August 18th marks the third anniversary of Microsoft Flight Simulator, or known to many as MSFS. In celebration, Microsoft shares a summary of infographics to mark the occasion. The numbers are staggering, considering how young this product is. It has grown up very quickly since August of 2020 when every current sim flyer and many potential new ones waited in anticipation of its release.
Many sim flyers were already flying the tried-and-true X-Plane and Microsoft’s previous sim, FSX. These two products had a solid base of dedicated real pilots and sim pilots alike. Trying to get that group of flyers to let go of their solid simulators was a massive challenge for Microsoft and one that it seems to be winning. To date, there are over twelve million users of MSFS on this anniversary of the sim’s release.
Is Microsoft Flight Simulator still “As Real As It Gets?”
Now we didn’t all just drop our X-Plane or FSX and go with MSFS. We kept them in case the new sim didn’t work as well as we expected. We were lured into the awesome scenery and included list of planes available right out of the box. We were enthusiastic about the promise of the whole world at our fingertips to explore for the rest of our lives. We were mesmerized by the accuracy of the world around us and lived with any idiosyncrasies that it displayed. As a year had passed, should we keep our old sim products or go all in with Microsoft Flight Simulator?
The majority of us never went back!
Certainly, Microsoft Flight Simulator experienced growing pains and the first year was the hardest. Sim flyers experienced unrealistic flight dynamics and the famous “crash to desktop” (CTD) which infuriated many flyers in those early days. While conducting multiple-hour flights and descending to the runway, one could experience another CTD and have to start over. That can still happen today if your new airplane wasn’t coded correctly or your home cockpit hardware confuses the sim program. But it is certainly very rare now.
Then there was the announcement that MSFS would work on Microsoft’s flagship gaming console, the Xbox. A whole new breed of gamers and flight simmers jumped in and finally enjoyed the wonder of Microsoft Flight Simulator that the PC flyers had been bragging about for a year and a half. That, too, had its growing pains, and to this day, many product add-ons will not work on an Xbox due to its closed file system. But it looks and flies the same as the PC version, and to this day, a lot more home cockpit hardware is available for the platform. Then Microsoft expanded the Xbox’s capabilities to include cloud gaming and the Xbox One (older version). This still is an entry-level solution that relies heavily on internet traffic, but it works and is an inexpensive solution.
It all started over three years ago when a brilliant programmer was experimenting with a small section of satellite data and some Bing maps data that Microsoft owns. The result was stunning, and a colleague asked, “Why can’t it include the whole world? We have the Bing data.” And of course, the whole world is included in the sim, even if it is stored on Microsoft cloud servers with over nine Petabytes of data that the sim has to constantly access while flying anywhere in the world.
You can see a lot of the statistics in these infographics that this impressive flight simulator has grown in leaps and bounds in just three short years. The MSFS dev team has dedicated support for the sim for 10 years. Many flight simulator enthusiasts started their own Twitch stream channels to fly various airplanes and flight plans so others can join in and fly along. Microsoft also started its own Twitch channel, MSFSOfficial and over the three-year period broke all the channel statistics on Twitch for large viewer audiences. Jayne Reynolds, a Senior Community Manager for MSFS was even brave enough to take 24 flying lessons live on Twitch just to show off the product and demonstrate to new simmers how to fly.
Microsoft Flight Simulator also included many new “bespoke”, or hand-made airports and cities in their updates. New airplanes were introduced like the DeHavilland Beaver workhorse and the famous “Spruce Goose”. Both can land on water with the unique water effects built into the sim over the years.
After just three years and the numerous updates to both the sim and the world scenery, it looks like there is no stopping it from becoming the most popular simulator for both casual gamers, purely sim pilots, or experience pilots in real life. In Microsoft’s own words, “The Sky is Calling.”