The Future of the Flight Sim Add-on Market
With the upcoming release of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020, many might be wondering what the future holds for the 3rd party add-on market. In today’s FSX/Prepar3d and even X-Plane environments we must purchase, download and install dozens and dozens and sometimes even dozens more of extra add-ons to create an “As Real As It Gets” experience in our favorite simulator. While some of the add-on content is freeware for X-Plane users, the vast majority of quality add-ons for FSX/P3D is payware. All these extra components (while truly awesome) often present challenges in terms of compatibility and reliability of the base sim. With MSFS2020, will we still need all this extra stuff? The short answer is yes and no.
No Longer Needed
While total immersion has always been my goal with flight sim, the eye-candy ranks right up there on my list of importance. After all, much of what we perceive to be a full immersive experience comes to us through what we see. Regardless of whether you fly low and slow or high and fast, the ground textures including roads, highways, rivers, lakes and railroads all add to the experience. In the world of FSX/P3D all this level of detail has generally been provided through various add-ons from Orbx including the Global Base Pack, Global Vector, Global Trees, Global TerraFlora, Global Buildings and different OpenLC products for each region of the world. Thankfully, right out of the box Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has us covered with their highly accurate and stunning auto-gen provided by real world satellite imagery. However, don’t count Orbx out as there will be plenty of opportunity for them to continue to develop their awesome scenery add-ons specifically the smaller airports and perhaps some of the larger ones like KSAN (as an example).
Another example of add-ons which I believe will be obsolete in MSFS2020 is all the weather, cloud and sky texture add-ons which generally come to us via Hi-Fi (ActiveSky) and REX. Out of the box, the MSFS2020 weather engine along with the way sky and cloud textures are displayed appear to be as real as it gets. Of course the development teams at Microsoft has completely rewritten the book on how aircraft will experience changing weather conditions to a level not even available to us now with these 3rd party add-ons.
Finally I believe all these add-on shader type products such as EnvShade, PTA and Tomatoshade will also be unnecessary in MSFS2020. I truly believe that out of the box the visuals of everything including ground textures, aircraft textures, sky textures..etc. are all absolutely beautiful out of the box. This is not to say that any of these shader programs won’t make it to MSFS2020…I just don’t think they will be necessary. At least not necessary for my setup.
Needs Going Forward
Of course at the very top of the list will be all the wonderful add-on aircraft (study level and some not so much) from devs such as PMDG, FSLabs, A2A, QualityWings, Aerosoft and Carenado just to name a few. The limited information I’ve seen on the default Airbus A320 tells me that while this will be a fun aircraft to fly in the short-term, it’s not going to tick all the boxes for the seasoned flight simmer. At the time of this writing, only PMDG (to my knowledge) has provided any sort of timeline and that is looking like late Q1 2021. So we could be talking 6+ months before we see any study level aircraft in MSFS2020.
While many of the top add-on airport developers have posted pictures and details about their plans to release their airport add-ons for MSFS2020, these too will likely not be ready for release until several months after the release of the new sim. Of course, of the enhanced airports Microsoft is including in the release, it’s unclear to me how these would differ in quality from what the 3rd party developers will provide.
Expected Add-on Costs
I don’t want to speculate on exactly what the pricing will be for any 3rd party add-ons other than to say that I highly doubt we can expect to see any discounts from previous FSX/P3D purchases and certainly no free upgrades. While the FSX to P3D jump has been a similar platform and some add-ons purchased for FSX have received 100% free updates all the way to P3Dv5, MSFS2020 is a completely different platform and I believe all add-ons will also be practically brand new versions. In other words, I don’t believe these will be simple port overs from previous versions.
Additional Thoughts on Pricing
When P3D was first released, PMDG was the first to increase their pricing. At the time the reasons provided by PMDG was due to licensing and the simple fact that Prepar3D was not licensed for entertainment purposes like FSX had been. Here’s an old forum post discussing this (Jan. 2015). Other add-on developers like FSLabs also introduced their products at a premium price due to the P3D EULA. As Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 once again is marketed as a “for entertainment purposes” product, can we expect add-on pricing to drop? Well….your guess is as good as mine at this point in time. But I would guess if there is any price change towards a new EULA the change will be minimal.
As I’ve stated before, while I will most likely purchase Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 near day one and I will spend some time flying and looking around, I don’t plan to make the move to the new platform until my favorite study level aircraft are available. As I’m still currently unemployed (laid off in July after 22 years), I will also have to be frugal in my spending practices as I go along. Most likely I will focus my attention first on aircraft and just make do with the airports that come with MSFS2020. Then as time goes along and hopefully my job status will resolve itself in time, I can then purchase more things. But these COVID-19 times are difficult for many and the priorities of my family must come first before anything else.
Until next time…