It is pretty clear that the flight simulation community is completely different in pretty much all aspects than other communities. Not only by the size of it, cost of the hobby which it is focused on, but also by how it is a kind of “undiscovered area” by casual gamers.
Whenever I mention that I fly virtual aircraft in conversations with people outside the community, I get responses like “Even train sims are more enjoyable!”, or “Are you kidding? It’s just about watching the skies”. And yes, it certainly is correct, however, there is just something to it that keeps me entertained for over six years now.
I can’t further count on my fingers how many times when introducing someone new to the flight simulation niche, I got asked questions like “Are you crazy? You pay 80$ for a DLC?“, “The game costs 60$, and you still have to get DLCs?”, or even ones like “You just turn on the autopilot, why do you need all those aircraft? they are all the same!“.
My thinkings are always the same:
And yes, it’s pretty hard to reason all these things to someone who is used to purchasing games for 30$ and that’s it. In most cases, the person who am I talking with will lose interest after five minutes at best. However, I have to admit that I came across a few people that were actually interested in learning more about this hobby and small community although it was something they never even thought about getting into.
With such a difference in the community from others, it also means that third-party developers and companies have to adequately accustom their approach to customers and workflow. And usually, it’s much harder for a big international company to get into the community with their product than it would be for a long-time community member who just started working on a new scenery, for example.
As far as my experience goes, there is not much flight simmers who would decide whether to get or not a product simply based upon an advertisement they saw. While it can be a trigger to start looking into the product, there is way more going on before the final decision is made. From reading reviews online to watching videos and getting in touch with those who already have the addon asking for feedback.
How flight sim stores work? (usually)
Of course, now finally getting to the topic of this article, the situation around the flight simulation stores is also a whole new different story from other communities. Usually, gamers are used to purchasing cheaper games and DLCs through the grey market*. To save some bucks here and there.
*The grey market, as its name suggests, is a place to buy video games that isn’t illegal but might not be totally ethical. That’s the “grey” part of the name. The grey market is made up of ecommerce sites that sell activation keys for games, including newer titles. They sell these at reduced prices, making them attractive for consumers who are struggling with the often-high prices of their favorite video-game series.Definition of “grey market” from Norton.com
This way of purchasing addons is not really a thing in the flight simulation community. The developers have much bigger control over the licenses they sell than big companies usually have, and if they receive a report of a license key being resold, they will most likely disable the license very soon, within a few days usually. This is obviously only possible because of the size of the community and amount of customers they have, although the numbers have significantly increased since the Microsoft Flight Simulator launch.
The real question here is if the way licenses are sold and being handled by the developers currently is the most ideal way.
The “dark side” of flight sim stores
Most stores currently work on the same principle. The developer uploads or sends the store his product, the store sets it up for sale for the price the developer requests, and once someone purchases the product, they take about 30% of the price as a commission. As far as I know, there is currently no store that would take lower commissions than 20%.
Going back about a year, SimMarket, the biggest flight simulation store out there, had a scandal not many people remember, although it is pretty recent.
JustSim revealed that SimMarket takes 5€ for an installer assembly, which wasn’t publicly promoted by the company until then. This also meant that if a developer wanted to release a new version of his addon, let’s say from Prepar3D v4 to v5, the minimum upgrade fee for the customer had to be set to 5€, even if the developer didn’t want to charge the customer for an upgrade.
Additionally, after that, SimMarket had, and unfortunately still has, a lot of issues with quality control of the products that are being sold there. Ranging from stolen addons from other developers sold under different titles to just poor guides promising “Big FPS Boost” or “Cool Super Best New Realistic Clouds“. Add how many adjectives you wish.
Of course, SimMarket is not the only store that came across some bumps on its journey. The second biggest store, X-Plane.org Store, on the other hand, has a reputation of banning users from it and not communicating with customers having issues with their products.
While I, fortunately, *knocks on wood* do not have anyone close who encountered this, or neither did I have issues with this, there are many stories online from people who did this happen to.
There is also X-Aviation which is unique with the way they approach developers. X-Aviation isn’t a typical store – they do not only sell the products for the developers, but they also act as someone on a management-level position. Products sold by X-Aviation usually can’t be found anywhere else, which can be very impractical.
The “bright side” of flight sim stores
I’m not trying, by any means, to blatantly defame all current stores and their services. There are a lot of bright moments in the community as well.
Whenever I ask someone why they purchase addons in that one specific store, they usually reply with a simple answer: “I want to have everything in one place“. And yes, that answer makes a lot of sense. No one wants to go through tens of stores before finding the one through which they purchased the product they are looking to download.
A good amount of companies also introduced their clients recently which allows the users to very easily find, manage, or even purchase various products. A great example of this is the recently released Aerosoft One client, or the upcoming iniManager. Of course, not to forget, Orbx Central has been out for a while and served the community to a high standard.
We also have Threshold Store in the community which sells only curated products. Although the range of products being sold there is very limited, you will not find an addon that didn’t go through a thorough check.
And while many people in the community may not be happy with the prices of some addons and wish that there would be this grey market also available, there is also a bright side to this. While all stores have to operate at the same prices, there is a much bigger desire for customer service and previously mentioned clients. Plus, the developers still get more money from their products even after the 30% commissions than they would get if the addons would be sold on the grey market.
Discalimer about our ex-store
Yes, yes… if you’ve been following FSNews for a longer time, you probably know that we were also operating our own store with flight simulation addons. Yes, we “were”, in the past tense and no longer are or intend to do.
I feel like it is important to make this clear for this article to be objective. But also, we gained a lot of experience and knowledge during its lifespan. Throughout its operation, we were promoting lower commissions and actively discussing with developers the option to lower the prices on our store in exchange for even lower commissions for us.
As you might have guessed, the reply from all developers was very straightforward “No”. And now, a new question arises. Why would a developer turn down an offer to still make about 10% more from purchase through our store than from other stores while offering better prices to the customers?
It is becoming quite a trend that the developers often operate their own store. We can see that done to a high level with Orbx, Aerosoft, Verticalsim, Skyline Simulations, or Flightbeam, for example. When we write articles, we have a strict rule to prioritize these stores from the big players like SimMarket. Just because the developers get much more money from purchases through there than they would get elsewhere. This leads to having more resources for future development and projects.
Myself being a website developer, I do however feel like these stores are often very premature. Their layout is not very user-friendly, the downloads take twice as much as time, and often the orders don’t go through as smoothly.
However, after purchasing a few products through these stores, I have to admit that developers care about the customers and often provide much faster support if anything goes wrong with their store or products. There is just way more flexibility on the developer side when they have to do something.
Microsoft Flight Simulator in-game marketplace
Although this was initially not very noticeable within the community, as it matured, flight simmers began noticing that it takes developers much more time to release their products through the in-game Marketplace. The anticipation to have them listed there was pretty significant.
It, later on, became clear from various developers that these issues are not caused by the developers, but by Asobo and Microsoft.
Pilot Experience Sim, for example, had to make multiple statements in the past delaying the releases of their sceneries because Microsoft wasn’t able to keep up. And we are here not talking about one to two days of delay, but weeks.
And I only remembered Pilot Experience Sim because they were very vocal about it numerous times, but it happens pretty much on a weekly basis. If you follow some products, you will soon notice that they are appearing in the in-game Marketplace weeks after they are available through SimMarket or other stores.
This does not apply only to the new developers, but also to big players like Orbx or MK-Studios.
I only haven’t seen this in some cases when the developers arranged simultaneous release with Asobo Studios and Microsoft, as it was with the Aerosoft CRJ Series.
We can now of course ask ourselves, are the delays worth the proof checks Microsoft and Asobo are doing? Well, I don’t think so. I am fully aware that the number of scenery developers wanting to publish their sceneries is huge, but if Microsoft wants to keep this process, why don’t they invest more in the team behind it or make it more automated, simpler? Curating a store of such size can be really difficult, but it’s a multi-billion company, why do we have to wait over a month for a product to get checked and released, in the 21st century?!
Not to mention that Microsoft also takes 30% commissions on the products sold through their store.
I reached a few developers in the industry asking about their statements about the situation in the community.
Filip, from Chudoba Design, has stated that he can accept the 30% commissions as these big stores are the source of 90% of total orders. He additionally also stressed that these stores do marketing for the developer by placing their products there and promoting various discounts, etc.
Filip is not planning on selling his products solely through his website but rather focuses on developing “AntiLeak” tool in which the user can input his license key, and download the products only through there. It also works as a way for Filip to check for valid licenses and if his products are not being pirated.
On the other hand, Gold787FlightSim, from Vref Simulations, has said that he is very disturbed about the SimMarket quality control. The situation has based on him not improved for the past year.
Gold787FlightSim has also confirmed in our quick chat that he finds it very troublesome to upload his products to the in-game Marketplace. From his own experience, he confirmed, that it takes more than a month to upload a product on there, and additionally as the United States doesn’t have fitting agreements with most countries around the world, the developers get a very small percentage of the total product cost.
While it can be very convenient for a developer based in the United States, in the case of the Vref Simulation, Gold787FlightSim would receive only about 30% of the total product price after Microsoft takes 30% on commissions and 30% on various taxes.
In conclusion, we should really think as a community about what and who are we supporting. Do we really want to support big companies taking 30% of the developer’s income? When you purchase a product next time, imagine you would work a year on a product, wanted to sell it for €30, but would, in reality, get only €21.
As a compromise, I would consider purchasing products through websites like Orbx or iniBuilds operate. Both of these companies are also developers and are actively giving back to the community by bringing high-fidelity aircraft and sceneries as well as taking newcoming developers under their wings.
From a different perspective however, developers should think together about how to change this. Why are they accepting the conditions the stores set? How cool would it be if all bigger developers have together created a marketplace where could they list their products with close to zero commissions? With a little support from the community, they could even welcome newcomers to the store.
Even improving their current stores, and promoting them more, would certainly make a difference! I think there are a lot of pros about how current stores work, however, there is still a significant number of cons which we should aim to eliminate together, as a community.
When purchasing next time, think about who you actually support and how he gives back to the community.