After just a year on the market, Dovetail Games’ Flight Sim World has been canceled and thus grounded. The announcement was made just a few weeks ago, and the reaction has been a lot mellower than I expected. The majority of responses I’ve seen from those in the flight-sim community have all basically carried the same tone: “Who didn’t see this coming?”. Personally, I didn’t see this coming. Just before the announcement, Flight Sim World was still being promoted with regular newsletter updates coming from Dovetail. So, to me, the announcement of the game’s cancellation was rather abrupt. Although the team has explained why this decision was made, one very important detail has yet to be addressed: what’s the future of Dovetail flight-simming business?
Back in 2014, Dovetail had announced that it had established a licensing agreement with Microsoft to release a modified version of Flight Simulator X to Steam. It was released later that year. This slightly-updated version of FSX has pretty much been the go-to version ever since, and it also happens to be my main flight-sim. Dovetail made some slight tweaks to the game’s coding to try and alleviate the many performance issues that plagued players ever since the original 2006 release. These improvements have helped, but it still doesn’t solve FSX’s biggest problem: it’s a dinosaur running amongst new blood. Although most machines today can run the simulator, the underlying optimization issues and now-ancient architecture give it insurmountable limitations when compared to that of modern sims like its main competitor: X-Plane 11. This is what the goal of Flight Sim World was: to provide a modern version of Microsoft’s formula that could take advantage of modern hardware advancements.
Flight Sim World was built on an overhauled version of FSX’s coding. This new version offered notable improvements, such as true support for 64-bit architecture. Although it clearly never got the chance to truly blossom into a massive step-up over FSX, the improvements that Dovetail made with the engine since acquiring it were definitely a step in the right direction. And that’s just the thing—Dovetail has been involved with Microsoft’s FS-tech for a notable amount of time now.
Before Flight Sim World, there was Flight School. This essentially acted as a ‘proof-of-concept’ for Dovetail to show the flight-sim community the work it’s managed to do with overhauling the FSX engine. Flight School was only meant to be a teaser, as it was released and discontinued in an even shorter period of time than that of Flight Sim World. It’s now been four years since the agreement between Microsoft and Dovetail was made. Considering all the work the dev-team has put into this overhauled FSX engine within that time, I find it odd that Dovetail’s response to the cancellation of FSW hasn’t been to simply retrace its steps and go back to the source: upgrading FSX.
Flight Sim World was short-lived but still proved Dovetail has made progress with upgrading the old FS code. Why not bring those improvements to FSX?
As mentioned before, FSX: Steam Edition still has a very active player base. That’s evidenced by the steady stream of add-ons being released not just from freeware developers, but also several payware companies too. It’s rather amazing that a now 12-year-old game is still being supported, but this works in the favor of Dovetail. Flight Sim World was an arguably good idea, but it was still a lofty one from the very beginning. Dovetail was essentially trying to woo the FSX community over to the “shiny new toy”, and that didn’t work. Why? Well, aside from Flight Sim World being a bit light on features, this strategy has already been implemented by another company: Lockheed Martin.
Dovetail wasn’t the only one to acquire the rights to Flight Simulator tech. Lockheed Martin did the exact same thing: it took the FSX code, overhauled it and released it as its own version: Prepar3D. This version of the simulator is also quite popular since it has a lot of compatibility with FSX add-ons of the past, and most new add-ons support both versions right outside the box. The only catch with this version is that it’s not really meant for entertainment purposes. It’s only purchasable via its official website, and there are different licenses. The entry-level one being for student pilots. This must have been a clause in Microsoft’s agreement with Lockheed, leaving Dovetail to get the ‘casual/entertainment’ rights.
Since FSW didn’t work out, then Dovetail’s best option is to overhaul FSX Steam Edition with the improvements that FSW had. Even if it means releasing it as a new ‘Remastered’ or ‘Enhanced Edition’ like other games—that would be a lot nicer than just trashing the last four years of work.
FSX is still popular, so Dovetail still has a guaranteed audience to cater to.
Since the FSX community is still rather large, I don’t see how Dovetail could lose by taking this route. A quick Google search reveals forum post after forum post of FSX users trying to fix issues that are mostly caused by its unoptimized coding. There are even payware add-on programs that have been built for the sole purpose of patching holes in the sim, on top of adding functionality that one would think should’ve been there from the beginning.
The main reason why FSX is still alive is that it’s accessible (in terms of pricing), and a notable size of its community has invested so much money in add-ons that they’d hate to leave it all behind. No matter which way you slice-or-dice the situation, Dovetail has an audience and I see no reason why it shouldn’t take advantage of that fact. But, even with that being the case, that doesn’t mean the studio can simply rest on its laurels either. As mentioned before, there is a true competitor out there: X-Plane.
I’m not well-versed in the world of X-Plane, but I do at least know that it too has a pretty sizeable following. This is evidenced by the fair number of YouTube channels that have commentated gameplay sessions of sims like X-Plane, and their view counts are nothing to scoff at. I have the demo of the latest version on my computer, X-Plane 11. I haven’t dived into it too much, but between my limited gameplay experience and watching videos, I can definitely see that the sim does have a lot of nice improvements over FSX. The biggest of which being that it supports modern hardware architecture. Its add-on scene is notably smaller than that of FSX (which is a big disadvantage) but that can (and likely will) change as time passes. To put it simply, X-Plane is hot on FSX’s tail and as more time passes, it eventually will overtake it if Dovetail decides to repeat Microsoft’s actions and abandon the program altogether.