The Future Of Flight Simulation

January 24, 2009

It’s been around 24 hours now since the news broke that Aces Studios – the development team behind Microsoft Flight Simulator and the was-to-be-released Train Simulator 2 – had been all but closed down by Microsoft.

The initial reaction was, understandably, shock and sadness.

Sadness that most of the crew at Aces were now having to look for new jobs (having been out of work 2 months now, I can fully sympathise) and sadness that our beloved Flight Sim seems to have been thrown in the bin.

Let’s calm down a little

There was also no small amount of hysteria. Many comments along the lines of “that’s the end of our hobby” and “all the add-on developers will now be out of business” populate the forums.

But, let’s think about this for a moment. Yes, it’s sad that the development team has been shut down (on a personal level for the developers), but do we really need another Microsoft Flight Simulator in the near future? Flight Simulator X was released in 2006. We’re only just now getting to the stage – hardware wise – where we can run the sim at anything like a reasonable level and that’s only for simmers who are prepared to invest big bucks in their systems. I still believe it’ll be another 12-24 months before hardware is powerful and cheap enough to allow almost everyone to run the sim at a level of smoothness and detail that we can run Flight Simulator 2004 at today.

The add-on market

Let’s not forget that we still have Flight Simulator X and Flight Simulator 2004. The announcement of the closure of Aces does not mean our sims have magically been uninstalled from our systems, nor that our installation disks have evaporated into thin air. We still have the simulators. They’re also still in the shops and available from online stores.

The potential customer base for add-on developers is the same today as it was yesterday. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a starting point for most of us, not the final product. We buy all manner of add-ons to increase the fun and realism of that base simulator. Why would we suddenly decide that we’re no longer going to buy any add-ons? If anything, I would’ve thought there was more possibility that we will in fact buy more add-ons. For one thing, we’re no longer in the cycle of “do I buy this add-on now, or wait for the updated one that will be produced when FS11 is released”.

For developers, they now know what the playing field is. They can work on Flight Simulator X and/or Flight Simulator 2004 (I’m concentrating on Microsoft Flight Simulator add-on developers here, for obvious reasons). They don’t have to worry about FS11. They don’t have to worry about buying additional hardware to test their products on when the new version is released. They don’t have to worry about producing and supporting perhaps 3 platforms.

Flight Simulator 2004 was released 5 years ago, yet many of us are still using and enjoying it and many of us are still buying add-ons for it. If FSX only has the same “life” (and who’s to say people won’t still be using FS2004 in another 5 years?), then add-on developers are going to have a good sized customer base for at least another 3 years.

The future

It’s not surprising that the announcement of the closure created such an outcry. I honestly believe this is a huge shot in the foot for Microsoft and they will see the error of their ways sooner or later.

But I also believe this is not the end of our hobby. I don’t believe all the add-on developers will be closing their shops today and going off to find something else to do. I don’t believe all flight simmers will be uninstalling FSX/FS9 from their systems and giving up.

What we’ve got now (FSX and FS9) are good flight simulators. They’re still good, despite the closure of Aces, and we can still have as much fun with them as we always did.

Keep on simming :)

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Francois January 24, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Nope, it certainly will not be the end of FS.
But it is an extremely stupid decision IMHO and executed in an extremely rude wway, both towards the customers and more importantly to their staff, some of whom have worked on FS for decades !!

So please join me in voicing our moral support for the sim AND its developers !


Ted January 24, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Hi Mark,

I think you’re absolutely right. This is certainly NOT the end of our hobby. Speaking as someone who’s happy running FSX on a very low end system (my system is probably somewhere in @ the 20th Percentile), I can’t wait for the day to get a “serious” gaming computer to get the full potential of this Sim. Oh yes, the quality I’ll get in the future will be worth the wait. In addition, maybe I’ll also have a few terabytes of HD space to have every add-on made for FSX. Well, every add-on I want anyway. Speaking of add-ons, I’d imagine they’ll get better as developers can concertrate on FSX without worry of having to reegineer for FS11 (a point you’ve made, Mark).

Let’s go a 2, 3, 4 years into the future. Maybe Microsoft puts the Aces team back in place. I’m sure MS isn’t going to have all of the MS11 (and TS2) development data destroyed. Might be back someday. In the meantime, FSX will be great for another I’m guessing 10 years. We’ll all be okay.

No question a very sad day for all the great people at Aces. Along with the add-on developers, these are the people trying to make/keep us happy with our hobby (more like an obsession! LOL). We in the flightsim community are all grateful for their efforts, and hope they all land of their feet as soon as possible.


P.S. I was also a bit sad about TS2 being indefinitely put on hold. Though I’m a “flightsim guy,” TS2 seemed like it was going to be an outstanding product. I had some thoughts on getting that at some point in the future as well.

mark.avey January 24, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Francois: Good idea re the Facebook group. At least Microsoft will have an idea of the impact their decision is making in the sim world, even if they choose to do nothing about it.

Ted: I know what you mean about TS2. I love all types of sims and was also looking forward to this.

Jessica Bannister-Pearce January 24, 2009 at 6:41 pm

I can only echo what Mark has said. Indeed microsoft has shot itself in the foot, but thier probably not as daft as we think. they certainly on’t want to sell the rights to FS to a new company. I suuspect they’ll keep hold of the rights until they realise that there’s a big demand for a new sim. In the mean time, we get to benefit from hardware that can finally do justice to FSX and we can look forward to developers getting to grips with FSX to produce some seriously complex add-ons. Despite the news, I think the future is looking quite bright.

Best Wishes,
Jess B

mark.avey January 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Hi Jess.

Yes, you’re right. There’s plenty of fun still to be had with what we have :)

Chris Valdivia January 24, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Agreement on the post and the comments. The software is still on my computer (well, at least I *hope* it is!), and there are many more hours of fun to be had.

Chris in Phoenix, AZ, USA

PieEater January 24, 2009 at 11:54 pm

I imagine there’s not a great deal left that can be done to improve the core modelling that goes on in the background of FSX in terms of flight and weather dynamics etc. 3rd parties will continue to provide enhancements and add-ons to improve the areas that MS had to compromise on for reasons of time, cost and storage space such as mesh, scenery, detailed aircraft and sub-systems etc. IMHO The only thing that does and will continue to let FSX down is the lack of complete DX10 support, and with DX11 hardware being released at some point in the not too distant future I think MS ought to be investing some resources into keeping FSX concurrent with the available graphics hardware even if they dont plan on developing FSXI.

Mark Lucas January 25, 2009 at 2:52 am

Whilst I’d agree that they sky isn’t yet falling for Flight Sim hobbyists, not seeing this as an extremely bleak day may be like many second marriages, a triumph of hope over experience.

Sure, people will continue to play Flight Simulator for many years to come. Look how many people are still flying Falcon4, more than 10 years after it’s initial release. There will still be a market for add-ons, although it will slowly shrink and die.

We have to hope that one of the following scenarios plays out-

a) Microsoft quickly retools, rehires the key developers, and continues with the development of FS11, albeit on a tighter budget.

b) Microsoft agrees to hand over the line to an independent publisher who might reinvigorate Flight Simulator, maybe add some of that ‘feel’ that Flight Unlimited had.

c) Key developers are given permission by Microsoft to create their own spin-off, maybe licensing the FS codebase.

Ian Lindsay January 25, 2009 at 7:36 pm

But will Microsoft bother to ensure compatibility of FSX with Windows 7 and subsequent operating systems?

mark.avey January 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm

I can’t see that happening to be honest. They’ve all but disbanded the team so I can’t imagine they’d want to spend time working on making it work with a new OS. Having said that, I’d have thought that it’d work with Windows 7 anyway, unless they’ve made such fundamental changes that there’s no backwards compatibility, which would be foolish to say the least.

Mind you, who knows what they’ll do after the farce of Vista and now this with FS.

Christian Stock January 26, 2009 at 4:52 am

Interesting thoughts Mark

I do completely agree that there will be no sudden break. If anything the interest will increase shortly. However, what we’ve also seen is that over 2008 the traffic to FS websites has dropped dramatically (almost halved in some instances, and I’m taking the most popular sites like avsim and, which reflects a drop in interest in FS as a hobby. This isn’t good news for add-on developers in the long run as most can’t afford a reduced market, and it is possible the market is going to whither away over the next two years.

Having said that, there will always be a core group who will enjoy FS for years to come.

It certainly is going mean change in one way or other.

In regards to MS selling FS I don’t think it’s on the cards as selling FS together with the team would have been a lot smarter, especially as there were some long standing key members in the team. The closure makes sense from a certain point as MS wants to focus on their competition (Apple, Google, etc) and their core products (Windows, Office, etc). Sad day indeed.

Ted January 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Hi Mark,

You made mention of FSX compatibility with Windows 7 (when it’s released). One of my only points of optimism about this whole mess is that I’ll at least be able to run FSX much more smoothly and with better quality in, I dunno, 2-4 years time when the computer hardware catches up with FSX. I can’t imagine my horror if when I do buy that great gaming comptuer in, say, 3 years (that very well might have Windows 7), only to find that I can’t run FSX. Is that a possible scenario? I sure hope I missing something here. I mean, would I be able to load XP or Vista to be able to run FSX in the future?


mark.avey January 26, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Hi Ted,

Well, that’s one of the areas of uncertainty at the moment.

Hopefully, FSX would just install and run without any problems in Windows 7 or whatever future OS’ come out of Microsoft. If not, then we face the problem of going back to XP or Vista with future hardware that we don’t even know about yet. There may well be a problem there in that a) you might not be able to get XP or Vista by then and b) even if you can, there may well not be up-to-date drivers for that new hardware for those operating systems.

It’s all very much an unknown at the moment, which doesn’t really help anyone.

Mark Lucas January 26, 2009 at 3:11 pm

I’ll speculate that FSX will be ‘maintained’. Should the latest version of windows cause problems with flight simulator, the problem will be addressed from either end of the development.

According to Kelda Rericha (Micrsoft’s PR)
“We are committed to the Flight Simulator franchise which has proven to be a successful PC based game for the last 27 years. You should expect us to continue to invest in enabling great LIVE experiences on Windows, including flying games, but we have nothing specific to announce at this time.”

I’d see this whole business as part of a total restructuring of Microsoft’s gaming lines, with some eventual glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Certainly we should distinguish between new development being halted, and the whole product line being thrown in the bin…

mark.avey January 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm

I think you’re right, Mark. As foolish as I think Microsoft’s decision is, even I cant believe they’d just throw it away. For relatively little effort, they can at least ensure FSX will work on future Operating Systems and hardware.

I must admit, I don’t like the sound of the oft-quoted “flying games”. Either the originator of the quote doesn’t really understand what the sim is, or they’re thinking of dumbing down future applications, or maybe something else I haven’t thought of yet :)

Ted January 26, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Well, I do hope that we can at least all run FSX for many years to come, especially with future hardware that will allow us to get the maximum potential out of the Sim. Beyond that, who knows? Maybe a switch X-Plane? Maybe Microsoft DOES end up coming out with future flight simulators?

I mean, if FSX doesn’t run on Windows 7 (it probably will though), I’m guessing we’ll have to time our future hardware purchases to ensure getting a system with XP or Vista? I don’t know what else to think. It’s all a blur at the moment.


mark.avey January 26, 2009 at 4:49 pm

There are just too many unknowns at the moment. For all we know, Microsoft could stand up and say “Hell, we made a big mistake here. We’re bringing the Aces team back in to continue” next week. Highly unlikely, I know, but we just don’t know what’s around the corner at the moment.

Yes, there are other sims, most notably X-Plane and who knows what future developments there may be with it. Austin (X-Plane’s author) comes up with very regular updates and I’m sure he’s working around the clock to try and get as many MSFS users to switch as possible. I know I would be if I was in his position. Who knows, we might end up with an X-Plane with all the bits that have thus far prevented so many MSFS users from switching. X-Plane has a lot going for it and I have a lot of respect for the sim. If there were as many add-on developers working on X-Plane as their currently are for MSFS (and there may well be in the future), there’s no reason to think it won’t become the predominant sim in years to come.

Have a look at the Poll results here on FlightSimX. It’s not been up long and we haven’t had a huge number of votes (70 as at the time of writing), but less than 50% of people have said they won’t be switching to X-Plane. We’ll see how the vote goes after a few weeks, but if the current result is anything to go by, I’d be buying a bigger office if I was Austin Meyer.

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