One of the biggest shocks to the flight simulation community took place a few weeks ago with Microsoft announcing their intention on re-entering the flight simulation market. Coincidently, it took place just hours after the conclusion of FlightSimExpo 2019 in Orlando. Regardless, it was quite the sight to see so many developers find out the news at the same time and watch their mouths quite literally hit the floor.
With a few weeks now gone since the initial announcement, as well as some further snippets of details, we started asking developers what it meant for them and also how they feel about it. Some of these developers were unable to answer our questions for fear of breaching their NDA, whilst others were a bit more willing to answer some questions and share their immediate thoughts. This isn’t to say that those who did answer aren’t under any kind of NDA, but that they were willing to offer some input which they felt did not breach their terms (our reasonable assumption, anyway).
[Full transparency: We asked developers a series of questions and have put them into a written format you see below. Please note that we requested these quotes before the recent blog update from Microsoft regarding some of the questions the community had.]
“A Generation Beyond What We Have Today”
Umberto from FSDreamTeam was one of the first to respond to some of our questions. His immediate response to how he felt the simulator looked was to say that “it surely looks a generation beyond what we have today.” This sentiment was also echoed also by both Miguel from simMarket saying “of course, it looks fab […]” and John Venema from Orbx adding that “[we] have to compliment Microsoft on the impressive trailer and how it has been received by the community.” Even members of the X-Plane team were pleased with the visuals from the simulator, with Ben Supnik, Head of Desktop Development, summarising “the thing that struck me most was how well matched all of the visuals were.”
Whilst every developer we spoke to was impressed by the visuals, there is still some concern that the trailer wasn’t quite all in-game rendered. Scott from Just Flight questioned “how much of it is actually in-game footage and how much of it is rendered scenes”, however, he is very excited by the visuals if it is all in-game. Finally, Lars from QualityWings Simulations said “[the trailer] looks great and shows a great variety of landscapes, scenarios and planes.” Although taking a level-headed approach, he did finish by saying that “trailers always look great though and right now there are simply not enough known facts to draw any conclusions.”
“This announcement really came out of nowhere for the entire flight simulation world”
The above quote from Ben at X-Plane summarises just how the entire community felt when the announcement was made. Not only were simmers shocked, but the whole gaming industry took notice. This shocking announcement certainly got many of the developers thinking about what Microsoft’s intentions are going to be. “We don’t know what the focus or target audience of the game will be, how open the simulator will be as a platform (if at all), or how well it will perform in practice. There’s just so much we don’t know,” Ben went onto add. “If this new Microsoft release finally becomes a successor to FSX, it may disrupt the ecosystem that’s been built around FSX, which has been unchanged for over a decade. But it may also be that Microsoft has no interest in making a truly open flight simulator – past attempts at an FSX replacement have required third parties to license their content and give up a percentage of their sales, or other onerous requirements.” [Editor’s Note: This quote was sent before Microsoft sent out their updated FAQ on June 20th]
Whilst Ben had a lot to say, many of the same things were said from other developers, with many not knowing what this may mean for the future, nor knowing exactly what this change will bring to the community. “We look forward to finding out more about this platform” John from Orbx expressed.
QualityWing Simulations’ Lars said that regardless of what this simulator turns out to be, the fact Microsoft is bringing it back in a big way means “[the] community as a whole will benefit from [the marketing] […].” Scott from Just Flight is already eyeing up trying to get Microsoft to represent Flight Simulator 2020 at this year’s Flight Sim Show in Cosford, UK this coming October. This would really demonstrate just how far Microsoft would be willing to go at representing the sim to the community.
Although we didn’t reach out personally, aircraft makers PMDG has already issued their feelings towards the simulator and will be taking a “wait and see approach.”
“Any new simulator entering the market is always exciting”
Despite the lack of solid information at this point, John from Orbx is clearly excited about the prospect of a new simulator coming out. Whilst it may not be apparently obvious to what end third-party developers can contribute to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. However, it has made Miguel from simMarket “thankful” to Microsoft “for the marketing kick for the entire industry.”
Whilst it is certainly an exciting time, there are still a lot of unanswered questions and concerns. Steve from Flight1 chimed in to say “There are several elements which are key that could determine the success of the simulator within the enthusiast group.” Many of those relate to how third-parties can interact with the simulator, just how much Microsoft involves the community and general accessibility.
Even competitors are excited to see some new competition in the market. “I think it’s always good news for flight simulation when a new sim comes out – innovation and competition invigorate our industry.”, however Ben from X-Plane did also bring the excitement levels down a notch by adding “[…] I think the claims that this is going to upend everything are overblown.”
What is most odd is that developers and publishers are saying that this news came out of nowhere. Speaking in an interview with CNBC, CEO of Aerosoft Winfried Diekmann said that “[he] was as much surprised as all others […]”.
“The sky and clouds struck me as the most impressive aspect”
Regardless of whether people knew about the simulator or not, what was refreshing was hearing developers talk to us like regular fans who are just excited to see new technology. Each developer or publisher expressed to us what element of the trailer impressed them the most. For Lars, it was the sky and clouds. Just like him, John also said the same thing with water effects also having a lasting impression, whilst Miguel said it was the inclusion of an Airbus that impressed him the most.
For Ben, he found it great that flight simulators are finally seeing the “[…] kind of detail we’re seeing in the rest of the game industry come to flight simulation too.”
“I am hopeful that it will bring more people to the genre of flight simulation”
Our final series of questions for the development teams who took part was to find out how they felt it would impact them as a developer or publisher. All of them agreed that it was far too early to tell at this stage, but that didn’t mean they weren’t already considering their future with this new simulator out there.
Steve at Flight1 sees a bright future, but only if “[…] publishers and developers have open access to the simulator elements and marketplace, [as] it encourages an industry built around the simulator, and it can then promise years of success for the platform”. This was shared by QualityWings Simulations who added that “it surely is an exciting prospect though and we sincerely hope that Microsoft will have an SDK sooner than later.”
However, right now, most developers are following suit like the guys at PMDG who simply don’t know enough to really make any commitment or comment at this time. “It’s far too early to comment on that yet,” John said. Echoed by Scott “[…] we’ll see as more details become available.”
Regardless of what happens, Ben said he hopes that “[…] more people will come to enjoy flight simulation […]”.
A sentiment that is shared by everyone in the community.
A big thank you to all the developers, people and publishers who responded to our questions.