ACES Game Studio, the team recently behind the long-running Microsoft Flight Simulator series, have in a stunning move been shut down as a part of the recently-announced 5000 layoffs by Microsoft. This also jeopardizes the future of the Microsoft Train Simulator series, as ACES were working on its second iteration. Microsoft themselves have predictably said that the Flight Sim franchise will not die, but they’re not being any more specific, Gamasutra reports. Nor have they, to my knowledge, said anything about Train Simulator 2. My thoughts about all this after the break.
First of all, you all need to consider the incredible age of the franchise. The first version of subLOGIC Flight Simulator actually came out a fair amount of months before Pac-Man (released in January of 1980, Pac-Man following in May of that year). As a side note, this was all on the Apple II, so no Microsoft yet. subLOGIC proceeded to release a few sequels (now with colour!) until around ’82, when Microsoft picked them up and had them port the game to the PC (which also induced a step back to monochrome graphics). And then on, with new releases every few years, gradually evolving into what we now know as Flight Simulator X that was released back in 2006.
Microsoft Flight Simulator has always enjoyed reasonable sales figures, and the last few have definitely even been in the sales top charts (I don’t know about the older ones). Therefore it is probably safe to assume Microsoft is not losing money with the franchise. Continuing on the road of assumptions, Microsoft now needs to either hire new developers or assign some from inside to work on the product. Either way, I don’t see their decision making much financial sense. Perhaps they’ve instead decided to halt the program altogether for a few years, until the economy has had time to stabilize and start growing again? The Flight Simulator games have always been released for hardware that doesn’t exist yet – with the current economic situation, it’s unlikely that people will be flocking to buy new high-end graphics cards right when they are released. And to be honest, Flight Simulator X is feels like a fairly “complete” product in most respects. If they’re only going to upgrade the graphics by two notches, they might as well wait a few years, just to be safe.
Then again, Microsoft have often axed seemingly productive studios. Ensemble Studios (the makers of the Age of Empire series) will be shut down later this year, after they release Halo Wars. FASA Studio (makers of the MechWarrior 4 games and the XBox-only sequel to Crimson Skies, High Road to Revenge) were closed down back in 2007. So perhaps they’re just out of their minds, I don’t really know.
In any case, the flight simulator market is currently really dire (the sole producer currently known to be working on something new is Eagle Dynamics – bless them!) and nobody needs to see yet another well-known sim fade away. We’ll have to hope that this move is will only hold the series back temporarily.