Back in January 2009 Microsoft shut down ACES Studio, the team at Microsoft who were developing the Flight Simulator game. The announcement came as a surprise to everyone, especially the large community of fans, developers and hardware manufacturers that exists around the Flight Simulator franchise. Why would Microsoft want to shut down the team that’s responsible for arguably one of the most succesful gaming franchises in the history of the personal computer? At the time there was the ongoing economic crisis, and the shut down of ACES Studio was just part of a layoff of around 5000 people at Microsoft. It seemed to me that Microsoft was trying to cut expenses during the economic crisis, but it’s unclear why they would want to shut down such a successful game like Flight Simulator. Back in 2006 when Bill Gates was showing off Windows Vista, Microsoft Flight Simulator X was one of the important games he demoed to show the capabilities of Windows Vista and DirectX 10. Up until today, Microsoft has never given a clear reason as to why exactly they shut down ACES Studio and apparently stopped development of the Flight Simulator game.
As soon as I heard about them shutting down ACES Studio, I wrote an angry email to Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer complaining about this decision. Apparently he must have forwarded the email inside Microsoft and a few days later someone from Microsoft Game Studios responded as follows:
Thank you for writing to us about the closing of the Aces Studio and the future of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Closing the studio was not a reflection of the quality of the products Aces has developed, the sales performance of the games, or the quality of the team at Aces. This difficult decision was made to align Microsoft’s resources with our strategic priorities. Microsoft Flight Simulator X will remain available at retail stores and web retailers. The Flight Sim community will continue to learn from and encourage one another, and we remain committed to the Flight Simulator franchise for the long term.
Microsoft Game Studios is investing significant resources in many exciting and new areas of gaming and entertainment, including Windows games. We believe these future investments will push innovation, community, and collaboration to unprecedented levels and will provide more synergy with our ongoing investments in Games for Windows – LIVE as well as other Windows entertainment technologies. We have nothing specific to announce at this time, but stay tuned for more information.
We are humbled and proud of the passion and support that the Flight Simulator franchise has developed over its more than twenty-five year history. This includes you, the large community of flight simmers, as well as the vibrant third-party ecosystem that has developed around the game. We will continue to produce, sell, and support the latest version of Flight Simulator as we plan for future versions of the franchise. Thank you for your understanding of our decision and for your continued support!
Pay attention to the section in bold letters. They already had plans to change the course of the Flight Simulator franchise and make some kind of a Windows Live game instead. It would not be until the 18th of August 2010 that Microsoft would announce the development of the Windows Live based Microsoft Flight game.
The decision to shut down ACES Studio and change the course of the Flight Simulator franchise was taken within Microsoft’s Internal Entertainment Business:
Microsoft has confirmed the closure of ACES Studio, with a spokesperson commenting to IGN that the decision was made within Microsoft’s Internal Entertainment Business “to align our people against our highest priorities.”
In addition, the company noted: “You should expect us to continue to invest in enabling great LIVE experiences on Windows, including flying games, but we have nothing specific to announce at this time.”
They shut down ACES Studio even while they were profitable. Even the ACES team didn’t understand why Microsoft’s Internal Entertainment Business did what they did:
Aces was steadily evolving a property established in 1982, one synonymous with the entire genre; it had a loyal following and turned a steady profit. At around the same time, Microsoft also closed Ensemble Studios, despite a long history of strong sales and great games. It wasn’t about talent. It was about “restructuring”.
More than a year later, former Aces employee Kathie Flood is still baffled. “We simply don’t know,” she admits. “Both studio closures were puzzling, given the rabid enthusiasm of their audiences and the consistent profitability of their titles. Microsoft is a big company. The decision was made outside of the Aces Studio itself, and we weren’t privy to the details [of] how or why the decision was made. In hindsight, it provided a tremendous opportunity for us to work on our own game designs, which we’re extremely excited about.”
Shutting down Flight Simulator development and apparently drastically changing the direction of the franchise is one of the worst decisions made at Microsoft in the last few years. I can’t imagine what they must have been thinking at the Internal Entertainment Business division. I wonder if they ran this by Steve Ballmer before they actually went ahead with the implementation, because I can’t imagine Ballmer signing off on something as stupid as this. Or else he must have been misinformed.
With this decision they’ve managed to shut down and ruin one of the most successful gaming franchises in the history of the personal computer, not to mention THE BEST flight simulator that has ever existed. Nothing comes even close to Flight Simulator X; none of the competitors out there are even half as good.
When Microsoft announced the new Flight game in August 2010, I was somewhat relieved and had hope that we’d possibly get something even better than the older Flight Simulator game. So I decided to wait and give it a chance. But I’ve recently had the chance to try out a beta version of the new Microsoft Flight game for Windows Live, and the impression I got was that this new title sets back the Flight Simulator series by at least 12 years. Not to mention that it is far from being as good a simulation as Flight Simulator is. The graphics and realism have taken a serious hit and the game has been limited to just a few locations, compared to being able to fly all over the world in Flight Simulator. There’s no real world weather simulation and no air traffic control. But the biggest set back has got to be the loss of backwards compatibility with all the content created by fans and third party developers for the Flight Simulator series. This includes thousands of aircrafts, scenery add-ons, plugins and other content. This was really the power of the Flight Simulator franchise and one of the most important reasons why it became so successful. This strategy is similar to why Windows became so popular in the early days, because of Microsoft encouraging developers to develop for the platform providing them with free tools to develop applications for it, which in turn attracted users. In Flight Simulator, even though the original game may have lacked the content people were looking for, such as specific aircrafts to fly, there were many fans and third-party developers who filled in the gaps and created tons of additional content which in turn made the game bigger and more complete. For example, I’ve been wanting a crop dusting aircraft in Flight Simulator for many, many years. I even wrote the team about it a few times. Very early versions of Flight Simulator had a crop dusting functionality in them and this was left out of the game in later versions. In the end, this aircraft was created by a fan and I finally got what I wanted and spent countless extra hours playing Flight Simulator X just because of this. If I didn’t own Flight Simulator, I would have bought it just because it would allow me to fly this crop dusting aircraft. And this is all because of the strategy that was used during the development of the Flight Simulator franchise to not only allow, but also actively support users in generating more content and building on top of the game.
However, all of this, many years of work by thousands of fans and developers, this entire ecosystem around Flight Simulator, is now being destroyed by a couple of business executives at Microsoft who clearly know jack shit about the franchise. It is very sad to see this happening, and what is even sadder is that it is being replaced by something as pathetic as Microsoft Flight.
The technical beta forums at Microsoft are filled with people complaining about the direction Microsoft is heading with Microsoft Flight. People are very, very disappointed and are asking for Microsoft to bring back ACES Studio and start developing an upgrade to Microsoft Flight Simulator X. There’s also a petition online for this, please sign it, as well as a Microsoft Flight Sucks Facebook page. Please let your voice be heard and also personally write Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer to get him to pay attention to this. Not only is it in Microsoft’s best interest to not let Flight Simulator die, but it is also in the interest of the entire industry that exists around this franchise.
This year, 2012, would mark the 30th anniversary of Microsoft Flight Simulator which was first released in 1982. It is a shame that on the 30th anniversary of one of the biggest and most popular PC game franchises, Microsoft will launch Microsoft Flight, which is such a disgrace to what Flight Simulator represented and a huge disappointment.