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FSElite Original: Are We Surprised with Dovetail Games’ Decision?

Flight Sim World Are We Surprised

Just less than a week ago, Dovetail Games gave the sad announcement that Flight Sim World was no longer in active development and that very soon, the sim would be taken off of sale. The news quickly spread throughout the community and many people were quick to form their views on why it happened, what the future could hold and whether this announcement was a surprise or if was foreshadowed in the past.

A few of us at the FSElite team have gathered our thoughts. This includes myself, Ben and John. Furthermore, we asked Jordan King for his take, which we felt was incredibly important especially after his previous videos where he believed that Flight Sim World could be the sim of the future. Equally, his input is important as a former beta tester for the product and someone who worked closely with the Flight Sim World team.

Of course, the FSElite team in general wishes the developers who worked on Flight Sim World all the best, and hope that regardless of their future, it is a bright one.

We have reached out to Dovetail Games for an interview, but at this time, they aren’t ready to go to the press.

Calum

The news of Dovetail Games cancelling Flight Sim World happened when I was half-way around the world. Just tucking into my last Peking duck meal before flying home from China, I saw the shocking news. I say shocking as just days before, we posted the news about the new open beta for their career mode. Because of this, I figured that Dovetail Games were pushing on ahead with their phase two of their project and things were going quite well.

Admittedly, warning bells were ringing in my head a few weeks ago when it occurred to me that Dovetail Games were missing from the exhibitor list for both Flight Sim Expo and Flight Sim Con. After making a big deal of attending events last year, it was strange to see them missing. At the time, I just put it down to them figuring out the logistics and potentially making it some kind of special reveal. Now, it seems, the answer is clear.

I know some people ‘predicted’ this would be the eventual outcome of the product, I don’t believe anyone could have predicted the ‘when’. Less than a year since it’s early access release, and just mere months since coming out of that “it’s-not-finished-but-it-is” tag, the big red cancellation label has been handed to the product. It’s this that really made the news surprising to me, and I’m sure, others too.

Does the news disappoint me? Yes – for sure. Like many, Flight Sim World never appealed to me. I was already highly invested in P3D and without products available in FSW, I had no reason to try it out. Other than the occasional review or test flight, I had very little time in the sim. I am disappointed because I believe the developers had the vision and passion to make it a great sim. I’ve always been a fan of people who like to disrupt the norm to create a sense of competition and up the game of their competitors. I feel the development team had that same idea, just that it was poorly executed. From the original release announcements and inconsistent message on how developers could sell their add-ons for FSW, to the inconsistent quality of DLC packages available for the sim. Charging someone for essentially a slew mode is just anti-consumer in my opinion.

However, that said, they did bring the community brand new things. Physics Based Rendering (PBR) in a ESP sim is brand new and the introduction of trueSky brought a brand new level of realism not yet achieved by other weather engines. Add to the fact that FSW came pre-packaged with Orbx’s FTX Global and A2A’s Accu-Feel, FSW was a sim that was beyond that of FSX. These innovative ways to improve the sim for the community was what made this news all the more sad for me.

I also consider the human element in all this – something I feel other personalities and figure heads in this community haven’t considered. At this point, it’s not known what will be happening to the development team who worked tirelessly on the product. There’s speculation of some team members joining other third-parties or them taking up a new post on the Train Sim side of Dovetail Games. However, it can be reasonably assumed that there will no longer be the need for a Flight Sim team. If that’s the case, it means redundancy for a good bunch of talented people. I have met a lot of them on multiple occasions, had great conversations and gained a lot of insight into their roles. They really are passionate people and this was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Career Mode flight planner

Some people around the internet are theorising that the development team knew of the fate of Flight Sim World weeks ago. Speaking from experience in situations like these, it’s not until the last-minute developers find out from upper management that they will find themselves in this situation. I’m a little disappointed seeing some people in this community feel the need to kick these people when they’re down just to prove a point and say to the community “look, I was right all along”.

When it comes to Dovetail Games as a studio in general, I think it’s clear that they’re a company who view the world in a very business-like way. Since being heavily involved in the flight sim community, I was quick to notice that the operations of this niche is very different to other industries. It thrives on rapport, word of mouth, and experience. Simply finding new ways to flog a dead horse doesn’t work well, and people will soon call your bluff on your practices. If the development team weren’t constrained by upper management or part of a business which appears to be persistent in grabbing every last penny from the consumer then maybe we’d continue to see a product thriving and accepted by the community as serious competition to the main simulators we have today.

Dovetail Games will never be trusted by the flight sim community again. Not that I believe they’ll have another crack at it. The burning question is: what next? By our understanding, they still own the license to the entertainment side of the ESP engine, plus the rights to distribute FSX via Steam. I doubt they’ll want to keep it much longer if there’s no intention to develop a flight simulation product going forward, especially if they’re in financial loosing from this venture (more details in Jordan’s section below).

Flight Sim World never became the sim we desired, but it certainly started challenging the conventions of what could be done in an ESP sim. I just hope that the outcome for the development team remains a positive one and that with a little less competition in the market, the likes of Laminar Research and Lockheed Martin continue to innovate for us sim owners. Otherwise, the demise of Flight Sim World may be a bigger loss than first imagined.

Jordan King

There are actually more people sad about this than I thought there would be. Based on how the FSW ecosystem has fared since its premature launch from Early Access and, just shy of exactly 10 years (9 years and 5 months to be exact) later, we find ourselves in the same place as before. The failure of a significant consumer flight sim product. Looking back, I can tell you around what time the “management” team at DTG decided to pull the plug on FSW. It was about a month after they entered “Phase 2” in Feb-March. Since then, the team pretty much grinded to a halt, and what we saw were “pet projects” being integrated, like career mode.

But before that, I also want to tell you that despite what will certainly be critical remarks from me in this Op-Ed, it is in no way pointed at the technical development and artistry teams at DTG. They delivered a remarkable display of competency and did things many never imagined possible in a MSFS based sim. Steven Hood and the team did an incredible job, and I am hopeful that their demonstrations of progress live on in some way through other sims. With that said, here is what I know.

Based on publicly available finance documentation, I can safely assume that £1.32 million is how much DTG spent buying the MSFS entertainment license. I have taken this assumption based on the following wording on page 6: “The company has an outstanding royalty payable commitment of £1,320,000…This is for technology being used in one of the Company’s simulator products”.

By the looks of it, they went broke doing it. The reason for this failure is even more painful for many because it was for similar, but not the same, reasons as the failed “Flight”. What is unique this time is that it wasn’t just the “management” trying to shut out developers, but also, in some cases, the reverse. Consumers, however, should be flattered that both parties did it for your money – and sadly, for no other reason

The development community in flight simulation, have created a very cozy and increasingly impressive niche market for themselves. In the absence of any clear governance in Flight Simulation, thriving independent software markets have been created. This includes everything from scripts that expand functionality, to 3rd party market places, to scenery and aircraft developers who all deliver a great product 98% of the time (and occasionally scam consumers). DTG management wanted to be the core, or middle man, in the era of 3rd party stores and independent installers that rival expensive, yet nebulous, platforms like Steam. However, I believe DTG management may have made a grave mistake when trying to engage a prominent developer and allegedly told him that there would be exclusivity and premium benefits for those developers who sold through Steam. He promptly shared with Flight Simulation community that there was a threat to the “primary reason why we have such a broad and active marketplace”.

Make no mistake, when Rob Randazzo shared a scathing account of his business dealings with DTG, I believe that it was intended to influence the decisions of the pre-eminent FS consumer. The Avsim community, and subsequent FS news outlets that share news from Avsim, are the same community that would eventually ponder investing time and money in a new platform. The sobering account described was from a man who is notoriously brash and humorous at the same time, who sold (and then resold) his products to a key demographic in this community, yet remained mostly revered. Despite being a titan in his niche, he shared that he was told that in order to participate in this new ecosystem, he would have to conform to the new rules. He has seen the audacity of this management team before when they outbid a consortium of existing FS developers that he was part of. He feared that DTG would make “an overreaching money grab by forcing all developers to push our products through their distribution channel.”

Rob put his stake in the ground that he would control his economy, and with it brought significant doubt to a sim that just months earlier, he said was the future of consumer simulation.  I personally think Rob should have let the consumer decide this based on the developmental merits of the platform, rather than create such public discourse. But who can blame him. His interests are that of his own business, just as DTG’s management were interested solely in theirs. Hypothetically, if you were Rob and could sell your addon for $89.99, then resell that same addon for $134.99, would you want the community to support a new ecosystem that would only entitle you to a measly 40% margin? Steam just wasn’t compatible. Was FSW’s competition another platform? Or, those who develop on those other platforms? Or was it the unsustainable debt they accumulated?

Although I know some of the development staff fairly well, the same cannot be said for the management team at DTG. I personally know nothing about them, other than they couldn’t afford to sustain the obligations they had by indebting themselves for the MSFS license, ORBX assets, A2A technology, aircraft models, TrueSky, hiring developers, funding other projects, and so on. Looking at their financial disclosures, they spent money (or sold equity) to fund a significant portion of the development and eventually couldn’t sustain the obligations because of stagnant sales and discourse in the ironically low margin Steam business. They have had to resort to selling their shares for pennies to come up with capital to fund operations, and the continued investment needed to continue to build FSW was unsustainable under the debt. They actually appear to be smaller than the likes of PMDG, not the big powerful corporate giant they were made out to be. But for being small, DTG had exclusive rights to TrueSky for consumer flight sims, and it’s unlikely that Simul (the developer of TrueSky) will go down with FSW. They will likely use the progress (and capital) to redeploy somewhere else. We have seen Lockheed Martin bring new technology to P3D, so it isn’t farfetched to assume that technology like PBR will come in the future. Nor do I think that it can’t be long before systems, like TFDi’s TrueGlass, rival the 3D rain drops in FSW. We never got the Citation II that would have been our first jet, or the IFR training course along with the new IFR planner, all which were due around June. But we got a glimpse of what may have been possible.

Finally, I haven’t made a Flight Sim video in over 6 months. I have been flying in the real world more often, moved to a new house, traveling for work, and doing Dad stuff. I tend to occasionally enjoy a virtual flight and other game genres of late. This news was disappointing for the majority of FSW users, and I hope it isn’t long before something as unique and attention grabbing as FSW emerges in the marketplace again. I wish the folks from the development team at DTG the best of luck and hope that the management team recognizes the failure they own. They relied on the expedient sale of their art, ahead of sensible growth. It will be interesting to see the continued growth of both X-Plane and Prepar3D.

John Moore

When I first heard about FSW, I was a bit confused to say the least. From my point of view, Dovetail already had the wildly successful FSX:SE on sale and FSW seemed like a rebranded FSX with a few bug fixes, fewer planes, and almost no addons compatible with it. Once more information became available, along with the news of their trueSKY integration, my feelings weren’t as pessimistic as they once were. I could now see a future for the platform, and a slot it could fill in the sim lineup. Me not having all the information, I assumed it would be like FSX on steroids, much more stable, a new UI, and would maintain backwards compatibility with nearly all FSX addons. I, of course, was wrong, but given its potential, I thought it could still succeed; until PMDG made their views public.

PMDG was not exactly subtle when they made their thoughts on FSW known. It was clear they saw it only a cash grab with them limiting addon developers to only sell via their approved distribution channels, i.e. Steam. I saw this as a warning of sorts to other developers who were considering FSW; tread cautiously, as this would be terrible for the community. The main thing FSW needed to take off, no pun intended, was addons, airliners and jets more specifically. Any developers considering porting their aircraft to FSW would see PMDG’s post, and I can’t help but think many would see the platform in a different light than they had before. When, arguably, one of the most respected and well-known developers in all of flight sim blasts your platform, that tends to make both potential users and developers reconsider their action. This was just one reason why FSW was almost doomed right from the beginning, the next being the fierce completion between the established flight sim platforms.

FSW couldn’t possibly have “released” at a worst time. When the early access build of FSW first released, rumors surrounding the potential of a 64-bit version of Prepar3D releasing later that year were running rampant throughout the community. All of the focus was on P3D, rather than FSW. In addition to this, I feel X-Plane 11’s release just a bit before FSW’s really hurt Dovetail and their potential to make FSW a strong and successful platform. X-Plane 11 was hailed as the future of flight simulation, with the majority of past X-Plane users upgrading as well as a bunch of FSX users and a few Prepar3D users as well. In my opinion, Flight Sim World’s biggest chance of success was FSX users upgrading (sidegrading?) to FSW and having X-Plane 11 poach a lot of their potential customers, as well as those waiting for P3D V4, made a widespread migration to FSW all the more unlikely and borderline impossible. This was, in my opinion, the biggest cause of FSW’s demise; the extremely stiff completion being levelled against FSW by Prepar3D v4 and X-Plane 11.

So, to wrap it all up; am I surprised? The answer to that is, well, not really. I was just as blindsided as everyone else when Dovetail made their announcement that they were shutting down development of FSW. Their previous announcements on all their new features they were adding made it seem like they weren’t going anywhere, and in it for the long run. Obviously, this wasn’t the case, but the platform looked to have so much potential before their shock announcement. Ultimately what caused the demise of Flight Sim World, in my personal opinion, was their early stance on addons and selling only through their official channels, combined with the launch of Prepar3D v4 just a few months after FSW’s entrance into an open beta. X-Plane 11’s staggering success and adoption rate did nothing to help, and most people moving from FSX would most likely rather go with a more mature ESP based sim, Prepar3D, or go with something radically different; X-Plane 11.

Career Mode welcome screen
The first screen I see when I select the Career Mode window

Ben Childs

I think everyone can relate the start of their simming career back to FSX, or an earlier version of MSFS, so as someone who started out on FS95 it was kind of nice to see that Dovetail bought the rights to the FSX code base and was attempting to breathe some life back into it for new simmers.

The idea was great in theory – develop the sim into something to teach newbies the basics of flying and aircraft control. The downfall in Flight Sim World was the execution though. Users were screaming for bigger planes and real world weather, but DTG had their own agenda. This also comes back to the dictatorship that was the add-on market for FSW – it was mostly locked down to Steam-purchases and add-ons approved by DTG because of the misinformation surrounding this area. DTG was telling developers that add-ons must be sold through the Steam store, when in actual fact there was nothing stopping developers from retailing and installing these via traditional methods. So when DTG takes 30% of the sale price, Steam takes 30%, and the developer gets 40, you’re not going to attract developers to the platform.

Had Dovetail opened the sim up to anyone and everyone to develop add-ons (both freeware and paid), I believe that not only would it have been more successful, but it would have been a seriously good simulator platform after further development.

 
Calum Martin

The author Calum Martin

I have been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of '2000 and have been developing my love for aviation ever since. I have the knowledge and experience to really deliver an excellent aviation community. Although no real life flying experience, I have a good understanding and always learning more and more. | View My Specs

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Having been a simmer since fs2 days like many of us we have seen most things in that time as a consumer without knowledge of the nefarious goings on behind the scenes i welcomed DTg’s acquisition of the fsx rights and their release of the very slightly modded steam edition. They then announced the flight school product which had admirable intentions of getting more youngsters into our hobby, despite several people giving glowing reports (remember the pre-release bumph of MS Flight?) it was clearly a pig in the poke. Then came the announcement of FSW with the accompanying news of how they intended to market it (again we the consumer were not fully party to the world domination thingy mentioned by others) but it was clear to me that this idea exactly replicated the marketing ideas of M.S. Flight, which were directly responsible for its demise. Why DTG decided to ignore the lessons of history is not known, it was also pointed out by thousands of fans of our hobby and still they ignored advice, so the end became inevitable before they had probably hardly started writing code, why they continued to try to produce a “game” with no future is a mystery. I wonder where the world or internet would be now if IBM had done what DTG was trying to do and not allowed the 386 p.c. to be built on an open license? You ignore the lessons of history at your peril!!!

I think any attempt by FSW (or anyone else) to subsume the ecosystem of flight sim developers under one roof was doomed. This community of developers grew independently over a long period of time all on its own.

Off topic but along the same line: Ironically, seeing the same development community trying to shift into X-Plane, I wonder…will that ultimately work? X-Plane has grown by tons of freeware and the slow sweeping-in of some of that freeware into the core product which P3D hasn’t done. I’m not convinced that X-Plane will be ensuring its success by going down the same road. I’d suspect that X-Plane might try to avoid ‘entanglements’ that make other products core to their own, ultimately slowing what has been some stellar progress over the last few years. It’ll be a delicate balance that might tip the scales for or against them.

@Russell Linn – Did your FSW scenery not sell very well. CAn you confirm the massive commission?

Stephen Hood is to blame. Every forum, conference, comment section warned him over & over.

FSW never appealed to me. Even Truesky (which is technically their best trick) is awfully low resolution & has little feeling of motion when transitioning through a cloud. Dovetail don’t invent much for themselves. They rely on buying in technology & trying to jimmy it all together.

The next guy will have to understand the third party devs control where the customers go. Stephen just wanted to do it all himself like a selfish little boy.

“@Russell Linn – Did your FSW scenery not sell very well. CAn you confirm the massive commission?”

That’s not something I can really go in to. But what I can say is that we’ve dealt with “publishers” asking for a higher commission (and exclusivity) on our work than Dovetail. It depends on the product, what the publisher has to offer and how you negotiate it.

That wasnt even it. That happened later on since FSW was basically blank. There was nothing in teh game. Their model was to literally sell you cities/states/village every few months. At this pace content would never be there. But they figured 3rd party would rush in to make 40000 airports and locales asap and they would gravy off that.

When you base game is flawed, nobody can fix it. It just isnt worth developing for

Wow, a coherent, non-angry, void of cursing response from Jordan King! Looks like on the road to recovery from that embarrassing outburst on AirDailyX last Fall. Congrats!

Maxkillers “Maxkillers Gaming”

Should’ve off seen this coming and avoided buying it after they cancelled their previous flight sim, one thing for sure if i’m never buying from these guys again

Cian Mc Sweeney

With the resources dovetail had it should have been harder for them to fail then to succeed, however it is extremely clear, that whoever was making the business decisions and deciding the direction for the sim hadn’t a clue about the industry. Flight sims these days need third party’s, both payware and freeware, their refusal to give payware companies the freedom they already had on other platforms and their complete refusal to even consider opening up the sim to the community to develop freeware addons left the sim with nothing to offer past the meagre default offering, one of the reasons Xplane has now gained a significant market share is mainly due to the wealth of high-quality freeware content that encourages users of other sims to try the platform without much financial risk. The orbx and truesky integration was fantastic and a smart move, dovetail just refused to listen to what the community actually wanted from the would-be successor of FSX by trying to focus on a casual market that didn’t exist and therefore while its no shock it failed, I’m surprised it failed as quickly as it did.

Hmm, aside from Truesky, I think the ORBX integration was a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, Orbx is top quality content, but I felt that FSW desperately needed original/ground breaking content and new ideas, not content that we’ve already seen. Although FSW had a lot of potential, especially with the addition of PBR, it seemed to be slowly “catching up” to previous simulators in fundamental areas.

PBR looks great, but in a world using old technology and low/inconsistent resolution satellite photography, it’s only a small step in the right direction.

Agree with the various viewpoints shared in this article. The end result is no surprise to anyone who has even a basic understanding of the flight sim market.

What ultimately led to DTG pulling FSW from sale is the combination of a bad business model and financial overreach.