For $62.30 USD, $69.99 USD, or $78.94 USD, you can buy the Fenix Airbus 320, PMDG 737, and Leonardo MD-80, respectively. These three payware jetliners released within weeks of each other for Microsoft Flight Simulator. That is the very same simulator some can initially play for just a dollar due to it being a part of the Xbox Game Pass service. Microsoft seems like it has no problem continuing to offer that promotion to newcomers. Even in the case of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, that’s only $14.99 USD spent per month to play Microsoft Flight Simulator, among other games. Those who do choose to buy the sim outright need only spend $59.99 USD.
No matter how one accesses Microsoft Flight Simulator, the core sim itself is still notably cheaper than some of these new add-ons. Unlike full games, these add-ons only tend to go down in price after quite some time. In other words, within the next three or five years, if not more, those prices may not change much. And yet, simmers everywhere have been clamoring over these add-ons for the past few weeks.
Notably, in the case of the PMDG 737, its launch crashed PMDG’s site portal in a matter of an hour. Even when the site was back online, purchasing was temporarily disabled as to not inundate the system further. These hiccups weren’t rectified until the following day. For an aircraft incapable of supersonic speed, its release carried the same thunder as a sonic boom. I’ve been flying it since launch, and it’s the first time I’ve spent so much on any add-on product for a sim in the near 20 years that I’ve been a fan of the genre. Though I’ve been enjoying it, one question keeps coming to me: what is it about these products that has people so caught up, especially now?
…about a lot
Before looking in the now, we need to look at the before. As I’ve stated in past deep dives about Microsoft Flight Simulator, the current state of the franchise is at a much higher point that where it was as little as five years ago. In fact, at that point, the series was still in a relatively odd phase of being ‘actively dormant,’ which is a nice of saying it was essentially alive in all but an official capacity.
After Microsoft shuddered Aces Game Studio, which was responsible for the series, in 2009. Microsoft Flight Simulator lived on as a semi-supported legacy project. It was then given to the hands of Dovetail and received an off-shoot named Prepar3D flight simulator, which was created by Lockheed Martin and built using licensed code from Microsoft. But FSX was the true last bastion of the official series, and was kept alive by means of none other than the very topic of the day: add-ons.
FSX was left mostly untouched in terms of core features. Add-on products were what truly carried the sim in the intense 15-year gap between it and the new Microsoft Flight Simulator. As rigs became more powerful, add-ons got more complex, producing increasingly impressive results all in the genre’s long-standing quest for ‘true realism.’ But, that’s the thing. FSX, like pretty much every other flight sim, didn’t just use add-ons to enhance the experience — they almost felt more like a necessity.
Add-ons have always been a staple of the flight sim genre. Flight sim developers arguably pioneered the concept of buying additional content for an existing product. This is why studios like PMDG have such a loyal following. Many of these developers have grown alongside the sims themselves and have become household names. PMDG in particular has been developing add-on products since the ’90s, which is a point that I’ll bring up again soon.
“As real as it gets”
Some folks have spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars outfitting their sim of choice. Various scenery packs, weather engines, complex airports, and the coveted “study-level” aircraft ensured that players get the richest experience out of their flight game. Sims like FSX suffered from age, which is what made the quest for advancement even harder. But then there are more modern titles like X-Plane 11 that also leave a lot to be desired as an out-of-the-box experience.
I bought XP11 in mid 2020 as a stopgap between FSX and MSFS. I figured it would be cool to have a more modern point of comparison, especially considering I had been with Microsoft’s series practically my whole life. However, I was only mildly impressed with XP11, and quickly discovered the rather deep rabbit hole of freeware and payware add-ons I would need to really make the most out of it. That brings us back to the arrival of add-ons like the PMDG 737 for Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Going off of what we’ve just established, it would seem that the answer to why people have been clamoring for such products is because it’s simply a continuation of tradition — that never-ending quest for “the best.”
Here’s the thing, I can’t quite look at it through the lens of the veteran simmers who’ve indulged in top-of-the-line products for years. I’ve seen the rigs, and I’m impressed by them. Some of these folks pretty much have an at-home cockpit, and it’s amazing. They take their craft very seriously, and that’s why having a “study-level” product is essential to getting the most out of all that intricate gear.
Again, that’s essentially always been the case. But, for someone like me who’s never really tapped into such a product until now despite always being a fan, it’s different. Part of it was FOMO, I won’t lie; I got sucked in by all the chatter leading up to release. But, on top of that, I think a big chunk of the answer lies within something that PMDG itself said — this really is a new frontier.
No, actually this time
As everyone knows at this point, Microsoft Flight Simulator is a textbook example of a next-gen game. Its feature set is jaw-dropping, and has resulted in so many screenshots and videos that often make even longtime simmers question whether or not they’re seeing an in-game shot or a real image.
For all intents and purposes, it offers scenes that players only imagined back in the day. It’s what we always wanted our sims to look like, and we would hunt every add-on, utility, and tweak out there to try and capture that. But, this isn’t faking it. The simulator is gorgeous, it is complex, and it is only expanding its mechanics. All while doing so out of the box.
In PMDG’s final teaser video before the release of the Boeing 737-700, it was mentioned that the team had been working to get to this point for “decades.” Going back to the point earlier about how the studio has been making flight sim add-ons since the ’90s, only now can the scope of its vision be truly realized.
Microsoft Flight Simulator has opened that coveted next step, the true tipping point where it no longer has to fake it to make it. The texture work, the flight dynamics, the lighting, and simulation of various systems, they’re no longer constrained by primitive coding.
These add-on developers have always tipped the scale, but they could never break beyond what the sim they were developing allowed. And, since some elements could only be enhanced with external products, its always been a balancing act for the consumers to get all of their various tools to play nicely.
Now it’s all here as one, complete package that the developers have full access to. Not to mention, PMDG has even worked closely with Asobo to ensure that the 737 could make full use of its feature-set. This is why it took longer than expected to release. There was so much more than PMDG thought it had to do to get it up and running since it wanted to provide a fully original rendition rather than a scaled-up re-release.
At the end
And, here we are. Over two weeks later, and a few dozen flying hours under my own belt, what can I say? I like it. It’s a beautiful plane with a great soundset, cool features, and nicely detailed systems. I do enjoy the complexity of it, all while not being too overwhelmed due to the team thinking ahead and making it accessible to both newcomers and sim vets alike.
But I probably never would’ve been swooned enough to jump in had the sim itself not already offered so much. So, now more than ever, such add-ons have a chance to thrive like never before. I hate to admit, at least to my wallet, that I’ve spent more on add-on planes in just the last two months than in the last 19 or so years I’ve been a simmer. It feels worth it now; the flight dynamics, the scenery, they all match up to make these planes look and feel richly authentic. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it is immaculate.
As I write this, I’m enjoying a short Florida hop in the Milviz Cessna 310, another highly-detailed add-on plane that I picked up due to intense word of mouth. But again, I’m loving it. Sure, it’s just $20 USD less than the sim itself, but I’m appreciating its attention to detail.
I also have a Stream Deck waiting in my Amazon cart, not for game streaming, but to use to further enhance the immersion of my sim experience. Slowly but surely I’m sinking deeper into this hobbyist hole. And it’s all because, rather than the add-ons selling the sim like in the past, the sim itself makes a case for the add-ons. Woe to my wallet and better judgment, for the quest for the best is encompassing me — and it’s beautiful.
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