We need a better try before you buy

Please note:  I wrote this blog post approx. 6 months ago and for whatever reason it failed to publish.  I just realized it was stuck in draft mode and while I’ve changed my mind about some aircraft developers and also own a couple of excellent payware models that work flawlessly with my GoFlight hardware, some of the ideas expressed are still very much valid in the grand scheme of things.

I don’t know about you, but I think we need a better “try before you buy” system for flight simulator software add-ons.  Yes I get the whole issue around software piracy.  In the “real-world” I work for a large enterprise software company.  We take software piracy very seriously and so should the creators of flight sim software and add-ons. But in most cases the “trial or evaluation” method in flight simulator add-ons is extremely limiting. 

As many of you who follow my blog know, I’m an avid GoFlight Customer.  I love this hardware and I love that for the most part I can conduct the majority of my flights with limited use of the keyboard and mouse.   I have over a thousand dollars invested in GoFlight gear with the very idea of not needing to click with a mouse during flight.  However, with this comes some restrictions that I’ve only learned about since coming back to the hobby.

During the 2001 – 2005 timeframe, most of the aircraft I operated were either the FS default variety or those based on the default variety and shareware type aircraft available from sites likeFlightSim and AVSIM.  Today most of what I have flown have been the same type of aircraft.  However, I did purchase a few Carenado models which I dearly love. 

Part of my on-going frustration with software add-ons and the lack of a decent trial system stems from a PMDG purchase I made a few months ago.  The product in question is the PMDG 747-400X.  I had heard about and seen images of this beautiful aircraft and decided to purchase it.  Once I downloaded and installed the aircraft I discovered it would not work with my GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced auto pilot module.  While I researched and found forums from years ago talking about a software fix available from PMDG to correct the issues, the fix is no longer available.  I essentially spent $54.99 on an aircraft that will sit in my hangar and never be flown.

Initially I didn’t understand why the PMDG 747-400X wouldn’t work.  I had a lot of experience with the default aircraft and the shareware type from Flightsim and AVSIM.  I’ve never run into any issues with the compatibility of my GoFlight equipment and these models.  I even had purchased from Flight1 an MD-80 model and experienced no issues using that aircraft and my GoFlight hardware.  So why is this PMDG model not working?

From what I now understand, the GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced is compatible with all MSFS default aircraft and any freeware/payware aircraft that model their MCP/autopilot functions the way the default aircraft are modeled.  After spending $54.99, I realized PMDG DO NOT model their aircraft autopilot functions the way that MSFS modeled the default aircraft.  This means if I want to fly the PMDG 747-400X that I own, I would need to fly it with my mouse and keyboard to control the autopilot/MCP functions.  Not cool.

To explain the above paragraph differently.  The GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced uses the standard Microsoft FSX keyboard commands to control the aircraft.  When I turn the heading knob on my GF-MCP, it sends the corresponding keyboard commands of Ctrl-Shift-H followed by = or – depending on which direction I’m turning the knob.  The PMDG aircraft uses a completely different keyboard mapping per function setup.  It’s this difference which prevents the PMDG aircraft from working correctly with the GF-MCP. 

Many will argue the PMDG aircraft is far superior to any default and shareware aircraft available today.  I do admit the flight dynamics, the look, the feel of the PMDG models are truly amazing compared to the default and shareware models I own.  My reservation to flying it is simply the lack of support for my GoFlight GF-MCP Advanced. 

Now before I forget, yes I have talked to tech support for both PMDG and GoFlight.  Both sort of point their fingers back to each other as being the responsible party.  However, I will take the side of GoFlight in this argument.  GoFlight creates their hardware to work with the default and shareware models.  GoFlight also makes their SDK available to any aircraft developers free of charge. 

What I’ll admit to not fully understanding is why PMDG (and others) code some of the aircraft functionality different from the default aircraft.  I’m not a software developer….but I would think it would be possible to create an aircraft model just as wonderful as the PMDG 747-400X, yet stay with the basic functional requirements as what the default aircraft uses. 

Now I certainly do not hold PMDG responsible for me spending $54.99 on something that I may never fly.  As a matter of fact, the aircraft isn’t installed any longer.  I should have conducted better research.  However, back to the original subject of this topic, PMDG does not offer any sort of trial process.  But even if they did, I would imagine it would be lacking in the functionality available.

As an example to the lack of functionality available in a demo model.  I looked into the Captain Sim Boeing 757. I downloaded and installed it.  But the demo model is so locked down in functionality, I couldn’t make a conscious decision to buy.  Here is what the Captain Sim website states about their demo model “We hope this Free Demo will help our customers to make more informed purchase decisions and thereby enhance their satisfaction with the 757 Captain product.”  Further down the page, this is how it reads to inform you of what doesn’t work in the demo:

Please note, the following features are not included in the Free Demo:
• Extensive Systems Programming (ADI, HSI, EICAS displays inop)
• Flight Management System (CDU inop)
• Realistic Flight Model (flight controls locked in the Demo)
• Custom system sounds and crew voice messages
• Authentic Sound Set – PW and RR engines (alias to default 737 sounds in the Demo)
• Collins WXR-2100 Weather Radar
• Aeronautical Data including Terminal Procedures
• Repaint Kit

I don’t know about you….but how do you make an “informed purchase” with the above mentioned restrictions?  I couldn’t even find a way to contact the Captain Sim folks to ask if their aircraft would work with my GoFlight hardware as the only way it appears to reach their forum is with an order number.  Sorry….you’re not going to get my money before I can find a way to review your support forum.

Now I realize I’ve picked on two aircraft manufactures.  Here’s my thoughts on how some scenery developers handle their trial periods.  I own several FSDreamTeam sceneries.  They offer a try-before-you-buy method.  But the scenery demo only works for the first 5 minutes.  Yes, you can restart the timer, but only if you exit and restart FSX.  5 minutes?  One can’t explore the complex scenery of KDFW in 5 minutes. 

Another small beef I have with some vendors is what appears to be the number of times I can activate a particular product.  I believe if I purchase a software product, I should be able to install this particular software product over and over and over (as long as I’m not running it on multiple systems).  In other words, if I feel the need to rebuild my FSX computer every 6 months, I shouldn’t have to worry in a year or two running out of the number of install/reinstalls I’ve performed.  This appears to be an issue in our hobby.

As I stated near the beginning, I fully understand the issues software vendors (all software vendors) face with software license piracy.  I understand (and appreciate) that a lot of hard work goes into the development of quality software.  While I don’t have the answers, I believe in the examples I’ve provided that a better solution must exist.  There must be equal parts of trust built into the license protection so that honest customers like myself can determine if the product is right for them and the software developers can protect their IP or intellectual property

In closing, I want to make it clear that I do not hold any bad feelings toward PMDG or any developer of Flight Simulator add-ons.  Yes I called out my experiences with PMDG, but I only hold myself responsible for purchasing something that I may never use.  I may never fully understand why PMDG and others develop aircraft add-ons that differ in the primary functional aspects from the default aircraft.  Yes I get the need for better flight dynamics etc.  But why change the autopilot keystroke combinations which is basically why the PMDG doesn’t work with GoFlight?  To me and my flight simming experience, it is more accurate to turn a knob on my GF-MCP to control autopilot functionality than to use my mouse.

Until next time…Happy and Safe Simming…

Jerry


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