The Joy of Freeware
Once upon a time, there was an abundance of various freeware add-ons available to the flight simming community. During the late 1990’s and very early 2000’s the amount of freeware (as compared to payware) was huge. Actually the amount of payware content was actually pretty scarce. Of course I’m talking about the time period when Flight Simulator 98, Flight Simulator 2000, Flight Simulator 2002 and Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) were in their hay day.
With the rise of FSX in 2006, third party developers (of whom, many are still in business today) came onto the scene and began producing the most excellent payware products from airport sceneries, ground based textures, weather add-ons and of course some really awesome aircraft. Unfortunately this is the same time period that we began to experience a decline in freeware alternatives. Or should I say “Quality” freeware alternatives.
The freeware decline continued through the life span of the Prepar3D reign. However, for the most part the X-Plane community during this time frame did have a very active modding community which produced some really good freeware add-ons, but for me I just never could enjoy X-Plane the way I had enjoyed FSX or P3D. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I had a fairly sizeable investment in FSX/P3D that I just couldn’t ignore and was most likely the reason I never considered X-Plane a substitute. But I digress…
Fortunately, for those of us who are fans of the Microsoft Flight Simulator family (including P3D) the introduction of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) platform has brought about a renewed interest in quality freeware add-ons. Almost from day one of the release of MSFS back in August of 2020, fellow flight sim enthusiasts have been releasing quality freeware add-ons for the new platform. Of course one of the absolute best freeware additions has been the Airbus A320 mod from the FlybyWire team. This team took the default Airbus A320 which was included in MSFS and over time have created a freeware version that rivals that of just about any payware, study-level aircraft on the market today. The Microsoft Flight Sim family of platforms (including P3D) has never seen this level of quality in a freeware product and the FBW team won’t just stop at the A320. They are hard at work in creating an Airbus A380 model from the ground up which hopefully will be released sometime in the Q2 or early Q3 2023 timeframe. I honestly can’t count the number of previously announced A380 projects which have been announced over the years for P3D that have never made it beyond the planning stages and the FBW team will have one in our sims very soon.
Of course there are hundreds if not thousands of other freeware add-ons available for MSFS including various utilities, aircraft liveries and airport mods. There are a few airport mods I’m using in my sim today that rival the quality of work we typically see from payware developers. I frequently check the Flightsim.to website which has become the “go-to” place for creators to host their freeware add-ons.
Why is Freeware so important to the community?
First and foremost, not everyone can afford to spend their hard earned money on all the various payware that has and will be released for MSFS. Due to the willingness of these freeware developers to devote their time to creating quality add-on alternatives for the community at zero cost, this allows everyone the opportunity to enjoy the hobby without a huge investment. In addition, I also believe the vast catalog of freeware options is helping to keep the prices of payware at a more affordable price level. I believe we’ve already experienced the impact of this with the Fenix A320. The Fenix A320 is available for an incredibly low price of just £49.99.
The Quality of Freeware Alternatives
As I’ve already mentioned, we’re already witnessing examples of freeware being on-par with payware options. In addition to the FBW A320 I’ve already mentioned, another example is the recent release of the Doha Hamad International Airport (OTHH) which released in early December at the price tag of €19.99 by MXI Design. An absolutely stunning freeware version has been available on Flightsim.to since May 2021 which not only includes the OTHH airport but also various enhancements covering much of the city of Doha is included.
However, it must also be said that not all freeware is created equal. But of course the same must also be said about payware options (but I’ll save those comments for another article). One of the major challenges with some of the freeware airports that I’ve run into has been centered around issues when MSFS has been updated through the various Sim Update versions and the time it takes for the freeware developers to make the various adjustments needed. Of course, this is not an issue isolated to the flight sim community. We see the same issues with other games which allow mods to be used like ATS, ETS2 and Farming Simulator.
In closing, as someone who has been been enjoying the flight simulation hobby for over four decades and has witnessed freeware come, go and come back again…I’m extremely excited for the future of MSFS with successful freeware efforts at the very heart of the platform. I hope you are as well.
Until next time….