Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ProFlightSimulator: something just doesn't smell right

I saw an ad on the side of my FB page today for a new flight simulator game called ProFlightSimulator. I clicked on the link and read about it, a new product just released (today!) by what looks like a one-man company in Australia.

At first, I thought "more power to him." I still like to believe that indie game developers can make it big in a world dominated by EA, Vivendi, and their ilk.

However, there's just something about PFS that makes me more than a little suspicious.

When you click on the link in FB, it takes you to (how's this for free advertising? You're welcome, Dan.) http://www.proflightsimulator.com/index2.html, an incredibly long-winded advertisement for PFS: page after endless page of screenshots and hype about it. Lots of hype. It's like watching one of those Veg-o-matic infomercials on TV. It has all the sales tricks, like "Used by the pros!" and "But wait! There's more!" and "Now how much would you pay?" and "... all for the low, low price of ..." and "But you have to ACT NOW, or you'll forfeit this opportunity!"

Then, when you get to the bottom, you find out that you're getting $530 worth of material, including a full-sized book, for $49.99. Do you know what they say about something that sounds too good to be true?

Yeah. So then you start wondering about system performance and hardware/software requirements. The FAQ on the PFS webpages lists some very modest system requirements, but for performance like what is advertised, that doesn't seem like enough. The FAQ doesn't say anything about performance. I've developed computer games, and I've played a lot of different flight sims, first-person shooters, role-playing adventures and other game genres that really push the hardware, and I know what it takes to make something like this look good - and play well.

The Jane's flight simulators, for one example, are visually exquisite, and masterpieces of execution, as long as you install them on the recommended minimum hardware and not the acceptable minimum hardware. On the acceptable minimum hardware, they are slow and choppy and tearfully frustrating. This is something you really, really want to know before you buy - even with a 60-day warranty.

I never buy anything anymore without looking at the online reviews first. I pull up my favorite search engine and search for "proflightsimulator review." Surprise, surprise: I find a lot of them out there, and they're all dated November 15, and they're all written (if they have a byline) by the same person. This is a variant of the "blogging for dollars" practice I wrote about in June 2009.

None of the reviews are real, objective reviews. They're just shills. They all have the same, Billy Mays-ish breathless tone of someone reading directly from the marketing literature. They pretend to be objective by listing a couple of negative points of the software, but even these negatives are spun: when the review says "There is quite a lot of data to be downloaded. The main game itself is already 300 megabytes," and suggests that you order the 4 DVDs, the average user thinks, "Wow! I get over 300 MB of stuff! And enough extra stuff to fit on 4 DVDs! What a deal!"

There is an alternative to PFS and all other commercial flight sims: it's a very capable, absolutely free and public-domain, downloadable package called FlightGear. FlightGear is a lot of fun, and a simulator that I've played with, on and off, for years. If you start reading up on FG, either on its own webpage or on Wikipedia, you'll begin to notice a lot of similarities between FG and PFS.

Uh-oh.

A lot of similarities. The list of available aircraft for PFS is a subset of those available on the FG website. Both lists include such off-the-wall flying objects as Santa's sleigh and a Willys Jeep. I don't think that's a coincidence.

And then you see this picture in the Wikipedia article on FG:


This same picture appeared in the advertising for PFS.

Uh-oh times two.

Then you go back and click the "Screenshots" link on the PFS webpage, and a lot of those screenshots appear to have been ripped directly from the FlightGear pages over the years. Anybody who's played FG for more than a day will recognize the yellow helicopter with the medical symbol on the side.

Uh-oh times three.

No wonder PFS is so generous with their licensing. Their webpage says that you can buy one copy and install it on as many computers as you like. And that you get "100% free updates/upgrades for life." That's because you can install FlightGear on as many computers as you like, and FlightGear gives you 100% free updates/upgrades for life. These guys are just selling FlightGear.

Like I said at the beginning, I'm all for indie developers going up against the big boys and winning - Marble Blast, for one notable example. (You can buy Marble Blast here, or you can download it for your iPod/iPhone/iPad from the App Store.) But I'm not too keen on entrepreneurs taking free and open source software, wrapping it up in a package and selling it as their own work.

Nice try. You almost got me.

5 comments:

greco said...

Thank you very much for your time in putting this blog together. I am keen on a simulator and I was considering buying this one.... but something did not smell right. Maybe it was the free offer of the steak knives or something!!! It sounded too much like a second hand car advert. Anyway, I became suspicious as all pro comments were done by just two people on many websites. Your blog gelled my concerns. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi Ray, this is Curt from FlightGear.org. I just wanted to let you know that I did receive your email, but my reply to your SF.net address bounced for some reason.

I appreciate you shining some light on this issue and doing it in a responsible and honest way!

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

Totally fascinating, PO. I've just read this with an increasing sense of surrealism. HOW do these sorts get away with this sort of thievery? Because to me, it IS thievery. Karma, however, in the form of an Alien Zyzmog, has shone a light in a dark little corner of the Interwebs. Bravo.

It brings me to an exasperation--those ads on Facebook. There's one for joining some 'prestigious who's who of successful women' that pops up almost every time I change pages. I just keep clicking on misleading. Facebook should be a little more discerning on who they buy ads from, but I guess t'was ever thus.

Anonymous said...

Zyzmog,

What made me suspicious were the screen shots in the advertising on site, they were almost like FS v5.1, from the Bruce Artwick days......

Screenshots from FSX detail quality is excellent, even with scenery sliders pulled back.

Prices for the wares seemed completely out of line compared to FSX and others.

Glad you were there, to take the newest "Xmas toy" away from me.

Best to you,
NLM

Anonymous said...

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Thank you very much for your time in putting this blog together. I am keen on a simulator and I was considering buying this one.... but something did not smell right. Maybe it was the free offer of the steak knives or something!!! It sounded too much like a second hand car advert. Anyway, I became suspicious as all pro comments were done by just two people on many websites. Your blog gelled my concerns. Thanks