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#1392045 - 07/27/04 02:55 PM A strategy for producing a WWI Sim  
Joined: Nov 2000
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Mahoney Offline
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Mahoney  Offline
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Bugger it - I've been keeping this one under my hat on the basis that I'd like to be the one who does it, but that's looking less and less likely so just in case it sparks anything...

First, an analysis of the problems besetting sims in general.

From a business point of view, flight-sims are an unattractive investment. They have a very long lead time before any return is made on a considerable investment (you could finance a development team of 5 people with salaries of $30,000+ a year for two or three years, plus equipment, office space, marketing, etc etc etc - it all adds up). They have a high risk of failure (if the core developer falls under a bus or just decides he needs to change his life, you have a problem...), in which case there is no way of recouping the investment. The returns are not likely to be enormous because it is a niche product, and there is essentially a single form of return on the investment - sales immediately after release. Financial success or failure will largely be defined by the month or two after release; there will still be returns after that, but not significant ones and they will dry up pretty rapidly. The only way you will get any further returns on that investment are to release further add-ons and (preferably) sims using the same code base; this can be done, but it's not often achieved. Finally, a large part of the market is denied to the developer since they will almost certainly not be able to port their game to PlayStation, Nintendo, Mac or Linux without significant work.

In addition, modern flight-sims try to perform the functions of up to three separate products - an arcade flying and shooting game for the mass market, a professional and enormously powerful simulation for a niche specialist market, and a Massively Multi-player Online Game for the online market. In the process they fall between the different stools. The arcade market sees something dry and unappealing, moreover something that makes them feel like they are failing to use the power of the tool they have bought - no-one likes "easy" settings, they are bad for the ego. The specialist simulation market either gets what it wants, but at a ludicrously low cost - 30 for an immensely powerful piece of software - or else gets a simulation compromised by the need to make it fun. The on-line crew get a game not specifically designed for MMPOG, so they have to set up enormous external structures to manage their games, but they do get it for free once they have set it up.

Lastly, sims tend to be fairly restricted in their appeal - most purchasers want to fly for the airforce and in the planes that fire their imagination, and obviously this varies enormously according to their nationality. To take an obvious recent example, I am sure Il-2's sales in the US and UK suffered somewhat due to the fact that the US and the UK were not represented in the initial game. And the extremely technical nature of simulations of modern aircraft makes them daunting to learn even for those who think they want realism.

So let's summarise:

1) Risky project from a technical perspective
2) Long lead time with no returns on investment
3) Small return on investment if you do make it to market
4) No significant on-going income after the initial sales
5) Restricted to the PC market
6) Poorly aimed at target markets
7) Difficult to make desirable to all nationalities
8) Realistic sims are just too difficult for most to play and enjoy

I have a solution that hopefully addresses all of these issues, at least in part.

Firstly, I propose development in Java. This addresses issues 1, 2 & 5 to at least some extent. Java has been proven time and again to be the language of choice for rapid, efficient development, cutting down on lead times, reducing bugs, making for readable code that can be picked up by a new developer relativel fast and consequently reducing the risk of failure. It has now reached an equivalent performance threshold to C++ for real time three dimensional games. And there are already JVMs for the Mac and Linux, with the real possibility of JVMs for consoles too - potentially opening up these markets with very little extra work required.

Secondly, I propose that World War I be the target of the product. This addresses issues 7 & 8. World War I potentially appeals to the UK, French, German, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Russian, Italian & Austrian nationalities, though it is unlikley that a first release would encompass the Italian, Austrian and Russian fronts. In addition, the planes of the time whilst requiring a great deal of skill to fly, let alone fly well, had uncomplicated controls that do not require a great deal of work to understand.

Thirdly, I propose development of three separate products on the same code base, as follows:

A) An arcade flying game, along the lines of the X-Wing series. This should have a flight model that is very easy to pick up, but where each of the planes is distinctive in its own way. It should be very slick presentationally, and have some very cleverly designed missions allied to a strong story-line. Perhaps a tie in to a well known character like Biggles would be a good idea - I believe similar comic book characters are known in the US at least. Multi-play should be limited to what we normally call dog-fight servers. It should be marketed at the same demographic and priced at the same level as the interminable WWII FPS games out there. Perhaps two or three sets of missions could be offered, to allow a career as a Brit

B) A "proper" flight simulation. This should be marketed and priced specifically for the simulation market - 100 or so for a copy, on the basis that you are buying into a product with ongoing development and improvements of the order the Il-2 product has seen and which you will use for several years. It should provide a career permitting the player to enlist as a junior pilot in the airforce of Germany, France, the UK or the US in the squadron of their choice and follow through an apparently dynamic and realistic career. This should have normal MMP capabilities - perhaps 8 to 16 a side flying planned missions.

C) An organised MMPOG environment. This would take a similar form to the campaign in the main simulation, with players enlisting in computer managed squadrons and participating in a continual war. The idea is that it would take the place of the current system of externally organised squadrons and externally organised wars, which require high commitment levels and organisation levels from participants and put a great deal of stress and strain on those administering them - instead, like the average RPG MMPOG, the game would take the strain and people could just join in the fun of being in a "live" environment. To play in this environment you would have to own the sim in 2) and it would, in addition, be pay to play.

Products A) and B) can share 3D models, terrain engine, damage modelling and most basic code including rendering engine. Products B) and C) can share the vast majority of the code base.

Product A covers issue 2 - the idea is that this product can be released at an earlier date in the development cycle than the main simulation, thereby providing revenue for the development of the rest of the sim. In addition, as it will be specifically marketed as an arcade game in the line of the WWII FPS's around, but with the advantage of being something a bit different, it should aim to do very well at the cheaper end of the market. This, combined with the high price of product B, the actual sim that is intended for serious simulation addicts who recognise that this is likely to be their main World War I sim for the next 5 or more years, hopefully confronts issue 3. Finally, the on-going pay to play model of product C hopefully covers issue 4. Finally, the separate products, each precisely targetted, counters issue 6.

The Il-2 model of steady updates for free and add-ons for a fee should be followed, steadily expanding the number of planes and the size of the game world.

Needless to say as a business case that's woefully short of hard numbers. Also, Java isn't quite there yet - no JVM on a console yet, and the first commercial "pure" Java real time 3D games are only just appearing, the technology is not quite mature. But in general I think the analysis and concepts are reasonable.

Inline advert (2nd and 3rd post)

#1392046 - 07/27/04 03:28 PM Re: A strategy for producing a WWI Sim  
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Tailgunner Offline
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Hate to rain on the parade...but how many units will you shift at 100?? Not many, I suspect.

I have all the IL2 series, and have invested around 70 in total. Over a couple of years. Thats easy to afford if you are short on disposable income. No way I could afford to pay 100 for a sim. The only ones who havegot away with higher priced commercial sims in Microsoft with Flight Simulator. If the title wasn't so well established and the add-on market so healthy, they wouldn't sell those either!

The maths is simple...

If you aim to re-coup development costs by upping toe price for the 'heavy' sim you are relying on the numbers buying it to hold steady. On the other hand, if you cut the price to 30 would you sell 3 times the copies....

Then there is distribution. Don't see the high-street retailers touching a 100 niche flightsim, so you are looking at mail-order to sell, or online distribution. It's going to be a big game, so the online thing would again be restricting those who could or would buy that way.

It's not all doom and gloom though ;\)

The IL2 model is a good example of how a success can be made from a sim.

IL2 raised the bar, and made the name. It was quality, and a step above anything else onteh market then. As a result, it got noticed.

BUT, in terms of real development, it stopped there. FB....AEP...all use the same tech. The flight modelling isn't as advanced as people thought and is highly modular. You lose some reality this way, but you make life a lot simpler for the game builder. Effectively, I have paid 70 for IL2 ..... but have modded it to add a lot more planes and a couple of cheap tricks from the rendering department made possible by technology improvements!

Here is where good planning make money!

You build a SOLID framework, with potential to add new planes easily. You make modular FM's that can be swapped and changed easily. TEHN you release your arcade shooter with dumbed down flight models.

If it sells, you can then offer add-ons! Like, say, a 'full real' set of FM's with a couple of extra planes ...'ching!' another 15 ....

A new 'front' opens up... just a new terrrain and some re-skinned planes. Throw in a couple of new ones....'ching!' another 15....

And so you go on. You develop the engine, you improve, you re-dress it and add a couple of new planes, and you sell it all over again!

As long as the core programming is robust enough to do the job, you can get a good run of games from the initial load. Soon Pacific Fighters will arrive, and I will be running off to spend another 25-30 on that...just for a few new planes, some terrain improvements, and carrier landings...

Hmmm...I think I just spent the 100 ;\) The difference is, though, that I would NOT have spent 100 on IL2 from an unknown developer, no matter how many add-ons he promised me ;\)

Thats marketting....


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#1392047 - 07/27/04 03:37 PM Re: A strategy for producing a WWI Sim  
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Mahoney Offline
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Mahoney  Offline
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The bulk of the sales are projected to be of product A which is intended to be marketed at joe public at the normal 25-30 retail price. That's intended to be the primary revenue generator. Product B is intended to be a niche product for real enthusiasts. And I think it's entirely reasonable to expect people who spend 2,000 on a PC to spend 100 on an intensely complicated simulation which can expect to be the main sim they use for two years or so.

We've all been hopelessly spoilt by the fact that producers have, up till now, been trying to sell simulations to joe public who picks it up on a whim in EB and plays it for a month or two then gets bored. COnsequently they've sold these games to us at the same retail price as the latest FPS. But it's not the latest FPS - it's a far more complicated piece of software aimed at enthusiasts who spend a high proportion of their leisure time over an extended period using it.

Lastly, Oleg shows how it can be done if you are:

a) living in Russia (could probably do it in India, too - somewhere where the cost of living is a fraction of that in the US or UK)

b) prepared to go on 4 hours sleep and no holidays for 5 years or so

c) a genius

Unfortunately I fail on all 3.

Rob

#1392048 - 07/27/04 04:08 PM Re: A strategy for producing a WWI Sim  
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FlyXwire Offline
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d) Unemployed, or about to be unemployed, or worried about being unemployed............(not funny actually)!

What a great conversation guys, please continue!

#1392049 - 07/28/04 02:40 AM Re: A strategy for producing a WWI Sim  

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Mahoney::
Quote:
The bulk of the sales are projected to be of product A which is intended to be marketed at joe public at the normal 25-30 retail price. That's intended to be the primary revenue generator. Product B....
...rejected by publisher for the same reason realistic flight sims are rejected today. \:\(

All we will see pubbed is the normal 25-30 pound retail sim.

#1392050 - 07/28/04 09:00 AM Re: A strategy for producing a WWI Sim  
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Mahoney Offline
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Mahoney  Offline
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Money already earned by the development team from Product A is intended to enable them to fund the rest of the development of Product B themselves.


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