Every industry has its oddities
And this Flight Simulator add-on industry is no different. I’ve been dabbling in it for a little over a year (www.jonpatch.ca/flightsim) and it’s populated by one big player (MS), a couple of larger players (small by any other industry standards) and many tiny players. The market is not big: the customer base is filtered: they first have to have MS Flight Simulator, then want to add to that product, then be aware there is a way to add to the product, mostly through downloaded products. Further the majority of add-ons are distributed for free, requiring a higher level of quality and support from commercial products.
It is an enthusiastic market though, and there are many forums frequented by flightsim fans. At CES 2006, Bill Gates announced the next version of Flight Simulator, FSX, to be released towards the end of this year. This created a stir on the forums, and focused a lot of the mudslinging (overt and covert) that goes on between competitive forums. It’s quite childish, IMHO, and some of the news announcements modeled sarcasm and ridicule, which some forum members embrace like an old friend, posting vitriol and opinions based on insufficient information. I suspect that drives quite a few people from these forums. It’s possible that many of these mudslinging folks would behave more respectfully if their behavioiur wasn’t tacitly condoned and overtly encouraged (through modelling) by the forum owners. I’d personally prefer that they changed their behaviour (which I think most would be willing to do), rather than labelling them as bad apples and writing them off. Treating them sarcastically or attacking them just perpetuates the problem.
Nonetheless these forums foster a sense of community, and especially among some of the smaller less-antagnostic forums, provide valuable support to newbies and experts alike.
MS has chosen over the last little while to wade into this teapot, with development team members posting on forums, and opening blogs. Good for them. Because my guess is that that FSX will be a huge improvement over FS9, and by educating the community MS (a) gets more constructive feedback and (b) more fans=more sales. I’m guessing that the use of GPU-based lighting, shading, and other effects will transform the often cartoon-like experience of FS9 to something much more realistic. And they’ve promised to provide a rich development environment for third party developers. The FS9 environment was a hit-and-miss potpourri of great tools, sometimes awesome SDKs, undocumented features (that the third party community had to painfully infer), great flexibility, tedious procedures (later eased by third party tools) and just plain black magic.
Anyhow now that I’ve co-launched a product, I’ve throttled back my flightsim effort for awhile, balancing it with other stuff. I’ll sit back and watch as FSX info oozes from MS in dribs and drabs.