Developers Roundtable: The Future of Simulations – Part 4

After the 2005 E3Expo we ran a series of discussions (linked on our homepage) on The Future of Simulations where we asked the SimHQ Staff for their thoughts on the state of the simulations industry. We’ll now follow-up those discussions from the developers point of view. As a reference, you should also read this SimHQ 2000 two-part interview series available in .pdf here and here to see the PC simulation industry’s leaders point-of-view from five years ago.

Our Panel of Participants

Martin van Balkom
Battlefront.comAl Delaney
Founder, President
and Lead Programmer
eSim Games, LLCSteve Grammont
Battlefront.comDavid Heath
Director of Operations,
Public Relations and Acquisitions
Matrix Games
Nils “Ssnake” Hinrichsen
Marketing & Sales Director
eSim Games, LLCRick “Rjetster” Ladomade
Vice President, Treasury
Xtreme Simulations International, LLCJulian “Buckshot” Leonard
Vice President, Engineering
Xtreme Simulations International, LLCChris “C3PO” Partridge
Publicity & Marketing
Lead Pursuit, LLC


Consoles, Controllers and Other Hardware

SimHQ: At this year’s E3Expo some of us got a chance to see early console titles being shown on the soon to be released Xbox 360. Watching this many of us wondered how long it would take for a really good flight sim to make it to a console. With your experience working in the industry, try to predict how far away the first real flight sim is on a console based system.

David (Matrix Games): A year or less I would imagine, but those will be ports. The fact is there are other problems that hamstring consoles when compared to PCs. For instance, the need to purchase a good joystick or other peripheral devises to make the game more realistic and playable. I believe these other factors will make it take much longer before we see a VERY successful console flight sim.

Rick (XSI): I think the next version of MSFS will be released as a hybrid for both the PC / Xbox console markets, and a few lucky simmers will be playing the MSFS Xbox 360 version of flight simulator on a 50” HD plasma screen sooner than you think. It remains to be seen if high fidelity combat sim will be viable on the console in the near future, but I am sure we will find out.

Julian (XSI): I guess that requires a qualitative assessment on what constitutes a “real flight sim”. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a flight sim on the level of say LOMAC appear on a console within the next 2 years.

Nils (eSim Games): I’m skeptical if it’s going to happen at all. It clearly is not a matter of technical feasibility. Consoles provide sufficient processing power, and games have shipped with elaborate controller sets. The question is, is there a team that is large enough to get a development license for a console, and do they think that the market chances are high enough to make a decent profit. But that’s the catch. Developing console titles is a costly venture. Most development decisions depend on the expected total profit of a title, and given the choice between a low-risk “me too” game and a high-risk innovation, the typical choice is to minimize risks. Therefore I think that the entire market structure of console titles favors mass-compatible games. And here simulation games tend to draw the short stick.

Steve (Battlefront): If it can’t be done cheaper and quicker than a “fake” flight sim, probably never. The problem is that consoles are SO VERY expensive to get onto. A few guys working their hearts out in their basements won’t have this venue as a development option. Again, it all comes down to economics, and the current thinking is almost universally that realism isn’t worth the effort.

SimHQ: What would you see as the major advantage of developing a simulation onto a next generation console? Would the potential benefits (stability, only one or two types of hardware to program for, fewer patches) outweigh the disadvantages (limited storage, TV fidelity, potential lack of interest among the console players)?

Steve (Battlefront): See the previous comment. It just doesn’t seem economically viable to get onto the platform and into the marketplace, so the rest is irrelevant.

Chris (Lead Pursuit): Accessibility to a much greater market would be the key advantage. Console technology is not cutting edge, by the time the next gen consoles are released, their visual hardware will be surpassed by the latest video cards for PCs. Even parallel CPU processing is currently here and now with PCs.

David (Matrix Games): The largest advantages for a console developer is stability and very low post-release maintenance. This will eventually greatly outweigh the disadvantages as next gen consoles will have large capacities for CDs and hard drives, are all HDTV compatible, etc. The problem will be more in making it playable without having to spend twice the cost of the game on peripherals.

Julian (XSI): There are certainly quite a number of advantages, IMHO the two biggest are that you only have to program for and support one hardware configuration, the second being the fact the consumer is able to essentially plug it in and play. The biggest disadvantages in my view are the fact that the sim and the hardware will not grow between releases. The user and the developer are limited by the hardware which quickly gets left behind by PC’s in regards to capabilities until the next generation of console is released. For this reason I see simulations on consoles appealing to the casual, short term market, but not to the longer term “hard core” simmers.

Rick (XSI): There are many advantages for the console game developer and user, and that’s why it continues to dominate 85% of the gaming market… it really is a much easier and less complicated environment with its controlled standards. The flight sim market is a tiny bit different… I will try to articulate the fact that the PC flight simmer has several advantages when it comes to the simulation gaming market. Most flight simmers, but not all tend to be an older group in their 30s and 40s that have a much larger pool of spending power; they are capable of buying many more games than the younger crowds, as many of them grew up playing the Commodore 64 style computers. simmers also tend to be amazingly resilient, and most are truly loyal followers of their genre, they also seem to a have a little extra money to burn when it comes to latest and greatest PC flight sim accessories and games. Console games can be extremely fun for that quick fix, but I really think for the ultimate high fidelity gaming experience, the vast majority of simmers will always turn to their big inspiring powerhouse ego building PC’s. Consoles may catch up technology-wise momentarily, but it’s always the computer that eventually blows past them in power and performance, at least for now… but again the console market is tremendously profitable with its predetermined set of hardware rules. Our continued devotion to the PC is what might ultimately help save this genre after all.

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