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Help needed - market research for FG

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Help needed - market research for FG

Postby stuart » Tue Nov 06, 2012 11:26 pm

Hi All,

I'm currently looking at how we can market FG better, and in particular how we can "sell" it to FS-X users.

I'd like to find out areas where FG is particularly strong, and where FS-X is deficient. Unfortunately I don't have any FS-X experience to draw on. The sort of things I'm thinking of are the following:
- Being able to start in the air at any position you choose. I understand FS-X forces you to start on the ground, unless you start a pre-configured flight. Is that correct?
- Proper carrier support. Are there some limitations here that FS-X doesn't consider a carrier an "airport" so you can't just start on one?
- Global MP support. What multiplayer options does FS-X provide?

I'm also interested in particular areas that FS-X is ahead in terms of features and usability. I'm aware that their terrain is better and there are lots of high quality aircraft.

So, if you've got any comparison information, please post it below.

Thanks,

-Stuart
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby Hooray » Wed Nov 07, 2012 12:16 am

Just to get this started:
  • FlightGear doesn't cost any money, it can be freely downloaded
  • FlightGear is being developed by volunteers all around the world
  • FlightGear uses no proprietary binary file formats, it uses plain text (XML) for most of its own configuration files
  • FlightGear doesn't need FSUPIC, all its externals are directly available via a bunch of open networking protocols, including http/telnet
  • FlightGear has a built-in browser to inspect and modify internal variables directly
  • i.e. there's no need to do any reverse engineering in FG
  • FlightGear has a built-in scripting language that looks and works like JavaScript in your browser
  • FlightGear has now a fully scriptable 2D rendering system that allows people to easily create custom instruments, custom HUDs, custom GUI widgets and custom MFD instruments.

I'm also interested in particular areas that FS-X is ahead in terms of features and usability. I'm aware that their terrain is better and there are lots of high quality aircraft.


FlightGear is especially interesting for people who already have some form of aviation or programming background. Most people without such a background, will probably find FSX/X-Plane much more enjoyable though - which comes down to usability issues. But also to lack of resources to get people easily started in an interactive fashion (tutorials, missions, adventures etc). Unlike FSX, we don't have an integrated "flight school" or other interactive features.

Also, anybody who's ever flown an aircraft in real life (PPL, CPL, ATPL), will probably agree that the interactive features in FS-X or X-Plane are much more appealing to real life pilots, i.e. to maintain proficiency (instrument check etc). I know people who are long-time FG users, but who prefer using X-Plane for these reasons, because FG is great if you want to help developing a simulator, and if you are interested in programming and software engineering - but if you are only interested in actually using a simulator to get prepared for your checkride, there are unfortunately still today much better options. Which doesn't only boil down to usability, but also to certain features to actually evaluate a flight (i.e. flight path profile) or having a virtual instructor.

One of the greatest issues we are still facing is the large number of aircraft that are nowhere near completion to actually model important aircraft systems to provide for a realistic flight experience, including systems/failure modeling. While changing that is obviously a huge effort for complex airliners, it should actually be do-able for smaller aircraft. The c172p and the seneca are pretty good FG examples actually.

Obviously, real life pilots are unlikely to take FG seriously as long as we have 300+ aircraft of which 90% have no realistic systems modeling or bad flight characteristics, that don't meet their real life experiences.

And then, it's still about providing a real value to end users, so that they don't just need to use their own imagination to define a purpose and use - i.e. obviously using FG to shoot approaches is just as well possible as it is in FSX/X-Plane, but in the latter case, there's real support to make this swift and easy (and much more actually), i.e. there are dedicated "flight training" features to help with proficiency related tasks.

These features are there for people who have used simulators before, but also for people who are completely new to simulators - similarly, you can actually use FS-X to learn about flying (interactively!).

I'd reckon that most FG users have previously used some other flight simulator before.

Not being able to easily change aircraft or reset the simulator properly is obviously another showstopper in comparison to FSX/X-Plane, because there, redoing a segment of a flight, or saving/loading a flight, is simply possible - which it isn't in FG. Which makes such use-cases unnecessarily tedious.

If we really want to attract more FSX/XP users to present FG as a free and viable alternative, we would first of all need to make sure that we are serious about what we do here, which inevitably means focussing more on "real life" features, features that appeal to people with a real background in aviation, not just from the PPL/CPL perspective, but also from the instructor perspective. At the moment, FG is of really little use here unfortunately.

Personally, I'm attracted to FG because of the ability to modify it, inspect/change internals and contribute to it, not because it's such a great flight simulator or because of its instructional value for real life pilots. For such purposes, people tend to find FlightGear's commercial counterparts much more appealing, and really don't mind having to pay money for it.

It's a little bit like electric cars: they are all neat and dandy, but with a range of just 50 miles they're of little use obviously, and more suitable for hobby use ...

When the git project recognized that they had usability issues, they tackled it in a cool way and started conducting yearly end-user surveys via survs.com to adjust their development priorities accordingly: https://www.survs.com
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby spitfirebruce21 » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:17 am

Personally, PRICE is very important. I got FG over FSX because of the price. I'm glad I did, I couldn't afford FSX and wouldn't want to.
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby StuartC » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:42 am

I actually had a couple of flights in FSX the other night, using the FSX versions of the Aircraft I use in FG.

While their terrain is much better ( and expensive as its all an extra ), the aircraft are less impressive than a decent FG equivalent.

Aircraft tested on both platforms:-

Alphasim FGR2 Phantom ( Ironically, the same "model" used by Dave Culp in FG )
Panavia Tornado F3

FDM comparison = our phantom FDM's are superior, but only just. Our Tornado FDm is miles more accurate ( FSX Tornado was doing 980kts IAS at 200ft, without afterburners and still accelerating )

External comparison - Fg aircraft with good high res paint and bump mapping look far more realistic that the same setup in FSX.

Systems - FSX doesnt support any form of dynamic payload so you end up with dozens of versions of the same aircraft just to have different payloads or liveries. In FG you just need one aircraft in the list. Cockpits in FSX generally are still a flat panel with a photo texture over the top. looks nice but lacks the tactile appearance of 3d objects in to cocpit.

Multiplayer - I remember getting a server tool that allowed pilots to fly the basic world terrain without addodns and also allowed previous FS versions also to fly on the same MP server. I cant remember the limit on the number of pilots though. FG gives you the world and all the servers are linked = much better as there is no real limit on the number of pilots.

FSX require lots of addons to give you decent navigation and map functions ( which are not free ).


In short, with effort on part of the Aircraft developers, our aircraft can look, function and fly far better than FSX. Unfortunately, this is also the area that lets FG down the most. There are aircraft in the Main FG download page that dont even work or havent been updated in years. Getting a friend to try FG is a challenge enough when trying to prise them away from FSX, but once they find most of the aircraft are poorly done or non functional, you never see them again.
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby stuart » Wed Nov 07, 2012 1:16 pm

@Hooray:

Re: "obviously using FG to shoot approaches is just as well possible as it is in FSX/X-Plane, but in the latter case, there's real support to make this swift and easy (and much more actually), ". Is that true? I had understood from elsewhere that FS-X doesn't have the ability for you to set up at an arbritary in-air point, nor the ability to replay the flight and restart from any point. Instead you need to install add-ons or use a saved flight. It's these sort of feature gaps I'm particularly interested.

What sort of "real life" features do you think we particularly lack?

Your comment about not being able to change aircraft or load/save flights is a very good one.

@spitfirebruce21: That FS-X seems to require a lot of (paid) addons is a goodpoint.

@StuartC:
- How does the default FS-X terrain compare to ours?
- The systems comparison is very interesting. If you change the fuel level, or drop some ordnance, is that reflected in the FDM behavior in FS-X? If I drop all the stores on one side of the A4 it has a definite effect on attitude and (I think) roll response.
- Regarding cockpits - do the 3D cockpits have controls that can be actuated with a mouse-click?
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby i4dnf » Wed Nov 07, 2012 1:57 pm

stuart wrote in Wed Nov 07, 2012 1:16 pm:- Regarding cockpits - do the 3D cockpits have controls that can be actuated with a mouse-click?

Yes, and IIRC they even show tooltips with the control on mouse-over.
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby Hooray » Wed Nov 07, 2012 2:40 pm

I'm not sure if it's wise to distinguish between stock functionality and addons here, especially the "standard addons": The FSX community is extremely weird, most of the people there really don't mind spending thousands of dollars for their hobby each year. FSX is just considered the framework or foundation there, they consider it "normal" having to install dozens of addons to make it really usable. It's a long-standing iusse that even dates back to FS98 actually. So the "die hard" users are simply used to extending their software with commercial addons and plugins. It's a necessity there because they cannot modify the simulator, but there are still so many things missing - which is why there's a real ecosystem of solution providers.
The X-Plane guys tried to address this issue and added some of the addon features "natively" to their simulator, but they're facing the same situation now: die hard users want to extend the simulator in additional ways, which simply require addons/plugins in a proprietary product.

And let's be honest with ourselves here: Only because FG is open source, doesn't automatically mean that we don't need addons or mods: Just because we may have a group of people who want to have a certain feature, doesn't automatically mean that this feature will be added to FG, despite it being open source. FSX users are quite happy to delegate/outsource the creation of such features to paid developers - so that they can simply use stuff without having to become programmers.

From an FSX user's perspective, their market/ecosystem is much more viable and responsive - with FG, people may be begging for features for years (or even a whole decade...) and the requested features still won't show up, despite the fact that even core developers may agree that it would make sense to develop such a feature in the first place.

We have people who flood the forums, the mailing lists and even the issue tracker with their ideas and feature requests. We have other people who wrote dozens of "RFCs" on the wiki. In the latter case it's quite obvious that there's not a single person interested in a particular feature - rather, it's core developers and other long-term contributors who are getting quoted there.

So I can perfectly relate to people being willing to pay money to solve a problem one and for all.
I'm not sure if we should even be trying to attract more FSX users to FG as long as we haven't solved some of the really long-standing issues. Imagine for a second we had only 100 new FSX users per month here: I can foresee the nature of their postings right away, and it would eat considerable time and energy (manpower) to explain ourselves to them. And to explain to them that nomatter what they say, and no matter how right they may be, the project is unlikely to be changed by it :D

Someone who's previously used FSX successfully for years, and who may even have real life pilot experience, will inevitably need lots of hand holding when using FG for the first time - despite their background, and despite the fact that they'd be facing lots of regressions when using FG vs. FSX.These guys don't care if it's free or not - they are only likely to switch if it means considerable improvements, or at least no major regressions. They are usually not interested in becoming content developers themselves, they just want to use the damn thing - without even "opening its hood" at all. Our "modus operandi" here is different: we encourage people to become increasingly familiar with FG internals, so that they can solve problems on their own, and so that they can become contributors.

For example, a retired professional real life pilot (the FSX/XP communities have lots of these types of users, who happen to be avid tutorial writers ...) just wants to get to enjoy flying in a virtual environment again,without ever having attended CS101 etc - these guys will inevitably face major roadblocks when using FG that simply aren't there in FSX or XP. And they surely don't mind having to spend some money on their hobby.

We'd actually be opening a huge can of worms when trying to attract more seasoned FSX/XP users to FG, we probably couldn't handle the resulting workload at all - which would be a frustrating and pretty tedious experience for all parties involved.

If that's to be changed, we need to throw real money at the problem and tackle it in a professional manner, i.e. by also conducting yearly community surveys, and by participating in sponsorship schemes like Google's SoC or www.nlnet.nl to apply for funding for certain areas of the project...

Overall, I feel that the whole comparison would be better moved to avsim.com, because there are more people who are familiar with FS-X/XPlane. So the feedback will be more reliable for issues that are not FG-specific.
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby StuartC » Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:18 pm

For a better idea of the scenery comparison, I'll take a flight from the same test airfield in both FG and FSX and do some sample screen shots off the same terrain from each sim. I just need to remember how to take screen shots in FSX.
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby stuart » Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:47 pm

Hi Hooray,

That's a really interesting perspective on FS-X users. I was aware that there were lots of addons for FS-X, but not that they were really considered "standard", or that users are spending so much money on them, and might not see them being built into FG as a really positive thing.

I see what you mean about responsiveness and how that would look from the outside. However, we've not seen anyone really being prepared to *pay* to have enhancements made to FG, either in the core sim or as an add-on.

I don't see any barrier to a commercial FG addon - the APIs are all open (though Nasal is a bit of a gray area). One of the problems I suspect is a lack of market, and it'll be interesting to see where the project to put bounties on development goes.

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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby Hooray » Wed Nov 07, 2012 4:14 pm

Yeah, FSX is often really just considered a "skeleton" which needs to be filled in with addons ... keep in mind that this "skeleton" is often much more complete than FG still.

However, we've not seen anyone really being prepared to *pay* to have enhancements made to FG, either in the core sim or as an add-on.


First, I'm not sure if that's true, we've had a fair number of users who have tried to conduct "bounties" over time. Now that didn't work out too well obviously. And then, there have been postings on the devel list about related efforts - for example, just a couple of days ago: http://www.mail-archive.com/flightgear- ... 38618.html

And there are more of such examples to be found in the forum/devel list archives.

Personally, I don't believe that this will create a considerable amount of funds, so that a single developer could actually consider working on something even just part time, next to his day job.

However, crowd-funding platforms like http://www.kickstarter.com do obviously work well and may create a fair amount of funds. And it would probably be possible to create funds that way for FG too.

The question is if FG as a project is even able to deal with the organization and structural requirements here. I reckon it isn't. For the very same reasons, why we never got our act together to actually participate in GSoC, it requires a form of dedication and discipline that is hard to ensure in a pure volunteer project.
Obviously other OSS projects manage to do that still, but I think we are simply not there yet.

That doesn't however mean that it would be impossible for individual developers to apply for funding via nlnet, without putting requirements on the project and other developers. That might actually be worth a try. Maybe in the form of a simple "beta test" - i.e. apply for 1000 USD with nlnet to improve FG usability for a single month. All done by a single developer to gain experience with the workflow required.

I don't see any barrier to a commercial FG addon - the APIs are all open (though Nasal is a bit of a gray area). One of the problems I suspect is a lack of market, and it'll be interesting to see where the project to put bounties on development goes.


I'm a little bit more pessimistic here. There are a number of examples where even just partiually funded development has created lots of irritation among FG contributors. There are a handful of people who have openly stated having done certain changes under contract. And sometimes even when Curt himself was the corresponding core developer, others found words of criticism or it caused heated debates much later on.
And then there are a handful of examples where other people offered to contract core developers to do certain changes on the devel list.

So, I am not sure if the project can even handle it - i.e. having funds available and assinging them to further the development?

Also, I believe we really shouldn't be thinking in terms of optional commercial addons - we should probably strive for any such features to be directly contributed back into the FG code base. That would simplify licensing-related considerations. FlightGear does not have a particularly impressive track record WRT backward compatibility, that however, is one of the most important concerns for addon developers obviously.

So addons, I am sure we won't see in FG, but paid development would still be an option. To me, the way you put your response demonstrates the whole problem at hand:

However, we've not seen anyone really being prepared to *pay* to have enhancements made to FG, either in the core sim or as an add-on.


Really, we shouldn't be waiting for individuals or groups of individuals to pay for development. We should be pro-active, be it in the form of GSoC participation, nlnet application or via kickstarter. Otherwise, it's far too simple to complain that we don't have any funding and that all this is a volunteer project.

But, you know, as long as we are just passive and sitting here waiting to be approached by someone else, we are probably not going to take the prom queen home (even just for dinner, I may add) :D
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby sa7k » Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:29 pm

I often read about the most difficult thing for flightgear to obtain is good textures, mainly for scenery (I think lots of airplanes have really good textures and liveries). Maybe next fsweekend the FG project could approach some scenery addons devs for the non-free sims and ask them how much would it take for them to release their textures GPL licensed. Maybe if they are talented but not quite succesful they won't ask some crazy amount and that gets asked for in a bounty. They even can promote their work and keep their non-free business.
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby StuartC » Wed Nov 07, 2012 6:49 pm

ok heres a scenery comparison.
This is a river inlet just south of EGOD in Wales.

Google map of the real location:-

https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=egod&h ... d&t=h&z=14

Same area in FSX

Image

now again in FG 2.8

Image
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby sim » Wed Nov 07, 2012 11:08 pm

Discovered Flightgear myself in 2009 and found it pretty realistic. I have tried the free version of FSX which I enjoyed except that setting up my joystick in FSX using their formatting boxes was a pain. Having got used to writing my own stick xml in Flightgear.......FSX just did not give me the same flexibility FG did. I could do half a dozen different control actions using only one button in FG. Dunno if any FX add-ons address this!
Tried X-Plane 8 but that was so heavy on PC resources I had to fly the seas as adding scenery slowed or crashed my PC!

Have flown some FG Planes with rather odd unrealistic characteristics but I don't mind too much as they're a challenge to fly. We flew some similar tricky real planes and real gliders back in the 1960/70s. Some could get you into trouble if you didn't adapt to their little quirks! Have tested some flightgear planes spinning characteristics and some do spin rather well ! :wink:
Dunno if FSX Planes do that!

:arrow: http://db.tt/aM5iklw :idea:
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby Thorsten » Fri Nov 09, 2012 8:21 am

ok heres a scenery comparison.


Unless that FSX scenery comes 'out of the box' and is not an addon, it's not a fair comparison - any addon scenery to FSX should be compared to custom scenery with ideally regional texturing - I think custom France for instance is much more competitive than default scenery.

Yes, our default scenery is pretty lousy - but it's everywhere.
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Re: Help needed - market research for FG

Postby Johan G » Fri Nov 09, 2012 9:10 am

Getting slightly off topic here:

I am wondering about the possibility to render our scenery smoothed, in essence without those knife sharp edges.

There would of course be a fps penalty... and someone has most probably thought of it before.
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