It’s been a week since the popular freeware hub for Microsoft Flight Simulator, flightsim.to, announced a new update to its business model. This came with a new update to the site’s Terms of Service (TOS), particularly of interest to creators who upload their work to the site. Almost immediately, this new update was met with a wave of backlash from add-on creators both small and large alike. Now, the team behind flightsim.to is trying to nurse the wounds and patch things up.
Skies of controversy
In a news post made to its website on February 11, 2023, flightsim.to announced a new Creators Program and Premium Membership option that would be launched within the coming months. To summarize, the Creators Program would allow add-on makers who upload to the site to receive more direct compensation for their work — particularly promising increased returns for more downloads and upvotes, and subsequent support of their add-ons.
As for the Premium Membership, end-users would benefit from access to faster download servers, ad-free browsing, and no download countdowns. Funds generated by premium subscriptions would also be passed onto the creators, as the announcement stated.
The flightsim.to team explicitly stated in this announcement that these changes were meant to bolster the site itself. It has generated over 33 million downloads ever since it launched back in 2020, along with generating millions of page views per month.
Succinctly, flightsim.to has grown exponentially since launch, and therefore the cost to run such a large site has likely risen alongside its growing popularity. When you consider all of these factors, on the surface all of the aforementioned changes appear to make sense. However, creators and site users were quick to point out a lot of flaws with the site’s plans.
The fight for property
The most jarring negative point brought out by creators has to do with this subsection of the new TOS:
(4.3) Licenses you are granting us: By submitting or posting User Content to the Service (either directly or through a Third Party Service) you grant this Site a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, assignable, unrestricted, worldwide license to use the User Content, together with all consents or waivers (if any) necessary to distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, transmit, communicate to the public and modify the User Content, by any means and in all media formats and channels now known or hereafter devised in perpetuity, and to advertise and promote such use, without further notice to, or permission from, you or any other person, and without compensation or reference to you or any other person.
Concisely, this line essentially means that when a creator uploads a file to flightsim.to, they hand over all rights to the website. Therefore, should the creator want to remove the file for whatever reason, the site’s team can essentially deny that request and forcibly keep the file on its servers — despite the creator’s lack of approval. Understandably, add-on makers were not at all pleased with this change.
Another point brought out, particularly in relation to the Creators Program, is that it muddles the situation. Looking at the comments section for this update, one user, JennyD, made the notable argument that they “wonder what airlines will think when they learn people are being rewarded for distribution of their liveries.” In response to this comment, user KL791 stated that this point is “an absolutely relevant consideration not just in regards to liveries but in regards to everything from logos or even designs like buildings.”
Users also brought up that this policy potentially violates the copyright laws of some lands, such as the EU, thus creating even more of a slippery slope.
KL791 has been one of the loudest voices in this entire saga, as they’re responsible for flightsim.to’s now formerly most-popular add-on, the Global AI Ship Traffic package that had over 300,000 downloads. This add-on was revered for its addition of high-quality ship models that would populate the world of Microsoft Flight Simulator. In response to the site’s update, KL791 allegedly tried to get this file deleted, but the site’s team initially denied the request — the exact scenario that creators pointed to as being a cause for concern with the TOS update.
It has since been removed from the site, but only after its creator made enough noise. It’s not gone from the web, however, as KL791, along with several other creators who’ve decided to pull out from flightsim.to en masse, has taken to other add-on repositories like Fly Away Simulation (which is now actively trying to coerce new creators) in the meantime.
Following all of the controversy over the past week, flightsim.to quietly announced a change in its policy via Twitter. This comes after opening dialogue with disgruntled creators via its Discord server. The team has stated that it will now offer the option “for instant file deletion without reason, any in explicitly stated cases – e.g. – Libraries – after expiry of a reasonable notice period.”
We've talked with creators on a more agreeable approach to our deletion policy, adding the option for instant file deletion without reason, and in explicitly stated cases – e.g. Libraries – after expiry of a reasonable notice period. Join our Discord to follow the discussion. pic.twitter.com/z9SloSUW8F
— Flightsim.to (@flightsim_to) February 21, 2023
At of the time of publication, this is the only significant change in the overall situation. For now, though, most of the damage has yet to be repaired. As stated earlier, many of the site’s most proficient creators have since apparently pulled their content from flightsim.to entirely, and have flocked over to other add-on repositories. Most of the other sites have been around for quite some time, even featuring add-ons for vintage entries in the Microsoft Flight Simulator series.
That said, many of these sites do show their age. Flightsim.to garnered success due to it being a fresh, clean, modern site that was dedicated to a sim of comparable modernity. Its sleek organization and creature comforts like update notifications made it feel like a de facto add-on client/launcher of sorts for Microsoft Flight Simulator; almost in the same vein as something like Steam Workshop. In many ways, its design even arguably trumps the functionality of Asobo’s own in-game marketplace.
Now, with this entire situation still unfolding, the Microsoft Flight Simulator has once again found itself in a state like most other flight sims, where files are scattered around the net in different places. This leads to add-on users, the very group of people who matter most in this entire saga, to now have to roam around and deal with the limitations and complications of each of the different sites.
Some can argue that things have always been this way when looking at the many scattered add-ons of past sims. Hence users loved how flightsim.to offered a refreshing change of pace, and provided a homogenous experience for Microsoft Flight Simulator in a way that not one sim add-on repository was able to do so in the past.
As for whether this whole situation ends up being a stain on the site’s legacy or an irreparable crash remains to be seen. In the meantime, flightsim.to continues to offer content for Microsoft Flight Simulator. But, with some of the most popular add-ons now gone, there’s no telling what future uploads will look like in the short term.