A few weeks ago I read the book Free by Chris Anderson. In this book it is described how many companies (mostly on the web) nowadays can make money using free products. If I try to summarize it in my own words, the author is saying that since the cost of distribution of digital content is approaching zero, the price of such products seems to do the same. And therefore people have to look for other alternatives to earn their money.
An example given is that many artists earn less from selling their records, but earn more from their concerts and merchandising. Or the so called freemium model where there is a free and a paid version, where the paid version has more functionality and from the earnings of that the free version is kept free. Or another example is free things paid by advertisement.
I am not sure if I completely agree with everything written in the book, but it is a nice mind experiment to see how this could apply to the world of Flight Simulation. So let’s give it a try…
Since addon products for FS are in general also digital content, according to this book their price should also develop in the direction of zero. But I am not sure if the alternatives mentioned in the book would work that well for FS addons. Using advertisement of something like that to generate the revenues is not something that would work I guess. Would it work to have a free and a paid version of addons? Maybe, but which features should be in the paid version to convince users to actually pay for it? Would it work to have a basic version of a scenery and then if you wanted things like animated gates you would have to pay? Or get the simple version of an aircraft for free and pay for the virtual cockpit? I am not so sure about this and would such a schema actually attract more customers than addons get nowadays?
Of course we have the difference between freeware and payware in the world of FS addons for a long time already. Where for payware you can in general expect a better quality and better support. Although there are also freeware projects that deliver top quality of course. But I can’t imagine more products being offered for free, simply because the amount of time needed to create them needs to be compensated somehow.
So while I am dreaming about how things could work, let me consider another model. Would it work if the Flight Simulator itself was offered for free and the revenues would be generated by the users who want extra functionality? So everybody can get the basic version, with some aircraft and a basic scenery of the world for free. But if you want better aircraft or scenery you can buy these. Or maybe you have to pay a monthly fee to use the ATC services? The advantage of a free basic version would be that you can reach a bigger group of end users and that might grow the total FS community. But I am not sure if additional paid content could pay for the development of such a base version. Especially since traditionally there are many small companies making such addons.
So I guess maybe the way the FS world works today is not that bad, where you have a product that has been designed to allow a community to extend it. And both freeware and payware developers do so. I guess the future will tell if a successor for MSFS will use a similar approach or not. As long as it is an open product that can be extended most of the community will be happy with it I guess…