Are Flight Sim Add-ons Getting More Expensive?

The recent release of the Flight Sim Labs A320-X, which gives you the basic A320 with IAE and CFM engines only, has spurred a bit of a debate about what is an acceptable price for…

Posted: 14-Sep-2016 @ 22:27z

The recent release of the Flight Sim Labs A320-X, which gives you the basic A320 with IAE and CFM engines only, has spurred a bit of a debate about what is an acceptable price for a FS addon these days. Sitting $99.95 for the FSX version, and rumored to be roughly $140 for the P3D version, the argument isn’t exactly out of left field. The price of addons, especially aircraft, has seemingly skyrocketed over the last six years. So, are these higher prices justifiable or is the community getting squeezed for all they’ve got?

Eight years ago before the release of the PMDG MD-11 we were all enjoying addons such as the Level-D 767, Leonardo Fly The Maddog, and PMDG’s “Boeing Officially Licensed” B747 and B737 for somewhere between $45 to $60. These were the top tier addons with the best systems and visuals, period. It didn’t seem as if it was too big of a deal to expect to pay that much for a quality addon, after all these guys have to make a profit and we are getting a full simulation. PMDG has seemly lead this charge of increasing prices for aircraft addons with their MD-11 being about $20 higher than the normal price at the time, which increased another $15 with the NGX if you get both the base pack and expansion, and then again another $25 with the T7 if you get the base pack and expansion. This is not even consider an even higher price for the P3D versions. Will the new 747 continue this trend? I guess we’ll find out.

q400qxeBut let’s not pretend that PMDG is the only one doing this. For years now people have been willing to pay Carenado upwards of $30-50 for aircraft like Cessna 172’s, Beech King Air’s, and other general aviation aircraft that look amazing but don’t fly nor function even close to the real aircraft. They even come with the default GPS baked right in. As long as the flight simulation community is willing to pay whatever a developer asks, they will not price aircraft reasonably. These are businesses after all, and if people are willing to pay a higher amount, then of course they are going to charge it. That’s the way it works, and unfortunately we have a lot of people willing to drink the developer kool-aid they are spoon fed. Personally, I think more aircraft developers should consider a model similar to that of Majestic, where you can get a fantastic addon minus some features you may not be interested in for a lesser price. They did a great job with the Q400 Pilot, Pro, and Training editions and even if you only bought the Pilot edition you still get a very in depth and fantastic Q400 simulation for an extremely reasonable $60.

What is interesting about this subject is that it is aircraft that have seen the dramatic price increase but everything else has stayed relatively the same. Now of course prices will go up over the years, it is inevitable. I mean, I can’t buy a candy bar at the store without my grandparents telling me how they use to be a nickle “back in their day”. While aircraft are probably the most time consuming and complex things you can make for a flight simulator, the scenery development world has seen their own amazing technology advancements and yet hasn’t raised the prices much, if at all.

Look at FSDreamTeam as a good example. They released their Los Angeles International scenery in 2011 for $38. When released it was one of the best on the market, but today it appears to be using technology and methods no longer employed with the FSDT group. They just released their Memphis scenery, with full P3D avatar support allowing you to walk up into the tower cab, for a whopping $34. Less than their aging LAX scenery, but with better technology and techniques. So while FSDT could have easily bumped the price up well over $40 claiming “new technology advancements”, they did not. Good on them.

An interesting player in the scenery world is ORBX. This is a developer that has brought us some truly jaw dropping scenery and revolutionary technology. The way they price these addons does make you raise an eyebrow though. All of their airport scenery’s come with a prerequisite which you could say really jack the price up high. They have airports that are “standalone” FTX Global airports, and FTX Region airports. The FTX Global airports require you also have their FTX Global Base addon installed which will run you about $99 AUD/ $75 USD, couple that with the price of the airport you are buying at $40 AUD/ $30 USD and you’re looking at over $100 USD for an airport scenery. To be fair though, the FTX Global Base is a one time fee, and will massively upgrade your entire FSX/P3D world, and perhaps that may justify the cost for some.

What I find interesting about ORBX is that it doesn’t seem as if they have any rhyme or reason for their airport scenery pricing. For example, their Palm Springs scenery runs at $40 AUD/ $30 USD, which is a little high for a small Class C airport like that but falls just behind the prices you’ll pay for large major hubs produced by Flightbeam, FSDT and FlyTampa. I’d say that is a fair price, assuming you’ve already got the required FTX Global Base purchased and installed. However, consider a smaller rural airport like their Yakutat scenery, and you’re paying the same price plus you’ll need the Southern Alaska region which will run you another $55 AUD/ $41 USD. Is that pricing fair and reasonable? If I can get a bigger airport like Palm Springs for the same price, what is the reasoning behind pricing such a small airport at the same price? There is no indication of any specialized technology such as People Flow, Tree Flow, etc, being present in the Yakutat scenery that Palm Springs doesn’t have. Perhaps it is because ORBX does contract independent developers to make scenery. At the end of the day, ORBX does provide a higher level of detail and aside from forcing customers to buy regions, I think you could probably justify their prices.

wnheartSo then what is it about aircraft that has pushed pricing so high? PMDG will be the first, and only, to cite licensing agreements, and while that may factor in, I don’t buy that completely. They had “Boeing Officially Licensed” on their old 737 and 747 products and those didn’t break the bank. I do believe that factors in though, and as mentioned prices will go up with quality. Developers these days do have teams of people that need to be paid, they are raising the bar in terms of quality, and in the case of PMDG, they do have serious licensing agreements and investments made in the product that have to be made up for.

So while I can see where PMDG stands as a business, we’ve come full circle to the very developer that has spurred on this recent debate, FS Labs. Their recent release of the A320-X gives you the standard Airbus A320, with CFM and IAE engines. No sharklets, nothing extra but a promise of an additional fee for the A319 and A321 and possibly the sharklet models later on. The main argument for FSLabs is that they’ve modeled “everything” right down to the individual wires in the aircraft. But at what cost to the consumer? The product has been criticized for bad performance, and they even go as far as telling you to convert your FSX to DX10. That’s a bit ridiculous to expect in my opinion. You can’t expect people to convert their sim to DX10 and lose support for their other addons in order to run yours more efficiently then blame the end user for poor performance. Perhaps if FSL didn’t model things that were not necessary this wouldn’t even be an issue. But this is where I go back to Majestic and their pricing tree. How many people know how to operate a real A320? In this community, not many, so perhaps this full simulation is overkill for the majority of those looking for a good A320. Perhaps it would be best FSL offered a simpler version without certain features for a more reasonable price, and the full simulation of everything for a higher price. Let the consumer decide what they want and what they are willing to pay to have.

It is important to consider what you are buying, these addons will eventually be unusable. I bought the PMDG MD11, but can no longer use it now that I am on P3D, and that is a bummer. Do we want to be spending over $100 for something we will not be able to use in a few short years? This is up to you and how you view the value of an addon.

aay_slideThat in mind, I think more developers should be allowing us to take an “upgrade” path that allows us to get newer versions, or different sim versions for a reduced price. In all honesty I don’t think any developer should be charging for an FSX version and a P3D version considering the changes needed to make an addon work in P3D are minimal, but for those who do, why not allow the customer to pay the difference? If somebody wants to switch from FSX to P3D and their favorite addon is the PMDG T7, they not only have to re-purchase the T7, but the P3D price tag is a whopping $135 versus the $90 FSX price tag. That’s a very steep price hike that PMDG claims is due to licensing, but how much does licensing play into other developers? Not nearly as much. Aerosoft has gotten this right providing most addons for FSX and P3D, you never pay for the same file twice. Just look at their Airbus A320 product, or literally most things listed on their aircraft page. They all say “FSX/P3D” allowing you to use whatever product you buy on FSX and P3D.

Another practice I hope to see more developers adopting in the future is a “try before you buy” option and refunds. Yes refunds, it is amazing how many developers do not offer refunds. If you aren’t going to allow a trial period, then allow refunds, is that unreasonable? I’m not happy to say that I have purchased addons before thinking that I would be getting a great product only to find that what I got was less than stellar. To make matters worse the developer will not allow a refund and I am stuck with something I paid a bunch of money for and will probably never use again. This is a completely avoidable situation had the developer allowed a trial period or refunds. Failure to do this is flat out greedy. Kudos to you HiFi, FSDT, Flightbeam, Carenado, Flight1, and the others that allow for a trial or refund process.

At the end of the day, it is up to the consumer to decide what an addon is worth to them in their eyes. I hope that one day more people will step back and look at what they are paying versus what they are getting, do their research and make an informed decision. Don’t be fooled by the smoke screens presented by developers, and don’t buy regardless of price or quality simply because it was developed by XYZ Simulations. Take a look at reviews, watch YouTube videos, read forum posts, and really get an idea of what you’re getting. Of course, you can always accomplish all of this right here at FSElite, where we bring you the best, unbiased, and honest reviews of Flight Simulator addons!

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Calum Martin
Calum has been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of FS2000 and has developed his love for aviation ever since.
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