• A Call To Developers

    A Call to Developers!

    By Jeff Tucker (28 May 2009)

    Nothing beats the feel of getting home from a long day at work, tearing off the tie, throwing the button-up Oxford in the corner and then settling behind your sim-pit (after you re-glue that last radio knob back in place). As the sim fires up to a cold dark cockpit, you're faced with a state-of-the art, full glass panel and shiny paint. It almost smells like a new car - or at least a mildly used one. If you're on the other hand of the spectrum (usually the route I prefer to take), you jump into a beat-up bush plane with half the gauges missing, seats torn and smelling like a 1982 Honda hatchback. Either way, every detail is replicated down to the last pitot tube and static port. That's the advantage of add-on aircraft; they are usually stocked with all the extra goodies that our faithful MSFS developers care to skip over in an effort to make the simulator more approachable. But what is the price for that faithful reproduction? That's what I'm going to delve into, that is if I don't get too side-tracked by my dollar store, home built sim pit.

    So what's the downside of commercial add-on aircraft? Well, if you have ever purchased one only to be struck with terribly low performance and frame rates, or maybe too overwhelmed by the War and Peace-sized Operators Handbook, you've seen first hand the downside of some commercial add-ons. On some occasion, what looked like a beautiful aircraft in the 300x600 size screen shot, turns out to be a lego-block reproduction or a dull and life-less mass of screaming jet exhaust. Sometimes it feels as if the engine oil sump has ruptured all over your windshield (in my case it was a can of look-a-like Boeing Beige spray paint).

    Commercial add-ons span a wide range on the quality scale. Some developers simply stop at a simple "well...it kinda looks like an airplane" reproduction of an aircraft type and others strive to push past that and actually give the sim pilot a feel of flying the real aircraft. Often times, limitations are set by the target audience. Such issues as: target frame rates, computing power, FS2004 vs. FSX compatibility and resources that are available to the developers themselves (this could include quality of talent - or lack thereof). But what dictates which aircraft consumers are going to purchase usually settles on price. What can the average consumer afford (or is willing) to spend on a add-on aircraft? This is where great web sites like FlightSim.Com play a critical role (and I'm not trying to advertise here) but they have compiled a plethora of different manufactures and piled them into one easy to use store! From that store consumers can peruse screen shots, videos, reviews, features and requirements of a specific add-on. But one fascinating trend that I find disturbing is that developers are raising their prices faster than a college coed raises their parents' mortgage rate.

    The average commercial add-on will run the consumer anywhere between $10 - $30 dollars (USD). Most quality, feature-packed add-ons will average at about $25 - 30 dollars. Although, there are some developer's that ask between $60 - $90 dollars for an add-on aircraft. This is frustrating because most people only spent about $50 on the simulator they are running. What can be even more frustrating is to purchase an aircraft only to have an add-on pack or patch released a week later with another price tag attached to it. As a consumer, when I purchase an add-on, I expect it to be a whole and complete product with all the bugs already worked out. Additionally, if I can provide proof of purchase of that aircraft, why should I be charged for an "FSX Upgrade"? I think consistent business choice on behalf of the consumer should be reward enough for a developers. Call it a good business strategy.

    I know what dev teams are thinking right now, "But what about my out-of-pocket cost to develop, test, and research that product?" And I understand that completely. A full, aircraft with a working FMS, rivet-pocked, photorealistic paint job, multi-function displays and "dark magic" air file guru to construct that piece of artwork isn't cheap. I can see why developers think their product warrants that price tag. Although I think things need to be brought back into perspective. Is a "base pack" and then a "ER X2" pack for that aircraft really worth $99.95 a piece? If other developers can make the same product, with better features and sell it for $39.95 all in one product, why purchase the $200 dollar one?

    Several production teams currently market 3+ versions of the same aircraft, with minor feature changes at increasingly higher costs. With the job losses on the rise and the current economical global climate my advice to developers is this: help out not only your target demographic (flight sim enthusiasts - I mean, you used to be one right?) but yourselves as well, think realistically about the average consumer and try to curb this increasing trend of costlier add-ons. It not only benefits the consumer but the development teams as well in that lower prices will equal increased sales.

    On the consumer end, nobody is putting a gun to your head and telling them to purchase these products, it's simply a matter of free will and should remain that way. As a consumer, it is our right to spend our money where we see fit and if doing so on a high-priced add-on makes you happy, follow your happiness! My goal in this article is not to discredit a particular development team or hoist others onto a pedastal, it is simply to look critically at the types of products that are available to the consumer and then think twice before pushing that "Add to Cart" button. I myself have probably spent more money on add-on aircraft then I ever wish to know or to reveal and I've only seen one side of the process - the fun side - flying the aircraft. I have neither the patience nor expertise to construct a marketable add-on nor the desire to do so. I would love to see the hard work and dedication that developers put into these great add-ons; they enhance our sim experience and ensure that our wonderful hobby lives on. But for now, I'll stick to the purchases I can justify as "worth it" (piecing together my dollar store sim pit).

    See you in the sky!

    Jeff Tucker
    [email protected]

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