That's what I call the closure of the ACES Studio at Microsoft last week. Among the 1400 employees laid off in Redmond was the entire staff bar 6 of the 100+ Microsoft Flight Simulator (and Train Simulator) crew. That basically puts a stop to 27 years years of continuous development of one of the world's most well-known programs and the 'icon' of the flight simulation industry.
This is a sad and dramatic decision and a really bad period for those people who lost their jobs overnight and our thoughts are with them. But much worse perhaps is the fact that a program was killed that brought so much happiness and so much knowledge to generations of pilots and would-be pilots.
Microsoft Flight Simulator was originally conceived, designed and programmed by Bruce Artwick. He developed it commercially under his SubLOGIC brand in the late 70's until it was bought by Microsoft in 1982. I personally, and so many flightsimmers with me, have owned and used each and every 'version' of the program up until the last one today, Flight Simulator X (FS10).
Why was the ACES Studio axed, and Microsoft's oldest and longest-living program with it? Were they not making a profit? Was it a bad program? Were the FS designers pain in the behinds?
We'll not know exactly for some time, but I think the answer is 'no' to all of the above.
My guess is, knowing some of what happened internally at MS in the past years already, that someone in the management or finance department noted that the 'Flight Simulator game' was not raking in anywhere near as much money as Microsoft Office, or Exchange, or one of the XBox games.
Of course it wasn't, and it never did. 'We' all know that. The Flight Simulator market was and is a niche market compared to MS's other products, and certainly compared to the world's gaming industry.
But you see, THERE is the problem. Flight Simulator is NOT a game, even though it can be used as such and even if Microsoft's marketing folks tried to sell is as such. However, I am pretty sure that MS's top brass, beancounters and marketing gurus never acknowledged that.
Flight Simulator is exactly what the title implies: a simulation. Not only of aircraft or the flying with it, not only of the instruments and controls. MS Flight Simulator is the ONLY simulation in the world that you can use on a PC and that simulates the World of Aviation in the broadest sense. It has all the world's airfield and airports included, in various levels of sophistication and realism, it has a wealth of various aircraft from the venerable Piper Cub to the latest Boeing 777. But it also has all weather effects with clouds, rain, snow and storms, and it has the world's landscapes modeled. Not just a little areas around one of the airports, but the entire globe ! It has sounds, Air Traffic Control that tells you where to go, Artificial Intelligence aircraft that fly around you, even road traffic and all sorts of boats underneath your plane. It has all the seasons, light and dark, the sun and the moon, bad weather and good.
Now Let's Go Flying is all about real aircraft and real pilots and urging you to get in that left seat and find out for yourself what a wonderful experience that is. All of us blogging here know that once you've tried it, 99% certain you're hooked. And Flight Simulator can help you and has helped so many real-world pilots before. In learning certain aspects, in practicing certain things.
But maybe more importantly Flight Simulator has brought flying to many hundreds of thousands of people who would love to go flying, but can't, for whatever reason. And it has been the first window into the world of flying for so many kids that are now pilots, too.
It also has sparked thousands of Internet communities that not only provide news and help to its participants, but that also fulfill a social role in today's fast-paced world, where so many people get isolated.
I dare say that Microsoft Flight Simulator has been the best medicine for many people, taking them away into the virtual skies, forgetting their pains, heartaches, worries and misery and making them 'pilot' for a few happy hours at a time.
And although FS will live on, and add-on developers and publishers will continue to build new parts for it, it is THAT what Microsoft has taken away from them and from all of us. That 'history', that part of our lives that has always been there and should always have remained there.
Thank you, dear friends and ex-Microsoft flying friends.
And thank you Microsoft Management.... NOT !
If you want to show your support to the flightimmers, the ex-Microsoft programmers (almost all of whom are also pilots !!) and the 'cause' of keeping Flight Simulator alive, I invite you to join the special Facebook Group called '100.000 Flight Simulator Fans' that I have erected for the purpose. Please spread the word !!