So X Plane 11 came out on the 30th of March to mostly positive reviews. Good for it, It deserves it. But in this hobby you can never talk about X Plane without comparing it to FSX. Throughout its history X Plane has always been the footnote of Flight Simulation. It was always kind of there with its small following of users. However with X Plane 11 it was clear the Laminar Research wanted to change that. And for seemingly the first time ever they put some actual effort into game design and marketing. But the question remains; How well did they do? Now that some time has passed since release we can look at the numbers generated by X Plane 11 and compare them to those of FSX and X Plane 10.
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first. I am getting these numbers from SeatmDB. Sadly it’s hard to find dependable numbers on the various simulators unless the respective publisher releases them. However since 2 of the 3 main civil flight simulators are sold on Steam, we can get dependable numbers on them. Now these numbers are not representative of the entire community. As you can get X Plane from non steam websites. And P3D is not sold on steam either. So there are literally no dependable numbers on that simulator available. Throw in the fact Laminar Research created a pretty big incentive to buy X Plane from their website, and not on steam; It would not surprise me if there were more sales on the non Steam version. Also it’s probably not really fair to compare X Plane 11 to FSX. Since FSX is almost 11 years old and X Plane 11 just came out. It’s not a fair comparison, but i’m going to make it anyway.
Note all the images were taken from SteamDB on a Saturday afternoon at about 1500 EDT (1900Z). I have been looking at these charts for a few weeks prior to starting this article and noticed that there was notably more users online during the weekends. No surprise there.
You can look at the images yourself and see the numbers. I want to focus on the really interesting ones. FSX has mostly positive reviews. 79% Positive out of 7500 user reviews. The most interesting number with FSX is the all time peak. That’s the highest player count ever reached by the game in question. For FSX this occurred on January 8th 2017! That’s incredibly recent for a game that’s essentially over 10 years old by that point, though only 2 years old on steam. Another notable number is the player count. Over 700 thousand total players in a 2 week period.
But raw numbers are not the only thing you should look at. You should pay special attention to the charts. Especially note how the games numbers rise and fall over a long span of time, also known as the trend. FSX Released on steam around November of 2014. It saw an initial influx of between 2 and 3 thousand players. Followed by a sharp decrease In February. But by the end of March there was a massive spike to 4000 players. It then dropped back to 2. But since April of 2015 the trend has been nothing but up for FSX. Hitting the peak player count in January of 2017, where it has since decreased slightly.
X Plane 10
Let us also establish a start point for X Plane. To both see how it measures up to its own predecessor, but also to see if there has been any real improvement. Now X Plane 10 has never been that impressive on Steam. It only has a 64% positive ranking on the user reviews. Normally I don’t trust user reviews unless there’s a lot of them. But in the case of X Plane 10 there is a lot of them. 963 user reviews to be exact.
These numbers are far less impressive than FSX. With just over 70 thousand total players in a 2 week period. Also take note the all time peak player count was less than 500 players, hit over 2 years ago. Do take note however these numbers were attained on April 22. A month after X Plane 11 came out. So there would be a drop, that’s expected. Luckily with SteamDB we can look back and see what the numbers were prior to X Plane 11’s release. They were not much better. November 6th saw the highest player count since the peak 2 years prior. 427 total players. Since then the trend was nothing but down, with a notably sharp decrease in Late December 2016. Now this was when X Plane 11 released in Early Access. So this comes as no surprise.
If we look at the “current” player count for 24 hours we see X Plane 10 saw 194 players. The 427 Total players mentioned above is the highest player count for the 24 hour period occurring November 6th 2016. So if we take that as our base we can estimate that roughly 45% of the 427 are still playing XP10. This could mean that the core fan base of X Plane users prefers 10. It could mean that XP11 was not as good as XP10 to that 45%. It could even mean this 45% thought X Plane 11 was to expensive and will stay with X Plane 10 for now. It could mean a lot of things.
X Plane 11
Now the one we are all interested in. X Plane 11. Right away X Plane 11 is doing seemingly better than X Plane 10. Its user reviews are 83% positive. Remember though User reviews are really only useful when there’s a lot of them. In the case of X Plane 11 there’s only 332 user reviews. If you’re interested in Critique reviews, then Flightsim.com, and Helisimmer reviewed it. The Steam Curators The Gaben Sales Organization, and Sim UK also reviewed it. Just glancing over them it seem general consensus is: It’s good but not great.
Once again these numbers were taken from SteamDB on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at about 1500 EDT. So as of right now there are far fewer total players on X Plane 11. But there seems to be more player engagement this time. With the total player count in 24 hours at just shy of 500. Already higher than X Plane 10’s highest player count ever. And there’s a definite improvement with X Plane 11, which see its peak player count at 640 hit just 20 days ago.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops however. The trend on the graphs does show signs of stagnation. Especially when you look back at FSX Graphs which saw a steady climb in players for 2 years straight. Compared to FSX, X Plane 11 is still not even in Base camp. Let alone climbing the foothills, and not even close to the summit. But it’s only been a month and it’s already bested X Plane 10. If it can keep up the momentum, it may actually do good. I’d be really interested in coming back a year from now and looking at these numbers again.
I think it’s important to establish a comparison. So we need to look at games outside of flight simming real quick. At first I thought about showing a much higher rated game. Like a AAA published game. But after thinking about it I came to the conclusion that it would not be a fair comparison. It would be the gaming equivalent of trying to compete with WalMart on price. Instead let’s at least look at another simulator. Something that would have roughly the same potential as X Plane 11, and FSX. Let’s take a look at the now year old American Truck Simulator. A game that I would expect to see on Par with FSX.
From the images above you can see ATS has mostly positive reviews. 93% positive out of 13600 user reviews. The game has 572000 Total players in a 2 week period, with around 300 in a single 24 hour period. Its peak player count was 19100 hit on the day after its release over a year ago.
As you can see like FSX these numbers absolutely bury X Plane’s. However they don’t seem to surpass FSX. Which I found interesting. I far expected ATS to out do FSX. Granted FSX has been on Steam longer than ATS has so that probably has something to do with it. But the trend for ATS shows a good initial player count, but a steady taper off to the current numbers. FSX on the other hand, bounced around after release day. But was then nothing but up. FSX has better numbers everywhere except Total players in a 2 week period, and all time peak. From this I can gather that more people play ATS on a given day then FSX. But FSX has more people playing it all together. The key difference here being FSX still seems to be selling, while ATS sales seem to have tapered off quite a bit.
Draw your own. As I said in the beginning these numbers are not representative of the entire community. They are a mere snapshot of 1 day in 1 weekend of 1 month after X Plane 11’s release. Given U’m comparing it to a 10 year old sim, And that both P3D V4, and Dovetails Flight Sim World are not out at time of writing; It’s hard to really tell how X Plane 11 has affected things. With no data available on people who use Prepare 3D, or people who use the non steam versions of the respective simulators I can make no real conclusion.
However going of of the data presented it seem X Plane 11 has beaten X Plane 10, but not beaten FSX. Yes it’s only been out on Steam for a month compared to FSX’s 2 years. But the first 2 weeks after release are the most important ones of any video games life. If X Plane 11 was going to net Laminar Research a bigger market share, We should see some signs of that. And yet it only barely beat out it own predecessor. The thing to do now is sleep on it. Wait and take another look at the numbers a year from now. By then the day 1 issues should be fully worked out, and some DLC should be available that changes these numbers some. But as it looks right now, FSX still seems to be top dog. Even though it on its death bed.
My Own Opinion
I must say I found these numbers surprising. We always hear the flight simming is a Niche hobby. But I’ve never seen any evidence to this. These numbers, while nowhere near what a AAA game sees; are not what I would define as Niche. In fact FSX appears to be on Par with ATS; Which does about as well as a high profile Indie game. There seems to be quite a lot of people in this hobby. Enough to make the numbers look the way they do. I’m also surprised by X Plane 11’s performance here. I thought for sure it would be better. But it did not do near as well as I had hoped for it. Though we are only seeing the Steam version sales. But unless the people who bought the non steam version of X Plane 11 are in the tens of thousands; I don’t think even that would mean much.
And that is another thing to note without dependable numbers for the non steam versions of the respective sims, then we are only seeing at most half the community here. Which would mean the hobby is less niche than we thought. Though there’s probably also an overlap of people who own multiple simulators, or both Steam, and Non Steam versions of them. We are not seeing them here.
I also wonder if the price difference has something to do with it. FSX is only $25 on Steam. But X Plane 11 is $60. Price does matter. Price is the number one factor (though not the only factor) on whether or not someone will buy something. And $60 may be the normal price of a brand new AAA Game. But X Plane is not a AAA game. I’m willing to bet that’s turning a lot of people off. Especially when there’s a perfectly viable flight simulator available for less than half the price of X Plane 11. And when you consider that XP10 was on steam for years at the price of $60, i doubt X Plane 11’s price will ever come down. It doesn’t seem to me LR really knows how to actually sell the product they have made. Sure you can make something great. But that means nothing if you can’t sell it.
By: Timothy Thomas
FSX SteamDB Page
FSX Steam Store Page
Xplane 10 SteamDB Page
Xplane 11 SteamDB Page
Xplane 11 Steam Store page
ATS SteamDB Page
ATS Steam Store Page