Monthly Archives: September 2012

MS Flight: they still don’t get it

Well, I have to say, I’m a bit sad.  I have really enjoyed MS Flight.  It seemed to be targeted at the casual Flight Simmer.  I suppose that would be me.  I like FSX as well, but it’s a bit clunky, and very full-featured.  When I feel like some defined missions or lightweight adventures, MS Flight is great.  The graphics and performance are nice on my system.

I just read today that they’ve cancelled the program, which is too bad.  I do hope for the best for the team behind MS Flight.

Carbon Cub above Alaska

Southern Alaska in my Carbon Cub over  beautiful scenery, but I can’t get into the cockpit!

The Pricing Model

I really appreciated the idea behind the Flight pricing model, as variant on the freemium DLC model.  Basically, you could download and play the game for free with a limited amount of scenery and planes.  The limited scenery consisted of one Hawaiian Island and a couple planes.  You could then purchase the rest of Hawaii, or a few additional planes.  Or they offered the bundle for 25 or 30 dollars.  At the same time, it was possible to purchase the bundle through Steam for $15, which I promptly did.

They later offered an Alaska pack as well, along with one additional plane.

The Content

Overall, the content is beautiful.  The water is beautifully rendered, shadows and skylines are great, and the towering cliffs look fantastic.  Scenery feels unique, not tiled.

The Gameplay

Well, it appears that the hardcore simmers aren’t too pleased with the gameplay.  They miss being able to fly anywhere.  There’s a shortage of planes, and no big ones, gliders, or helis.  There’s a limited amount of customization available.  And honestly, I think the hardcore simmers prefer a more spartan UI.

I’d like to be able to build a flight plan and use it.

The missions are fun and challenging, and I enjoy the occasional aerocache hunt.

So what’s the problem?

After so much experience with their Flight Simulator series, and success, why would MS discount the industry that they helped to create?  There are a ton of companies build around custom scenery, planes, add-ons, hardware, consoles, and chassis.  MS Flight doesn’t support any of them.  MS decided to go it alone.  Would the iPhone have been successful if Apple had squashed 3rd party apps?  It would still just be a phone that browses.  How could MS have missed this opportunity?  For relatively little work, they could have enabled 3rd party developers to release scenery, planes, missions, and more, through their proprietary “app store”, all the while, raking in the easy money.

Instead of raking in easy money, they chose to keep it closed and go it alone.  Well, it worked well for them in the 90s, why not now?

It’s tricky though

In the end, MS did bite of a pretty complex problem.  They attempted to take niche product and grow the market.  Unfortunately, they appear to have alienated their existing customer base by not offering something that appealed to them and snubbing their entire commercial advocate community.  At the same time, they offered a product to the commodity gaming market that isn’t exactly “fun”.  Flight simulators aren’t exactly a “fun” game, which is probably why they’re niche in the first place.  Rather than fun, they deliver an experience.  It’s occasionally fun, but that’s not what keeps me coming back.  It’s challenging and educational.  It puts me in places to see places around me from a new perspective.  It’s flying, and it’s not for everyone.

So what could they do better?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has some good suggestions as to what could have saved MS Flight.  Among them are additional planes (such as gliders and helicopters).  While I’m pretty happy with Hawaii and Alaska for flying around in, I probably won’t be forever.  I enjoy using  Orbx’s Pacific Northwest scenery to explore the areas I most often go.  Sadly, this will probably never be an option for MS Flight.

The Steam thing was really confusing for me.  I purchased the DLC, then they made me install Steam and run Flight through there, and I don’t know why or what it meant.  Why not just offer the discount themselves instead of some weird bait-and-switch maneuver.  Oh, well.

Community.  I’ve flown a bit with others in MS Flight.  It was pretty fun.  Tools to help people be in a community would be handy.

Tools for the newb.  Flight simming is much more fun if you aren’t just flying.  Provide tools and guidance for building flight plans, and for connecting with experienced flyers.

The comments on this thread from passionate flight simmers are quite telling as well:

“If only MS realised from the start that it was us FREEWARE developers that really made the FS franchise it is today….. ” – 7107delicious

“Microsoft did without a doubt take their eye off the ball. We’ve been loyal to them for many years; this last go round we were treated like the unseen red-headed step children of the software world.” – Aaron aka Stretch

Conclusion

MS Flight is a great product.  The experience is quality, the visuals are solid.  But MS managed to not learn from their own experience, and from the successes of others.  I guess it’s just too bad that MS keeps making these silly mistakes over and over.  They continually release a solid product that is just subtly yet significantly flawed.

But MS continues to underestimate the power of community, and how communities react.  They seem to live in this world where they believe one action has no effect on another.  (their wooing of the OSS community is another wonderful tale I witnessed).  If you have a bunch of people who support you, at least let them think that you’re supporting them back.