The Death of Microsoft Flight

Oooh wow, I have a feeling the comments will go batshit again on the MS Flight article I wrote back when it hit public release.

It’s still attracting the odd hateful comment. The majority of the hate wasn’t so much because I wrote a positive review of Flight on release, but because I called out the “oh so mature” Avsim community and the ultra-hardcore ‘virtual pilots’ who were apparently enraged that Microsoft didn’t make a simulator specifically for them. That stirred up a hornet’s nest (for which I am still entirely unapologetic, as plenty of the comments people left simply confirm that the old ‘entitlement issues’ thing is still alive and well). Still, joke’s on me I guess because Microsoft Flight was declared life extinct yesterday.

If you’re from that section of the community eagerly waiting for me to repent, apologise, or convert, you’ll be waiting a very long time. As a matter of fact I’ve had two or three attempts at writing a sort of “State of Flight” post for about a month (in between finishing the Galaxy Note saga) but I decided it was just safer to say nothing. With Flight dead though, I guess I have no choice.

Firstly, my initial review of Flight (for all 6 of you who are probably unfamiliar with it, the End of Year review will definitely have it listed as the top article for the year) was positive. Flight was a nice change of direction – it wasn’t a big-iron procedural simulator where you spent an hour configuring the aircraft and taking off, then the next 8 with it on autopilot flying over featureless terrain, then the next hour for landing. It was primarily about VFR flights with general aviation aircraft (something someone might reasonably own or get to fly in real life) in Hawaii. There were plans to expand it as time went on; the base game is free, with additional DLC being released from then on. The first set of DLC at launch was the rest of Hawaii along with two aircraft, both with virtual cockpits. Not a bad start for a fledgling product.

The problem with Flight is that it relied entirely on DLC to keep it going. Without DLC, the project was always going to fail. Flight was always a product with great potential. Not for the hardcore market, but for the more casual simmers the potential for a better sim was still there. It was a much-needed engine update that properly used the GPU and multi-core CPUs at the very least. Not a Flight Simulator 2012, but possibly a step towards it. But as we all noted at the time without an injection of content, Flight would crash.

After the Hawaii pack things didn’t go so well, which was what almost prompted me to post another article about it. For reasons only known to themselves, and despite continual arguments against it both during the beta and after release, Microsoft released a bunch of “basic” aircraft, that is an aircraft with an external 3D model but no internal cockpit. Meanwhile, the long-awaited Alaska scenery pack, which opened up a brand new area to explore, fell further and further behind. Much needed features (which I criticised in my original article, but noted that they probably would appear later) like air traffic control and AI-piloted aircraft seemed less and less likely. While Alaska slipped behind schedule, Flight grew stale. Also, for some ridiculous reason, Microsoft focused on fighters. Ignoring the “Oh my god, a Zero flying over Hawaii that’s bad taste!” argument, there was no real reason to go with any of them.

Really, they seemed confused about Flight. The arcade pilots wouldn’t really get Flight – it still had too much sim in it. The hardcore didn’t like it because it didn’t have enough sim, particularly procedural switch-flipping stuff and the whole world modelled from the start. There was that casual sim sector where Flight could have done well… but releasing aircraft without a virtual cockpit was not the way to go about it. If anything it makes it harder to fly; for an arcade game it’s fine because flight physics are easy, but for a sim it can be a bit disorienting and it makes it harder to judge the flight path and things like attitude.

Alaska came out just recently, and it was pretty disappointing. We got one new aircraft (without a cockpit) along with Alaska for scenery… and that was it. No new missions. Just Alaska, which looked pretty average, all things considered. They finally released a new aircraft with a virtual cockpit, but only days later Flight has crashed. But when all you’re releasing are pointless cockpit-less aircraft, it becomes obvious that you’re going to fail. If Flight had have received aircraft with a virtual cockpit, and if Alaska didn’t take forever to come out, Flight might have been something much better. It might still be a viable project. Hell, if they’d added ATC and traffic and so on it’d go a long way to fixing one of the biggest problems with Flight. Yet apparently Microsoft never dragged it out of the base content stage. Failing to even release new missions with Alaska is absurd. Perhaps the writing was on the wall much earlier.

Whether you lament the loss of Flight, dance with glee on its grave, or ignore it entirely, if you’re a flight simmer it’s important to note that a flight sim has failed here. The market is already small enough (not counting legacy products like FSX, which needs an engine overhaul) so your next hopes are X-Plane 10 (which has its own problems) and Prepar3D. Unless there’s a secret Flight Simulator 11 in development (I highly doubt it) a successor to FSX now looks highly unlikely. Microsoft may take this as a sign that it’s not worth developing for the flight sim sector in any capacity.

Perhaps opening it up to 3rd Party Devs would have been a much better solution, and I did mention that in the comments on the other article. But there’s no way that Microsoft would have allowed for a free ride like they did with FSX. And really, I don’t blame them – very few other ‘games’ (for lack of a better term here) allow commercialised modding without payment to the original developer. The Flight Simulator series was a fairly unusual case in terms of addons, particularly in this day and age. While I’m not suggesting that Microsoft’s decision was entirely due to the ‘free ride’ that occurs with FSX, it’s worth considering.

In any event, another attempt in the sector has fallen. The flight sim community is already fairly small and insular compared to the other sectors (no, sorry guys, you’re barely a blip on the radar compared to the ‘gamers’ who you hate with such a passion) such that any loss is of concern. But Microsoft ended up killing it with their ridiculous basic aircraft and the delayed Alaska release. Most of us could see the writing on the wall around the time of Alaska’s release and with each successive basic aircraft release. But to end it after a couple of months? That’s a bit of a shock.

Alright, flame away!

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2 thoughts on “The Death of Microsoft Flight

  1. Surely there is no need for hate comments or anything like that.
    You have pinpointed correctly all the reasons why it failed which however were obvious from the start. I think the SIM community reacted more out of complete dissapointment rather than a ‘dislike for gamers’.
    Nobody ever said that everything had to be free, but if they had included many of the things you have mentioned, then this community would have embraced this game more and given it all the free publicity it required and would have spread the word. They would have given the thing a solid user base. MS could have kept all the easy flying/gaming features for traditional gamers.
    They got it wrong. As always, MS thought they knew best. Pity, as some of the modeling wasnt bad and one could see the potential, which never actually materialised.
    I feel sorry for all those people who actually bought anything from FLIGHT. A kick in the teeth.

  2. The MOST gorgeous and delicious fruit in memory can only be realized through trial and error, thought, preparation, and countless hours of very hard work by passionate, selfless individuals, who not only possess skill and knowledge of their craft, but also know the needs of the plant and thus fashion an environment where the desired outcome is all but certain. The most flavorful… the most memorable… the most sought after fruit is simply not produced by accident… but on the other hand, neither is the worst. To the point, Microsoft is far from being the garden I describe above. Google, on the other hand, well, is much closer. In this analogy, Microsoft has become a hothouse tomato factory. When the farmer is paid by the ton and employs transient help to tend to the vines. His bottom line is his passion… not his fruit. Yes Microsoft’s tomatoes are red and plump, but a single bite makes you wish you had one of those memorable heirlooms out of grandpas garden.

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