State of the Sim: One Month After MSFS’ release

Today is September 18th, exactly one month after the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Everyone looked forward to it ever since its first announcement at E3 in 2019. In this article, we will run over the biggest things that have happened on the MSFS scene in the past month. We will also look at things that are going to happen in the near future, and what we can expect after that.

Aircraft

Asobo

The aircraft included in the simulator are not very good if you’re used to PMDG or FSLabs. The prop and turboprop planes are better, but especially the airliners are far from realistic. Many people might have expected a more study level airliner, but that was not the case. The different airliners are also all of a different quality. Some fairly basic features, like seatbelt signs, were missing. Asobo has said that their primary focus was to make everything flyable and to work on realism and not-essential features after that. The next update has improved some of the most pressing issues, like the autopilot behaviour, but it’s still not great.

Freeware

Most of the high-quality freeware aeroplanes available are based on the default Asobo model. The best-known addon like this is the FlyByWire Simulations A320Neo. That is an open-source project, and it has seen a lot of development in the past month. Similar projects do exist for Boeing 747 by Salty Simulations or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner by Hangar9. A modification of the default Robin has also been published. There have been some other fixes here and there made by the community for certain parts of an aircraft. There was a sound mod for the A320Neo that is now part of the FBW addon, for example.

What is certainly interesting in this, is that most of these big projects are open-source. On the MSFS forums, there’s an open-source project for the Cessna 152 too, aiming to make it more realistic. This is a big change in comparison to P3D and X-Plane, where open-source projects are almost non-existent. Aircraft are developed and owned by one single person or a team of developers and only they can make changes to it. The FlyByWire A320Neo had over 500 people contribute to it.

But aircraft does not limit itself to a model. Many liveries have been made for all of the aircraft in the simulator. Of course, the A320NEO is the most popular here too and has had the most amount of liveries created for it. A good amount of them are included in the MSFS Mega Livery Pack. That is an ever-expanding pack of liveries that now includes hundreds of liveries for all the aircraft in the simulator, even the premium and premium-deluxe ones. Besides that, many individual liveries can be found on the forums. But many of these got criticised for their low quality. There is no paintkit for available, so it’s quite hard to paint accurately and properly.

Payware

The payware aircraft scene is, let’s admit it, fairly dead. There was the release of the Carenado C182T right after MSFS’ launch. Sometime later, BT Studio also released a very simple aeroplane: the Kitfox STi. But that didn’t get much traction either.

Aerosoft announced two airplanes so far that would see the conversion to MSFS. The first was the Bombardier CRJ, made in cooperation with Digital Aviation. The second was the DHC-6 Twin Otter. PMDG delayed their 737 because the SDK didn’t allow them to make certain features they wanted to be included before the release. More about the SDK later.

Several other announcements were made about converting airplanes the MSFS. QualityWings has not announced it formally, but they’re expected to bring their 787 Ultimate to MSFS too. Either way, the payware aircraft market has yet to take off. A study level aircraft is missing from the simulator and is very much wished for, especially by the more hardcore users.

Airports

Asobo

Asobo’s default airports have received many different opinions. Whilst they are significantly higher quality than the default FSX or P3D airports, there are still some important questions to be asked. Several relatively big airports that get many scheduled flights simply do not exist in the simulator. This includes Longyear airport (ENSB) on Svalbard in Northern Norway, but even bigger is Stuttgart Airport (EDDS) in Germany.

The handcrafted airports’ quality isn’t very good either. They are certainly more realistic than the default but still have many inaccuracies. Their quality is still far from the payware sceneries released in the meantime. Flightbeam has a handy tool to compare the handcrafted Denver International (KDEN) included with the Premium Deluxe version with their own payware version here.

Freeware

Quite some freeware airports have released for MSFS. But, like in FSX and P3D, most of these use just the default objects and are not of a significantly higher quality than the default ones. You can find slightly modified airports on all MSFS addon websites and forums. A SunSkyJet or NL2000-like developer has not yet made a name, but the simulator has only been out for a month.

Some other payware developers have also released freeware airports. These were often a learning project for the developer to get used to the SDK and new methods of creating scenery. We saw Aerosoft release Paderborn-Lippstadt, also on the MSFS Marketplace, and Drzewiecki Design released some GA fields around Warsaw for free.

Payware

Payware scenery has seen quite some livelihood. The community was flooded with previews from developers big and small, all eager to showcase their products in this new simulator that they could work with. FlightBeam was really quick to release their Denver scenery on the marketplace. Next came Orbx with the release of three sceneries. They released many airports for the simulator in the past month and now have an impressing 10 scenery addons for sale, with more being announced, previewed and released almost every day.

GayaSimulations is another developer who was quick to release several sceneries. Zell am See, Vienna and Kos were all released in the first month and some others have been previewed. Other developers took things more slowly. Many developers have released their first scenery or are releasing it soon. No developers come to mind who are going to stay with Prepar3D and not develop for MSFS.

Interesting to see was that the price of the sceneries is quite a bit lower than in P3D. This was announced first by Orbx, who said that was due to the bigger market they could offer their addons to. More people buying it means they can ask less money to still make a profit. Other developers followed suit. We did some quick calculations with the sceneries in the marketplace that are also available on for P3D. We found that the MSFS Sceneries are on average more than one third cheaper.

Other scenery

Asobo

Asobo uses AzureAI and Bing imagery to place autogen around the world. It works great for ordinary residential buildings, but is seriously lacking in not-standard architecture and landmarks. Many cities also had a very thin, very high tower in them. I experienced this myself when I was flying over a small Illinois city, where several skyscrapers were placed by AzureAI. The city, if you look on Google Earth, has no buildings higher then 5 or 6 stories.

The developers did of course put in some of the most famous landmarks, but not everything. That is a job for the third party developers, so they reasoned. And thus the Landmarks products were born.

Besides the city issues many people experience, the terrain and especially water elevation were again of not very great quality. Water would sometimes tower over the towns next to it. There were some issues with glaciers as well.

Freeware

Very quickly people started making fixes for several areas in the world, both for cities and water elevation issues. And whilst some small region packs of those fixes have been created, there’s no package that combines a lot of them to a global package. And that would be really useful.

Payware

Third-party developers jumped on the Landmarks bandwagon quickly. Orbx started off with London Landmarks, right at launch, but got a lot of criticism about the apparent lacking quality. They did release an update to fix some of the issues, but also said that some things couldn’t be fixed the way the user base wanted it, and Asobo needed to change some things for that to be possible.

Drzewiecki Designs have also announced and released Moscow Landmarks and Washington DC Landmarks. Both of those products also include airport enhancements for airports in and around the cities. Drzewiecki and Orbx are the only two so far that have created or announced these Landmarks packages. We don’t know yet if there are more to follow, but there is certainly room for developers to get a piece of the Landmarks market.

SDK

The SDK has received basically no positive comment in the past month. The documentation is very lacking and sometimes not even there. There are many things that developers want to do but the SDK does not allow. It led some, like PMDG, to even delay their products. This is one of the possible explanations for the small payware aircraft market that exists currently. UK2000’s Gary was also very displeased with it, and FlyByWire Simulations said similar things in their interview linked above. They are however hopeful that Asobo will listen to this feedback and work on the SDK. It is important to them too, as they get a percentage of the addons sold in the Marketplace. Yesterday, MK-Studios said that they couldn’t work on some products because of SDK issues.

Asobo

How Asobo has handled the past month depends on who you ask. There were many issues at launch with people unable to install or use the simulator, or who were missing extra content they paid for. Communication about was fairly lacking. Many people asked for a refund and it created a debate on Steam whether their 2-hour refund policy is good enough for a game that takes way longer to just install.

But the launch problems were not all. The Marketplace broke very quickly after launch. Even after that, it remained almost empty, even though many developers did publish addons and said they would also be available on the marketplace. An update last week included many of those at once, but it is clear that Asobo is very much in control here. Any update has to go through Asobo too and receive their approval before it gets published. Addons on MSFS see delays of days or even weeks.

There was a lot of communication, however, about community-related things. Livestreams, podcasts, videos, events. Everything to keep the community engaged. Development updates continued to show screenshots and videos of how amazing the sim looked. All good, but communication about the problems people had and more importantly their fixes came only later and was harder to find.

Community

The community has evolved as well. Whilst Prepar3D users would get most of their freeware addons from Avsim and X-Plane 11 users from “the org”, there is no such site for MSFS. Avsim doesn’t have a lot of MSFS content, and if you browse the web a bit, you can find dozens of websites listing addons. There is, of course, the MSFS forums, which have been very alive (if not down), but looking for specific addons in there is hard.

MSFS introduced many new people to the flight simulation scene as well. Some saw this as a good thing, others as a bad thing. The flight simulation world is quite an in-depth one and not everyone has the time or want to put in the effort to get acquainted with this world. There are many different sites for many different meta things about the simulator. MSFS has only increased those numbers. As mentioned earlier, it has introduced new creators as well. Open-source aircraft projects are taking off everywhere, and they look promising.

On other platforms, we can see this too. People who left the flightsim scene to play other games or simulators came back and made dozens of videos about MSFS. Reddit used to be united under r/flightsim, but r/MicrosoftFlightSim has become pretty big too. A similar thing happened on Twitch. Prepar3D and X-Plane streamers all streamed under Microsoft Flight Simulator X, as to unite all flightsim content under one category. But the Microsoft Flight Simulator X category is almost completely abandoned these days.

Either way, the flightsim community is not what it used to be. Whilst there were often the Prepar3D vs X-Plane 11 arguments, many of them seem to find common ground in MSFS.

What’s next from Asobo

Update 1.8.3.0 was released whilst this article was being written. It was announced previously that it would be released this week. Detailed timelines were given before release of all the different things they were doing and releasing. After release, that died down a bit. The next development update, coming the 17th of this month, will have a roadmap for the partnership series. But besides that, very little is known about what is going to happen. We can only hope and assume that more issues will be fixed and that communication improves, especially surrounding the SDK. It is unknown what their long-term goals are with the simulator.

What’s next from other developers

This is more clear, luckily. From what we know now, it seems that third-party developers are going to improve the sim the most when it comes to content. Many sceneries have been previewed already and are releasing soon. Several well-established P3D aircraft are finding their way into the simulator as well in the coming weeks or months. The freeware market is usually done by individuals who do projects just for fun. It is more difficult to predict what’s going to happen there, but the open-source projects are promising.

Final note

MSFS is new. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. We knew that before the release about the simulator itself. What we didn’t know is that it would also do that with the community. Overall, the new simulator has brought a new wind to a world that was relatively static for the past decade. The past month has taught us a lot about what is possible with this bigger community and what isn’t. A lot has happened in this one month already, which makes the next months even more promising. At the same time, we must remember the simulator has only been out for one month, and a lot of work is yet to be done, which makes it even more promising.

Final note from the writer

But talking about the community is difficult. It is split up in many different ways. There are dozens of Facebook Groups, Discord servers, forums and all of them in many different languages too. Opinions and views are different in every one of those, and it is impossible to listen to and follow all of them. Many of the opinions explained in this article are taken from the social media groups I happen to be a part of. Other groups might have had different things they discussed or looked forward to. Or might have had no issue with things other people did. And that is absolutely fine.

The point of this article was to give an overview of what has been happening. It is possible that we missed things, although the most important ones should be listed. If you think there is something big that we didn’t talk about, let us know via Discord. You can also use the report button below to notify me directly.



Author: Dag

I first got into aviation 5 years ago. I bought FSX: Steam Edition first and used that for about a year. I wanted something more realistic and decided to buy some addons and eventually upgrade to Prepar3D and that's what I still use today. I've always loved writing and doing research and am very happy to put it to good use here.

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