.
That, for me, is key: passion. If you wish to create anything for the flight simulation community regardless of how minor or how major that content might be, do it (first and foremost) because you want to do it and you want to make it to the highest standard within your capability and talent. If your motivation is not passion and instead, is rooted in money or notoriety, then there are serious doubts about your project before one keystroke is made.
As an example, you will find an enormous cross-section of add-ons for Flight Simulator, X-Plane, P3D and beyond. On the whole, I would argue that 40-50% of what's available ranges from poor-mediocre with the remaining 50% split between good-fantasic. There is no rule as to why this is the case, this is purely based on my observation. Often, before I even consider a download, I will look at the popularity and feedback provided by the community to determine if an add-on even broaches the bottom 50% - if not, it's a no-go for me. This applies to both free and paid-for add-ons, by the way; it would seem that regardless of whether a mod is charged or provided en gratus, you see a balance between good and bad wherever you look. However, this fact is not present everywhere when it comes to payware which I shall expand on later.
If we consider freeware for a moment, some of you may argue that anything offered at no charge cannot be criticised as nothing is being asked for in return. My response is, something is always offered in return and that is my personal time if nothing else. If you create something and expect me to download it, you need to convince me why it's worth the effort. This might come across as a bit trite but all freeware developers need to understand that there is a lot of choice out there and if you wish your creation to be successful, it needs to - at least - add enough value for the simmer to invest time downloading, installing and using your product. I believe that the key question you need to ask yourself before you unleash your content to the community is: Did I do this to the best of my ability? If the answer is 'no', consider withholding your content until you you can answer 'yes' - or ask yourself why you are bothering to do it at all. Your passion is the key. If you are truly passionate about what you are trying to make, this will translate to quality and appreciation - and you will take pride in what you have achieved.
Please understand, I am NOT telling anyone that they should give up - ever. BUT - be true to yourself. Don't release something just because you want to get your name 'on the board' - do it because you believed in your product and put your heart and soul into it. If you are providing this for free, there is really no reason why this wouldn't be the case! Validate this by seeking support from a handful of beta testers and be prepared to accept constructive feedback. It's much easier to satisfy yourself of the quality of your own creation; satisfying others? Different story. So find out what that looks like and seek to improve anything that others feel could be better. All this being done, I am positive your product will be fantastic - whether it is a small bit of scenery to improve your local town or city, or a niche aircraft you wanted to add, or a utility to make the experience more immersive, or a paint job to improve an existing model. It doesn't matter what it is - big or small - passion translates to quality and quality translates to appreciation. If you are taking on something too big, think about starting smaller so that you can ensure that every possible angle is 100% the best you can do.
If you are developing for the payware market, brace yourself. I want you to repeat this to yourself in the mirror five times: 'I have no excuse.'
If you are looking for me to part with my hard-earned cash, not only do you need to adopt the points I've raised regarding freeware, you also must now devote yourself to the reality that any issues are your responsibility and you will face the consequences of poor design or insufficient quality. There is no quicker way to run yourself out of the payware market than by releasing a bad product - or at least - not accepting feedback and attempting to improve the flaws.
A recent example of this would be the DC Designs F15 offering for FS2020. It was met with very mixed reviews when it was first released and I suspect they rushed it somewhat considering that there were definitely issues with the flight model and other matters. Overkill, on YouTube, held no punches. He had a great frame of reference leaning on his experiences with DCS and he was very quick to point out the flaws in the flight model and other issues that irked him, but was also keen to point out that he wasn't expecting study-level avionics, he just wanted to feel as though he were flying an F15 - and that wasn't happening. In the case of DC Designs, they responded and accepted the feedback and worked hard to provide another release, which again, Overkill somewhat ripped apart on a test trial. So what did DC Designs do? They took their knocks and worked on it even harder! A third release has since been reviewed and while Overkill wouldn't quite say if it was up to standard, he acknowledged the team for their efforts and could see that real progress was being made.
So the question for me is: why didn't they do this in the first place? I suspect better, focused beta testing would have given them the feedback they needed to ensure the product was - at least - decent enough in its flight model and there are thousands of experienced simmers out there that could have helped them. However, despite their early mistakes, DC Designs have demonstrated to me that they are committed to their product and so the passion did emerge - eventually. As such, I am now watching intently and considering a future purchase once they've got the F15 right (whereas before, my view was 'No way, Jack!'). At circa $30-35 U.S. this is starting to look attractive - but not quite yet. I'm hopeful that DC Designs will win me over within the next few months if their progress continues.
Aircraft add-ons, in particular, are extremely sensitive to customer feedback because there's so much that can go wrong. Bear in mind that I am not expecting 'study level' in every payware aircraft nor do I expect all of the avionics to work - but it at least needs to fly like the real thing otherwise you've just given me a Halloween costume instead of an aircraft. It doesn't matter if you decide to charge $10 U.S. or $100 U.S. - it needs to bring the experience of what it's actually like to fly that aircraft. I can accept less functionality at a lower price but I will not negotiate on the flight model. Make it right or don't bother - quite frankly - because if it's not where it needs to be in terms of its flight model, I will be demanding my money back.
However, as a general rule for any payware add-on, I lay out my pre-requisites to affirm success in the flight simulation market - assuming you want my money:
- Passion must be at the heart of your product. Whatever experience you decide to bring, it must be because you truly believe in that experience and you want it to be the best. I can tell the difference as I'm sure most consumers can as well.
- Price accordingly. Your pricing sets your expectations with consumers. The higher the price, the more functionality and/or detail will be expected of you. Don't charge what you think you can get away with, charge what you think it's actually worth. Also bear in mind that the higher the price, the more quality assurance you will be expected to have carried out through Alpha and Beta testing. Anything over $20 should be pretty much squeaky-clean; shame on you if this is not the case. See advice from consumers if you're not sure. My door is always open.
- If it's an add-on aircraft, for the love of all mankind, get that flight model right. I don't care what you've charged. I'm looking for a flight experience, not an avatar.
- It needs to look good. Whether it be an aircraft, scenery, a utility or something else - your product should be aesthecally pleasing inside and out. If you've cobbled something together with little thought or attention, you are a snake-oil salesman at best and a cad at worst.
- This final point is for all retailers who are selling products on - VET YOUR PRODUCTS! If I buy something from an online retailer and something is seriously wrong, I will blame the retailer, not the developer - that's the way it goes. Don't sell products which are either obviously over-priced or woefully deficient in what they have promised to be. The liability is yours just as much as the product developer.
In conclusion, if you want to bring something new to the community, my hat is off to you. We appreciate the efforts of all who contribute to enhancing our flight simulation experience - but - if you're leaving your passion at the door and looking to make a quick buck, do us all a favor and find something else to do with your time.
I'll be discussing this on my show March 14th at 1400z (2pm London, 9am EST). If you agree, disagree or have your own thoughts about what makes an add-on good (or bad), I'd love to hear from you and will play your comments on my show at www.skyblueradio.com - just click on the button below.
Lots of Love,
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