Its late on Sunday evening, I sat down at my computer to continuing working on my familiarity with a couple of aircraft I have in my “To Review” hangar. While I’m doing some pre-flight, a friend messages me to ask had I seen MilViz on Kickstarter? I was intrigued, I hadn’t so I looked it up… and promptly spat my coffee out all over my monitor. What The Actual F…?!
It was in that moment I realized I was seeing the greatest crime against the flight simulation community ever unfold; yes, even bigger than the FSLabs fiasco. The Kickstarter is demanding US$20,000 in an all or nothing blatant money grab to try and capitalize on a source of funding that is meant for start-ups and experiments; not established companies. I read the entire Kickstarter, and I just could not believe what I was reading. US$8 to get your name in the credits of a manual that nobody reads; US$38 to get your name on a livery that no one will ever fly with; US$100 or more to get a copy of the add on… Hold up … WHAT?! You only get the aircraft if you pay OVER $100 BUCKS!?!?!?
To put this in perspective, the other twin’s in their inventory (Cessna 310R, Piper PA-30) or their newish Otters (piston and turboprop variants) are all priced at US$39.95, while their Advanced F-4E or F-4J/S are retailing for US$79.95. Now, with that in mind, how much is MV going to be charging for this aeroplane? Even PMDG (who regular viewers of mine will know I do not hold in high regard) only charge US$44.95 for their turboprop regional airliner (Jetstream J41).
Now I’m all for backing projects on Kickstarter, I’ve backed a few in my time… but this is a blatant money grab. Now I know I’m going to cause waves with that, but I have been becomingly increasingly concerned with the direction MilViz has been taking with their projects and their attitudes towards us, the simmers, who buy their products. Let us look at their history and establish the story so far before we get into why this is a crime against all Flight Simmers.
Firstly… The Mythical MilViz KingAir 350i. This product was first promoted to the community over 6 years ago and offered on a pre-order basis to sim pilots everywhere. A few images were available early on, then silence. Stone cold silence. Eventually there was a statement released in 2015 that the team were not happy with the ProLine avionics and it would need to be restarted. There are other stories that emerged about that time as to what actually happened, but I’m not going into that mud-pile. We will just say that there were issues and they wanted to get it right; fair enough. They even advised that it would add 3-6 months onto the release date. So here we are in 2019… and still no sign of the KingAir. There is an alpha version that has been provided to those who pre-ordered… but there have been no updates to that since AT LEAST September 2018.
Now I did not have the 350i, but going off their forums… it’s not looking good. Since the pre-orders for this add on aircraft were taken (yes money was paid to MV and the customers got nothing) FSX Steam Edition was created and released, Prepar3D v2 came to market and was no longer updated by Lockheed-Martin, Prepar3D v3 came to market and was no longer updated by Lockheed-Martin and Prepar3D v4 has come to market. MV themselves produced and sold no fewer than 15 products in that same timeframe. Yet the KingAir sits on their website, with outdated images and no information about the product. They don’t even accept pre-orders for it anymore. Is it little wonder there are some trust issues with MV from the community? Yet now they want to get people backing a Kickstarter to develop for a platform different from their usual realm?
Ok, next discussion point… treatment of existing users as platforms evolve. So, I have no problem with a developer making a justifiable decision to not develop for a platform, particularly one as long in the tooth as FSX. I do have a problem however with a developer charging for updates within a platform’s development cycle. A few years ago, MV released their renditions of the F-4E and the F-4J/S. I really liked their E…the J/S not so much (I reviewed them both on my channel for those interested). They would later go on to add in additional “realism” in their Advanced version of the aircraft along with the ability to use VRS’s TacPac weapons system for ESP platforms.
Now for me, the so-called realism improvements didn’t really bother me, and as a Prepar3D Professional user (I don’t use the Academic version because EULA) I am not able to even purchase let alone use VRS’s products; so it was not of interest to me to get the update. Updates kept being pushed out as P3D v4 evolved, however with 4.3 MV abruptly ended support for the original release of the Phantom. If users wanted their Phantom to keep working in the latest version of Prepar3D, they had to purchase the Advanced package. Now I am not willing to purchase a product that does not have any features that are useful to me in order to fly something that should have remained compatible! To be clear here, the Advanced version is THE SAME except some of the systems are “study level” (all of which can be turned off and made non-study level again) and it can blow stuff up with another vendors program (which as I said I can’t buy or use anyway); yet as a customer who chooses not to pay money for a bunch of features that are unnecessary for my simulation experience, I get penalized. So maybe I’m a bit butt hurt over that, but it’s the damn principle. Interestingly enough, all other Prepar3D v4 aircraft were updated to 4.4 at no charge to the customer. What is kind of funny about the whole thing though is that I recall when the idea of including TacPac functionality in add on aircraft was first floated, MV insisted that whenever they add it to an aircraft then or in the future, it would always be as an additional add on / cost. Yet, the F-4 and the F-86 remain the only aircraft to ever do that. The F-100, the P-38L, UH-1 Redux and Corsair all have it integrated; ironically now that the original edition of the F-4 has been discontinued, only the humble Sabre is forced to pay an extra $10 for TP integration (hint kids, go buy the one for DCS if you want to shoot stuff).
This has been coupled with mixed messages about platform support. As I say above, I have no problem when a developer chooses to no longer produce content for a platform, particularly a 32bit platform when the future (Prepar3D v4, AeroFlyFS2 and X-Plane 11) are 64bit. However when MV released their Corsair, it was pitched as a Prepar3D release only, which if it supported V4 only I would understand (the whole 32bit / 64bit thing and all). Yet it supports Prepar3D v2 and v3 as well as v4… so what is the development justification for not including FSX in this? There is no format change required to the files, I doubt there would be any *.dll or *.xml issues, the 3D model format is the same, the texture is the same… just not seeing the justification. Thus, we see a disdain for the intelligence and choice of the simming community by this developer writ large as they now set about entering the sim of the moment.
Let us round out with the final argument and key point put forward by MilViz as to why they need the money: the cost to convert from one platform to another. Now I am not going to deny that there are costs involved, and potentially some high ones. However, let us look at the rest of the multiplatform developers for a moment shall we? Just Flight have brought a large number of their in-house produced ESP models over to X-Plane 11 very successfully. They charge the same as their ESP kin, and even offer a discount to existing users of one platform to buy the one for the other platform. Orbx Systems are another developer that was late to the X-Plane revolution, but they have ported numerous sceneries across to the platform and do it without charging extra. They too offer substantial discounts to users with the same content on an alternative platform. They’ve even managed to develop for a third family of simulators with AeroFlyFS2. The twin companies of Carenado and Alabeo are also in a headlong rush at present to bring their content over to X-Plane. They have a little more grounding in the platform, given they’ve been developing for it on and off since X-Plane 10, but still it takes work. All of these companies managed to port their content over to X-Plane 11 without having to resort to pre-orders or crowd-funding.
I hear some saying “But they’re a small developer they need a hand to get it done” and ok, fair enough. To answer that I’m going to add in here and quote directly from the Kickstarter.
Your pledge will help us cover the costs of, among others, systems translation from P3D, Max to Blender conversions, creation of custom datarefs, ACF’s and all the other elements of XP development.
So, I am specifically going to pick on the Max to Blender conversion, and I am going to assume that they mean 3DS Max. So straight out… this is bullshit. Whilst Blender may not read *.max files… it will read *.obj, *3DS and others. So, if you have the original source *.max file, you simply resave it and its done. I literally did this at work on Friday. Or if, for whatever reason, MV does not have 3DS Max installed (which would beg the question how are you making that 3D model), then a one-time purchase of a file converter for US$20 will allow you to do it as many times as you like whenever you like. Or you can simply use the plugin for 3DS Max that allows it to create an X-Plane 11 native 3D Model. So yeah… not really holding water that argument. Oh, and just a quick note about the rest of that statement on their Kickstarter… MilViz already HAVE AN X-PLANE 11 PRODUCT!
They released their Cessna 310R for X-Plane 11 last year, so they have already done it for a completed product, so it is not completely new territory for them. Pretty sure we didn’t see a Kickstarter for $20K to convert that aircraft over. Given that the ATR isn’t even ready for ESP yet, all the data is there in raw format; it just needs to be put into the right format. Am I saying its going to be easy or quick? Hell no! Does it justify stealing $20K from the simulation public to get it MAYBE in 18 months’ time? Absolutely not. Perhaps instead of writing the Kickstarter they should have read Dino Cattaneo’s guide on how to convert content from ESP to X-Plane. (http://indiafoxtecho.blogspot.com/2018/08/how-to-convert-your-aicraft-3dstudio.html)
We have a company that has proved that they cannot manage early access or reliable development of products. We have a developer that will, without hesitation, charge for product life updates and force users to move to platforms when it is unnecessary. And we have a developer who is demanding that the community pre-fund their effort to create content for them, not recover the costs through sales of a quality product. With that in mind, I have to conclude that this is the greatest crime to afflict Flight Simulation. We are being taken for granted and being sold a pack of lies. I’m not saying that developing is easy or cheap…far from it. There are struggles and challenges for any developer. I’ve been around long enough to see good developers go under from not being able to get projects right, or to make a play for something at the wrong time and have themselves get burnt in the process. That’s why we have quality products with associated retail prices. Development is always a gamble; will it be successful? Will it make back the capital you outlay to get going? Time and again, developers the world over have proven, if you do the right research and take the time to develop a quality product; it will pay off. But this? With this track record, and then trying to fund something by crowdsourcing and offering sweet nothings in assurances and content? We are being taken for a ride her folks, and its going straight off a cliff. I sincerely hope that MV changes their mind and retracts this ridiculous and criminal money grabbing effort; perhaps focus their energy on completing promised work (a KingAir 350i and a C-130J for example) before embarking on duping a new round of consumers.
There is a saying in Australia, that Ned Kelly’s not dead yet. Ned Kelly was a famous bushranger and thief, and the expression is used when a situation of audacious and often blatant over charging has been conducted. I learnt today that Ned Kelly is indeed not dead, he lives in Canada.
Tristan “Novawing24” Ayton
*Authors note: During the time it took to write this opinion piece, the following development took place.
MV have advised that lower tier pledges will get a discount voucher up to the amount they pledged (https://fselite.net/news/milviz-looking-to-use-kickstarter-to-fund-atr-72-x-plane-development/) This has been confirmed on the Kickstarter page description but NOT in the actual Pledge rewards tiers.
If you wish to see what the Kickstarter said at the time this was being written, you can access it here.