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Editorial: PMDG’s Three Year 777 Update

PMDG THRRE YEAR UPDATE

The Boeing 777-200ER is arguably one of the most requested add-ons from PMDG ever since they released their 200LR/F Base Package. Though the 200LR is certainly a very beautiful long-hauler, many fans have always been wondering why PMDG opted to model this variant of the Boeing 777 over the 200ER version of the plane, which is much more widespread in use with different airlines all over the world.

For years, it seemed we would not be getting a decent 200ER in our simulations. That was until Captain Sim came to answer the call and created their Boeing 777 Captain II package. That’s when most people collectively decided they didn’t want a 200ER after all, or at least, a 200ER of a certain quality that Captain Sim perhaps did not provide.

And so fans of the 200ER would have to wait almost two more years after that before PMDG released their 200ER. The release of the 200ER was certainly received rather controversially by many. Amidst a general 777 family update, a 200ER expansion pack with three new engine types and an EFB, many simmers were upset with the pricing, PMDG’s release strategy or more. I will admit that I myself certainly felt some confusion over both, so I decided to go on our website and find old news articles and corresponding PMDG announcements to create a timeline and see how we got to the point we are at today.

Timeline

Our timeline begins in 2018, when PMDG is hard at work on their Boeing 747-8 package. The PMDG 747 QOTS II has been out for roughly a year, and most of us are using Prepar3D v4.1. In one of the 747-8 preview posts, in which PMDG is showing the new and integrated EFB, it will be the first time that they mentions updating their 777: PMDG’s own Robert Randazzo confirms an EFB will make its way to the 747-400 and the 777 down the line. He also states that PMDG Rainmaker will be ported to the 777. The news of the EFB coming to the 777 is later confirmed at FSExpo by Randazzo, when announcing Global Flight Operations. This is the first piece of information I could find, that is relevant to the update with the 200ER we have now.

After this, it takes a while before we hear anything about an update coming on the 777 again. The next time an update to the 777 is mentioned is in February 2019, when PMDG confirms that they are planning on adding PBR capabilities to their 747 and 777. The 747 would receive its PBR update two months later, for the 777 it would take over two years. At this point, it seems to me we actually start seeing a 777 update taking shape. The update will be quite sizeable, and supposedly it is the same update that has been mentioned before, including the PBR capabilities. So far, it has also been confirmed an EFB is coming, albeit at a later date. In subsequent articles, this news is more or less ‘confirmed’, when PMDG mentions a 777 update is being worked on, which will include PBR. The 777 will also include a lot of the features and improvements that can be found in PMDG’s (at this point) youngest plane: the 747.

 

Now it should be made clear here, that PMDG has many development projects ongoing: there is Global Flight Ops, the 747 QOTS II is getting regularly updated and the articles also mention a strong focus on the 737NG3 (later NGXu). PMDG is also working on bringing the BAE JetStream 4100 to Prepar3D, a seemingly forgotten project at this time. And there is the DC-6 Cloudmaster for multiple platforms. Many of the articles mention the 777, but also make clear that the 777 is taking a bit of a backseat.

 

It is my belief that up until here, everyone, including PMDG, had a relatively clear picture on their product line and strategy. However, the announcement of Microsoft Flight Simulator seems to have had a significant impact in shaping the product line and strategy going forward. This was clearly demonstrated by PMDG cancelling the 737NG3 for P3D, shifting focus for it to MSFS, and then releasing the NGXu for P3D. This is more or less confirmed by PMDG’s own updates, and they state development on the 777 and the EFB will be pushed back, all based on the MSFS trailer and announcements earlier that year.

Not long after this, PMDG states that an update for the 200LR/F Base Package and the 777-300ER will soon go into beta testing, and will include pretty much the features (PBR, fixes and optimisations) that we have been talking about before (without the EFB). This is also the first time that a 777-200ER is mentioned, and Randazzo is talking about the EFB again. He mentions that work is progressing on the EFB, and once it will be added, the team will also add the data for the 200ER.

A little while after, PMDG previews the 777-200LR/F and 300ER for the first time with PBR textures. They once again confirm that the EFB is coming in a later update, and they confirm that the 200ER will become a separate expansion pack.

After this, we get the release of Prepar3D v5. PMDG makes compatible installers for the 747 and 737NGXu, but the 777 is silently left out of this. It is later confirmed that progress on the 777 has slipped a bit, due to the P3Dv5 release. The news following this is simply about the 777 update progressing at a slow pace.

November 2020 is the first time that PMDG more or less links the 200ER expansion to the EFB. Up until now, they have mostly been mentioned separately. The wording is a bit vague, but could be understood as directly linking the 200ER and the EFB. Following this news, PMDG goes into a bit more detail about the upcoming 777 update, which has now been split in two: the first update will simply bring the plane to P3Dv5 ‘as is’, while a second update will focus on a flight deck overhaul, Rainmaker and other features. It’s also mentioned by Randazzo that PMDG is considering the 777 to be one of their ‘older products’, and that the upcoming update will focus on improving the plane and creating a foundation for continued development. He also talks a bit about how the 777-200ER update is not impeding the overall 777 family update, and vice versa. After this news, we get our first previews of the 200ER in January, with the release of the expansion, and a PBR update, following in February.

I think it’s important to identify where and when certain updates and features started getting some shape, and I think this constructed timeline helps a great deal with that. I will break this article down into three parts that I think deserve to be tackled separately; the 777 update, the EFB and the 200ER. After all, all of these 3 items seemed to be separate items at the earlier stages of the project, and only seemed to have gotten linked with each other later on.

The Update

After the release for Prepar3D v4.4, which brought PBR functionality to the simulator, PMDG announced they were working on bringing this new feature to their 747 and 777. So a PBR update for the plane started development. As time went on, and the 747 got its PBR update, the 777 seemed to be all but forgotten. In the development updates, Randazzo speaks of working on the 777 in the background. I can only assume that some serious feature creep was taking place here. Even though I am sure that many people would have been quite happy if PMDG had just updated the plane with PBR textures, it was PMDG itself that made the update larger and larger on their own backlog. We started hearing things like bringing over the technology found in the 747 (and later the NGXu), bringing the plane up to date with PMDG’s more modern products. And as the 747 and 737 codebases got regularly updated, getting new features or considerable changes, the backlog for the 777 started growing, and with that, the work required to make the plane up to date.

With a background in software development, I can certainly sympathise and understand PMDG’s point of view here. You want to deliver the best possible product and keep your code bases up to date. The codebase of the 777 was already a fair bit older, and I suspect the 737 and 747 share many of the same code to a certain level, making it easier to update these two planes. However, feature creep is a serious issue and I would argue that PMDG could have managed this better. Smaller, more frequent updates would have been a more suitable way forward in my opinion. This would give flight simmers the features they wanted (such as PBR textures), as well as giving them faith that PMDG is still committed to a product that had received rather little love other than some serious bug fixes and compatibility changes in more recent years.

It’s good to realise that we still don’t have the entire update that PMDG said we would get. Apparently, the company is still working on a remodel of the flight deck. This remodelling will include features such as PMDG RainMaker. However, we have yet to see previews of this update. The 777 update demonstrates very well how quickly priorities change, and how quickly products and updates take a backseat due to the shifting simulator environment and the developments in this area.

The EFB

The EFB is technically a feature that was announced even before the PBR/technology update of the 777. Although it was not more than a mention, we do see over time that PMDG was working hard at adding this feature to the plane. The success of the EFB in many planes, both by PMDG and other developers, must certainly have shown what a successful product an EFB can be. And after seeing its addition to PMDG’s 748 and 737, many people were left wondering what was taking so long to add this feature to the 777. Now PMDG has never said they would deliver the EFB for free. Even though it was often mentioned together with the free update (above) that PMDG was working on. PMDG probably saw the success of their EFB in the 748 and the NGXu, and probably realised to themselves that this is a feature that people would pay for, if PMDG would make them. And why not make them pay for it, in combination with another plane? Enter the 777-200ER.

777-200ER

As mentioned before, the 200ER is a plane that many have been requesting for a long time. Although I am sure there is also a rather large group of simmers that don’t quite care if they are flying the 200ER or 200LR, as long as they can fly it in a livery of their choosing. The 200ER is a plane that for the longest time never appeared in the development plans of PMDG, and only got mentioned for the first time in January of 2020. At the time, it was only mentioned that the 200ER data would be added to the EFB that PMDG had already been working on for a while. Nobody knew quite what this would mean, though speculations sure ran wild. At the time it still seemed quite unthinkable that PMDG was going to develop a 200ER, after making a rather strong stance on the matter in the years before. However, a little while after its ‘teaser’, PMDG confirmed that the 200ER will indeed be coming in a separate expansion pack.

Let’s have a look at PMDG’s other expansion packs. The 777-300ER is the oldest expansion pack of the current product line-up, and comes in at a price of $30. The expansion offers a different version of the exterior model, with a few additional flight deck changes that are only available for the 300ER. Furthermore, the plane comes with detailed flight data and characteristics for the 300ER.

The NGXu has three different expansion packs, which all come in at a similar price as the 300ER. The BBJ and cargo expansion both come in at $30, and the 600/700 comes in at $25. The 600/700 only offers shorter exterior models of the plane, again with detailed characteristics and flight data for these variants, and also with a minimal amount of flight deck changes since there are few.

The BBJ and cargo expansion set themselves apart a bit more, as they contain more changes to the exterior and interior modelling. The BBJ features an entirely different interior model, and a fair amount of plane characteristic changes as well as updates to the flight deck that are exclusive to this version of the plane. The cargo expansion comes with a similar feature set, and overall one could argue that the sizes of these expansions are considerable.

One of the expansions that set itself apart is the 747-8. This expansion comes in at $70, and consists of a considerable amount of changes. The exterior model looks fairly different to the 747, and the plane features a new engine type with entirely different flight characteristics. Furthermore, the flight deck and plane technology are considerably different from the 747, and all these changes are reflected accurately in the expansion. We also know that PMDG regrets releasing the 747-8 as an expansion and would rather have released it as a separate, stand-alone plane if they had realised in time the considerable amount of time that would have gone into this expansion.

That brings us to the 777-200ER expansion. This one really sets itself apart at the highest price point of all, with the almost ironic price of $77.72. The update features several new engine types, with accurate flight characteristics, but does not feature any additional interior model changes. The 777-200ER interior is the same to its 200LR counterpart, and the flight decks are identical too.
So for PMDG to ask such a high sum for this expansion seems odd. After all, the 747 comes with several engine types, each with its own accurate flight characteristics and sound sets, and doesn’t cost as much as the 777-200LR and -200ER combined while having the same kind of differences and features. Simply put, some of the reasons that have been used to justify the pricing on other expansions, are simply not present in the 200ER or are even included in some of the base packages. The price of the 200ER simply does not easily seem easily justifiable if you compare it to other expansions and their feature set.

 

 

Conclusion

PMDG seemed to have a pretty clear development plan for a long time. A development plan that was progressing at a slow pace, but progressing nonetheless. The announcement of Microsoft Flight Simulator seemed to have really shaken things up. This is understandable, but yet the company remained committed to Prepar3D. However, things seemed to have taken a rather different direction after the announcement. Suddenly we found ourselves with a 737NGXu, which was supposed to be the NG3. As for the EFB, a product that for the longest time seemed to be a part of the previously announced update, PMDG probably figured that people would be inclined to pay for an EFB. And if they could couple it with an expansion, they could increase the price of this expansion significantly.

I personally think PMDG could have done much better releasing the EFB as a separate expansion at a lower price. This probably would have been appealing to a lot more people, and those that really wanted a 200ER could still have gotten it. I would also argue that by suddenly coupling the 200ER and EFB, PMDG has performed a bit of a bait-and-switch; getting people lured in with the EFB update for several years, and last minute making it a part of a rather expensive expansion.

What also hurts in the 200ER pricing is, even though the plane itself is very nice and fun to fly, is a seeming lack of innovation, especially if you compare it to other products. Sure, one could argue that the EFB is innovating, but even the EFB is the same interface with the same feature-set that we have seen in their other planes. Where other developers work on icing models and visuals, CPDLC, or integration with SimBrief and GSX, PMDG’s newest innovation is a feature that is three years old and virtually hasn’t changed.

It seems that PMDG has its hands too full with its current product line-up. Global Flight Operations was announced several years ago, but has yet to be released. The 777 update, which started out simple, turned into something huge that took several years to complete. And if we read all of PMDG’s development updates carefully, a pattern of constantly shifting priorities appears. This is not helped by the simulator landscape, which is moving at a faster pace than PMDG can keep up with, such as the release of new Prepar3D versions and Microsoft Flight Simulator. I think that with a little bit more focus on the essential things PMDG could continue to make even better add-ons than they currently are, without ending up with situations like with the 777 and its update.

Tags : 777editorialEFBPMDGTimelineUpdate
Daan

The author Daan

Dutch guy that got lost and now lives in Finland. Flight simmer by day, mobile developer by night. Or vice versa.
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