The FlightSim Community Survey 2018 Results have been published by Navigraph and partners, and it has brought some surprising revelations. You can view the full PDF report here.
I just wanted to spend some time to collate my thoughts and note them down here. This article is going to be pretty much an assorted musing kind of thing, so don’t take it too seriously. I’m also keen to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Understanding some of the key data
Prepar3D V4 usage compared to X-Plane 11
I think one of the more interesting results (and surprising: see below) was how many people voted for X-Plane and showed there was a lot of usage of the sim in the community. I’ve seen various forum posts and Facebook groups state that this means that X-Plane is now more popular. Without going into any kind of fanboy debates in our comment section (you’ve been warned), it’s important to note what these stats tell us:
- More people voted for X-Plane 11 in the survey than other simulators
- Although less people voted for Prepar3D V4, it is the simulator used “most of the time”
- FS2002 is still being used – by MORE people than use Prepar3D V1 and Prepar3D V2.
- FSX, although declining in terms of popularity, remains the 3rd most popular to be used (if we were to assume that Steam Edition and regular FSX boxed edition are voted separately and we combine them, FSX as a platform becomes the most voted for platform)
Regardless of feelings towards whatever platform, I am delighted to see people are trying new things, experiencing different offerings and understanding that multiple simulators have varying strengths and weaknesses.
I am aware of the “rank” table at the bottom of the main document, but the rank simply infers to how many people voted, not the most used.
There were a lot of VR related questions in the survey this year, and for good reason. I’ve noticed at multiple events that many people are bringing VR to the attention of the community. X-Plane 11 was the most commonly used simulator for Virtual Reality. That says a lot about how stable it is as a platform for enabling users to experience it, but also how developers have worked with it to make it become more accessible.
What the survey does say is that VR still isn’t for everyone. There’s a few reasons:
- Expense – The hardware for the headset alone exceeds the cost the average user will spend on hardware. Furthermore, powerful graphic cards are required for VR to be effective.
- Motion sickness still impacts people. 55% of people said that they never experience it, but 45% said it either rarely happens or always happens (and everything in between)
- Controllers still aren’t accessible for most people. Those that do use VR still use a joystick or yoke. I personally find it very hard to do anything other than move control surfaces when flying in VR with just a yoke. You can’t easily make adjustment to other elements in the aircraft such as flaps, gear, lighting etc. It would explain why there was a 20% difference in which phase of flight people use VR for. 72% said they use it during aircraft preparation, whereas up to 98% said they use it for take off.
- Technology – The survey made it very clear that Oculus was the brand of choice for many simmers. The only other brand on the survey was for HTC’s efforts. That highlights how few options there are for simulator fans out there, which could lead to uncertainty about whether VR is a good investment. This also has an impact on the expense as without much competition, there’s no need for companies to reduce their offerings. I -personally- feel the current screen technology isn’t good enough to really enjoy VR and the visual qualities our sims can offer today
- Popularity – VR is still an upcoming and coming trend, but 84% of people who answered the question still don’t own one. Technology like this will only become more popular once people brag about how amazing it is. I know we’ve seen a few people really emphasise how it benefits their experience, but the numbers are too small to make that ‘wow’ impact people will need to uptake it. However that said, every event I’ve been to since 2016 has a developer bring a couple VR headsets for people to experience and try out and the reception is always positive.
Things I’m not surprised about
Freeware vs. payware – flight planning
SimBrief has been a tool that I know is used frequently by many members of the community. It’s a hugely advanced online tool, which enables people to effectively plan routes across the world, and combine a range of functions to the planing aspect for accuracy. It may not be as complex or have the same features as the payware options, but it certainly holds its own for most tasks. I’m not surprised to see the community feel the same based on the survey results.
Video reviews have the biggest Influence on whether to buy a product
It’s not a surprise to me that video reviews have the biggest influence on whether a product should be purchased or not. They offer everything a consumer would need – visually seeing the product, having an opinion on various elements voiced over and more. It’s an engaging way for the audience to get a good taste of what something is like. The results don’t surprise me, but it does help me focus what is important for us as a content creator next year. With that in mind, expect to see a huge increase in our video review production in the new year.
VATSIM continues to dominate online flying networks
This doesn’t come with any surprise, but VATSIM continues to see the most number of pilots fly on their network. However, it has dropped since the 2017 survey. This year, 35% of participants said that they fly via VATSIM, whilst only 14% choose IVAO. PilotEdge also saw a small single percentage point increase to 5%. I’m personally not sure why things such as FSEconomy and projectFLY are listed with the online flying section as they don’t offer the same as what VATSIM, IVAO or PilotEdge offer.
The other thing that didn’t surprise me about these stats are the fact 48% of people haven’t flown on any in the past 12 months. Assuming that all 15,000 people voted for this question, this suggests 7,200 users are not active in any of these online communities. The reasons for this are pretty diverse, but the key ones are that you have fly in real-time and that they’re not part of a network.
Things that did surprise me
X-Plane 11 has more overall use than Prepar3D V4 amongst the community.
This was really surprising, yet at the same time, I think it’s quite understandable. The X-Plane community has certainly had an incredible year during 2018. We have certainly had our coverage of the sim ramp up massively over the past 6 months has more and more developers start to see it as a viable platform. New technology from Orbx with their TrueEarth series or even old favourites like Hifi SimTech bringing their weather engine over as certainly helped the case for many users to enjoy the Laminar Research platform. It’s a really positive step for the platform, but also surprising due to the market share the platform once held.
The vast majority of people into flight simming do NOT work in the aviation industry.
Maybe I’m surprised because flight simming is what got me to work in aviation. Maybe I’m surprised because the majority of the people I work with or am friends with are all members of the aviation community. I think the most surprising thing was how high the percentage was for those not involved. 77.59% of the 15,000 people who took part, work outside of aviation. I think it’s great that people still have such passion and desire for this hobby, yet have other skills and knowledge outside of the industry.
The average number of years simming is 20.
That would mean I was just 5 years old when 19.41% of survey participants started their simming journey. Times have changed massively since then, but it’s really exciting to see that so many people have been involved with the hobby for so long. This is still a surprising figure in my mind when you consider what simulation must have been like all those years ago. If you’re in that category, I’d love to know your thoughts on how you feel flight simulation has progressed in those 20 years.
The average simmer will spend only $250 on software add-ons per year.
This is probably the stat that surprised me the most. When we made DCTRY and collected all of the prices for products, the average cost of a scenery piece was $28.23. When we compare that to the $250 someone would spend per year, that is 8/9 scenery products in total. That doesn’t include add-ons such as aircraft, texture enhancement packs, weather engines, or even the simulator itself. Obviously, there’s a huge variable on that $250 per year depending on the person, but it’s a lot lower than I had thought considering the price of add-ons in today’s market.
Things I think may happen now
We’ll see an increase in resources given to X-Plane development.
With the huge uptake on usage in X-Plane, I think developers will be keen to get in on the action. It’s clearly now a platform that is viable for many people in various flying situations. Whether that is IFR or VFR, in virtual reality or not – there are lots of add-ons now available that meet the demands of the community. There are still plenty of products out there for ESP platforms, but not yet available for X-Plane (and vice versa), so there’s still lots of room for growth. We’ll also see a lot more concurrent releases happen next year too. As tools become better and SDKs are better understood, developers will have the ability to work on both sims at the same time, or at least outsource their project to a conversion development studio. This will benefit the community massively.
Developers may start to adjust their pricing in reflection to spending habits.
Consumer habits are important to understand from the standpoint of both the publisher and the developer. Now that there is tangible data on how much people consume, the varying expenditure of different ages, etc, I’m hoping developers will start to adjust their pricing strategy to either:
- Be more consistent. Some developers could release 3 or 4 similar products and have a huge variance on pricing
- Offer discount programs for certain types of people. E.g. Students
- Offer better value products – including more features that become the ‘norm’ for that particular sim.
I don’t think we’ll see price reductions from developers, but I hope that they’ll become ‘smarter’ at how they price their stuff. This goes for both developers and publishers.
Next year’s results will see a higher turnout
Navigraph proved that by working together with various companies, they can produce a huge database of results. I feel some people were put off by the length and the amount of detail the survey went into. I think with the experience of this year, feedback from the community and hopefully even more support from media outlets (we’re keen to be a big supporter next year), developers and publishers, the survey will yield more results. This, in turn, can then be reacted upon accordingly to make 2020 and beyond an even more exciting for the flight sim community.
What I’m super proud of
The community chooses FSElite over other media partners “most of the time”
I can’t write an article about the survey results without expressing how proud I am of the team and what we have achieved. In less than 3 years we have grown to be the community’s preferred choice for flight simulation news, reviews and original content. Of the 10,765 of you who responded to that question overall, 9,452 of you gave us as an answer. That number is incredible and we can’t thank each and every single one of you enough.
We’re still young, still growing and still have plenty of opportunity to increase the number of people who will choose us “most of the time” in the future. Maybe you could be part of that growth by joining our team?