Microsoft Flight Simulator soared onto PCs everywhere just a month ago. The title has garnered some serious success in a short space of time, and the community chatter surrounding it has yet to take a nosedive.
Now that so many people have had a chance to experience the sim, I’ve begun to notice a few trends. Namely, some distinct types of players – er, virtual pilots. As a result, here’s a list of those flying styles. The question is: which group do you resonate most with?
The curious newbie with a need for speed and stunts
It’s all in the name. This is the kind of pilot that’s been drawn in by all the pretty screenshots and YouTube videos from various influencers that Microsoft has used to pummel this new sim into people’s faces. These pilots have zero flight sim experience, and also no knowledge of proper flying techniques nor do they really care much about it. The only thing that folks like this want to do is hop in a plane and just have fun. They also tend to be the type to initiate aileron rolls (that’s the proper term for “barrel rolls” for you uneducated swine) in a Boeing 747, and laugh hysterically as it goes careening into their neighbor’s house.
Considering that Microsoft Flight Simulator has found its way onto Xbox Game Pass, the number of new pilots must be quite notable. I mean, if you could get access to something this beautiful for $5 or less, why not? That also explains why I’ve disabled live multiplayer because I eventually grew tired of seeing random planes have impromptu airshows around the major airports I was taking off from…
The bush explorer
These guys are similar to the first type, though their quest for thrill is more precise and stylized. Microsoft Flight Simulator comes pre-loaded with a handful of “bush planes”. As the name suggests, these planes are basically the ATVs of aircraft; they can take off and land in harsh, rugged terrain in the middle of nowhere. This includes incredibly unconventional spots like on the top of a flat enough hill. Considering that MSFS has the whole world digitized, this makes brings the danger and freedom of bush flying into the safety and comfort of home.
The bush pilots of Microsoft Flight Simulator brave the virtual wilderness to explore rugged areas like Alaska’s vast forests, Russia’s desolate tundra, and Australia’s, well—everything—where you’re always at least two feet away from dying no matter where you are. Nevertheless, these bad boys simply want to explore and nothing’s going to stop them from pulling off daring maneuvers like dipping their huge tires in a river they’re flying just feet above or using their wide wings to try and catch wind gusts to land nearly as short as a helicopter. Doing stuff like this sounds like dumb fun, but it actually requires a lot of skill and, well, lack of caution. But, it sure makes for some cool videos. Speaking of…
The pilot that’s clearly a camera lover
Pilots can have all sorts of passions other than just flying. And honestly, I think Microsoft Flight Simulator has proven that in a relatively short space of time. Whether or not Asobo outfitted the sim with a pretty sweet camera system to show off their graphical prowess is up for debate, but it’s certainly become a wicked tool for the pilot photographers out there. Some killer wallpaper, if not canvas worthy shots are produced every week, most straight from the sim with no edits. You can also throw filmmakers into this mix as they too have been producing some super cinematic shots using Microsoft Flight Simulator’s drone camera; far more powerful than your Mavic.
(Since we’re on the topic of content, here’s a shameless plug):
As of the time of writing, my folder of screenshots from the sim stands at 1,079 shots and counting. Add that to the few YouTube videos I’ve produced of it and I guess I fall into this category as well. And honestly, this game is just beautiful at nearly every turn. Some shots are hard to distinguish from reality at times. Thus, this isn’t just an excellent sim, it’s a virtual photographer/videographer’s best friend.
The homebrew talent
In the realm of PC gaming, user-generated content is standard in a lot of titles. But, flight simulators have notoriously thrived off of extra content; a lot of which is produced by the community. Microsoft Flight Simulator is no different as it already has its steadily growing collection of user-made content like liveries for existing aircraft (seen above), airport and scenery enhancements, and really rad utilities to enhance the experience.
These smaller add-ons are all produced by and released for free by members of the community who happen to know a thing or two and take time out of their lives (several hours) to release their work to the public. While the complexity of most freeware add-ons isn’t extremely grand or highly detailed, it’s still worth looking at simply due to availability. Take it from me, my copy of FSX is loaded with freeware content and I have no problem with it. The authors behind these projects don’t just enjoy flight simming, they design and create. Hats off to these types of simmers, because they’re the reason why something as ancient as FSX and even its predecessor FS2004 still has a bit of playerbase to this very day.
Since COVID-19 has made commercial travel for vacation purposes somewhere between a bad idea to basically impossible, the term “catching flights not feelings” has temporarily been replaced with “catching the flu not flights”. Indeed, air travel is at an all-time low and Instagram has been noticeably lacking in its typical torrent of vacation photos this summer. That’s why Microsoft Flight Simulator couldn’t have come at a better time.
Thanks to the still incredible level of detail of this sim’s virtual world, digitally flying to countries you’ve never been to in real life is more believable than ever. I personally have used it to recreate trips I’ve taken before, but I’ve also gone a step further to venture out to new areas. With the recent major sim update focusing on Japan, the developers have been encouraging players to go ahead and visit. I did just so and took a virtual trip that started in Toronto and little by little made my way across Canada, into Alaska, and then crossing the Pacific and a touch of Russia before descending into Tokyo. Despite having been a flight simmer for most of my life, I’ve never ventured into this side of the world in virtual form nor in real life. But wow, is it beautiful! As I write, I’m currently piloting a TBM from South Korea into China as I explore more of Asia. So what if this is all virtual? Gotta fake it till’ you make it sometimes.
The ones who take “as real as it gets” very seriously
For a period of time “As real as it gets” was the tagline for the Microsoft Flight Simulator series. After being dormant for 15 years, this line is more true now than it ever was before. Due to the insane advancement in tech compared to the last release, this new version of the sim boasts true VFR-capable flying. VFR, or visual flight rules, involves flying by means of using landmarks and other objects in the scenery to navigate an area. And because the new Microsoft Flight Simulator does a relatively decent job at portraying the world as we know it, this type of flying which has almost always been reserved for the real world is now sim-enabled.
Combine that with IFR, which involves using instruments to fly, and you have yourself with a feature-rich sim that tickles the fancy of a lot of hardcore virtual pilots. These kinds of simmers are either actual pilots that like to use sims to keep their skills sharp or would-be pilots that are either training for their actual license or at least have the dream of getting one someday. These are usually the kind of simmers to buy the expensive peripherals and complex add-on aircraft all to make their experience as authentic as possible. If they’re into VATSIM, then they spend their virtual flight hours talking to other simmers over the radio using the same phraseology as real pilots and ATC operators. While this is a pretty niche group of simmers, they’re the ones who continually pump serious money into the flight sim industry and will log hundreds of hours annually into a single sim or even two for years on end. Trust me, a decade from now there will still be a dedicated group of hardcore simmers keeping these virtual skies of MSFS quite active.
Many simmers, one sky
No matter which of these little groups you find yourself resonating with the most, it doesn’t take away from the very notable fact that Microsoft Flight Simulator is adaptable enough to support this wide range of players.
It’s not overly simple enough to turn off those looking for a complex experience, and neither is it too advanced that novice players get overwhelmed and disinterested. Much like its predecessors, this simulator is no doubt going to usher in a whole new generation of flight sim fans whose love of aviation will be birthed thanks to playing this. I experienced this very same phenomenon with FS2002 nearly two decades ago, and I was hooked ever since.