Developers Roundtable: The Future of Simulations – Part 1 Page 2

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SimHQ: Simulation fans have traditionally been among the most demanding of the PC gaming environment. Simmers now seem to demand more than just a good study simulation; instead they seem to demand that games be released with multiple flyable planes / driveable cars. Have developers shot themselves in the foot by releasing sims with 20 aircraft instead of modeling single aircraft, thus raising the expectation by the consumer about the value they are getting for their money?

Martin (Battlefront): I guess so, although I would rephrase this a little to say that developers have shot themselves in the foot first and foremost by allowing development budgets to explode. The attempt to add more playable units certainly contributes to that, but it’s only one of a number of contributing factors, and probably not even the biggest.

David (Matrix Games): No way! This question just goes back to the first one. The market is bound to adapt and change to this. As long as it is profitable to produce a sim with 20 aircraft they will. As time goes on (in fact, I would assume in the near future) developers may adjust their strategy, focusing on a few aircraft very well and having a lower price (as it would take them less time to design.) Other flight sims may focus on only ONE aircraft and do it to the most minute detail. As things progress they will fragment, and the question of if developers shot themselves in the foot is more a question of “how will developers react to a changing market.” The answer must be fragmentation will provide an outlet for both the sim fans who want tons of flyable crafts in an expensive package and an outlet for sim fans who want specific planes or a more relaxed (in terms of attention to detail) game.

Chris (Lead Pursuit): It’s horses for courses. Some people love the variety and ability to fly different aircraft, even if those systems on each aircraft are perhaps not modeled to the same absolute depth of a “study sim”. There is a buzz flying a different aircraft for some, it’s a change of pit and a change of approach. Others love the ability to be fully immersed in one aircraft and feel that the focus of the developers’ attention has been on that one particular aircraft. As to what’s the right approach. Who knows? Maybe units shifted from shelves is an indicator.

Rick (XSI): The flight sim community is universally known as a challenging and tricky group to please, but they are very loyal… they are the ones who should absolutely lay the foundation for the demands in this very important genre that we all embody. Their provisions are keeping this industry to some extent “viable” for all of us. Many developers have realized, when they embrace the community’s ideas, they also embrace their inputs and contributions. This increases acceptance across the board and allows the community to further challenge developers in a step by step realization of their ultimate desires.

We will by no means be entirely perfect as developers, but it’s that pursuit of perfection that will ultimately bring us “the flight sim community” a little closer to excellence with this shared endeavor. In return, the community adds a significant value to the flight sim harvest… the proper care and feeding of the “flight sim community” goes a very long way in breeding trust and acceptance, and so we are very fortunate this opportunity exists in this extremely devoted community. The value in a good flight sim comes from the developer’s quest to listen and take note… and then ultimately to produce a quality flight sim product that’s developed with character. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Julian (XSI): I think there is still a market for a single aircraft study simulator. Of course with multiple aircraft you broaden your appeal and fan base, definitely an important consideration in what is already a comparatively small market.

Nils (eSim Games): I can’t speak for flight sim developers. With Steel Beasts, we follow a strategy of variable level of detail. Some combat vehicles are made “playable” — that is, allow different crew positions, along with a rather detailed model of this vehicle type’s fire control system. Others are accessible only from a 3rd person perspective, making it clear that we didn’t have sufficient background information to allow a more detailed simulation.

But then again, Steel Beasts transcends the concept of a “device simulation”. We have strong gameplay elements of real-time strategy as well, and it’s up to the player whether he wants to concentrate on a specific crew position, vehicle, unit, or the whole by hopping from one unit to the other. We can afford featuring both very detailed and rather basic implementations of vehicles at the same time.

SimHQ: Increasingly games are being marketed as ‘simulations’ that would not have been considered part of the genre just a few years ago. How much pressure is there from publishers to develop software dedicated to existing market stereotypes (e.g. console action games, PC more detailed & longer games)?

Nils (eSim Games): Like “Deep Throat” said before, “Follow the money.” Only comparatively small developers can afford the luxury of following their dream and create a title for a certain market niche. A Console title means large teams, means huge wage expenses, means the necessity for an investor, means the money’s going to flow into those projects that promise the most favorable ratio of risk and profit.

Chris (Lead Pursuit): There was no pressure on Lead Pursuit at any point. We had a clear vision of what we wanted to produce and that was firmly positioned in the PC market. We have had fantastic support from our partners. But I guess generally in the industry ultimately $$$s matter — and development will follow the pay check.

David (Matrix Games): I don’t think there is much direct pressure. Matrix Games advises our developers on what we believe to be most profitable for them, however, we never forced a major change on an unwilling developer. So, my theory is that there is very little DIRECT pressure from publishers. However, the developers themselves may fight an internal battle that the more established markets (specifically those with low competition) are much safer than creating or modifying a market. As with many business decisions: The greater the risk, the greater the reward, the pressure comes from how much risk the developers wish to assume.

Martin (Battlefront): There is always pressure from publishers to cater to stereotypes. That’s why it’s called mainstream.

For a while, RTS were the hot kid on the block. This is changing, and the answer by mainstream publishers is to keep producing RTS games and call them a simulation. That’s of course easier than trying to make something really innovative or good. Especially because making real sims seems expensive in comparison.

Rick (XSI): Gamers will always share many common characteristic of their genre, but many gamers are willing to adapt with this progression of technology. As the market skillfully grows, developers tend to cater to a much larger audience for games that are comprised of a mixture of skill, chance, strategy… and these games produce a much truer artificial reality which in turn results in a wide range of games being called simulations. So as the broad simulation genre expands, it creates gaps for the smaller niche genres such as flight simulations that can now be developed by smaller developers such as XSI, SimBin and a few others.

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