The launch of Hot Start’s Challenger 650 for X-Plane 11 has brought with it the steep price tag of $115 USD. And, as a result, a lot of discussion on the pricing of flight sim content. The question of how much is too much for a flight sim module is now making the rounds. What are we all willing to pay for? Is $100 just too much? Here are some thoughts.
Content creators need to be paid
I want to start off with by remarking on a very important point. Flight sim content creators need to be paid.
Aside from the obvious point that people need money to live in this day and age, there are also lot of costs involved in bringing to life detailed recreations of historic and modern aircraft.
Among those costs are items such as research time and materials to get these things started which may involve travel and digging into archives or climbing into or even flying on the real thing. There is the software used to develop these simulations and that may involve 3D modeling and texturing tools (some of which run in the thousands of dollars to license depending on the suite) as well as the simulation itself which may actually be the cheapest part of the development process. Of course, there’s also the labour involved which may involve a small team over a long period of time or a larger team over a shorter period of time. In either case, there are expenses and compensation owed to make these things happen.
Some of these developers are bigger like Eagle Dynamics or Asobo Studios or somewhere in the middle such as 1C Game Studios. Then there are smaller developers with a small handful of artists and programmers. Some have a team of just two or three. It really varies!
So before we go on, I want to acknowledge that there are real people, labour and expenses behind all of these products that we enjoy.
Cost and opportunity
There’s a common refrain in capitalist theory that holds that the price that you set will be “whatever the market can bear.” Many products will happily find a spot in amongst their peers but there are going to be products that might push the limits and that comes with both potential risk or reward.
Customers might be willing to pay $115 for the recently announced CL650 and Hot Start may rake in the cash. But customers might also not be willing to spend that much money and sales may flounder. Because its not a physical thing that’s being sold, there is significantly less ongoing expenses (although patches and updates mean that its not zero) so the number of CL650s that Hot Start might sell through X-Aviation are not limited in materials but in interest from buyers. At $50 to $80 you may get people who are willing to pay even if they don’t intend to spend more than a few dozen hours in it. At $100 and up the calculation starts to change to “Am I seriously dedicated enough to spend the money and get the value out of it?” I feel like this project in particular might be pushing the limits although its not alone and there are other products from companies like PMDG for example that easily push through the $100 mark as well.
To use some other examples, I’ve also heard from people that IL-2 Sturmovik Battle of Normandy at $89.99 USD (currently on for $79.99 during early access) or that the DCS: F-14 Tomcat for DCS World at $79.99 USD are too expensive. Others have remarked that Carenado’s $20-30 USD modules in the MSFS Marketplace is just too much.
The exact dollar amount is actually not the argument but rather it is the perceived value that I think is up for discussion. Does the extreme attention to detail in the CL650 make its perceived value equal up to $115 USD? Does IL-2 Battle of Normandy’s array of content (10 flyable planes, plus two more AI-only aircraft, a map, career, and assets) meet the perceived value for $89? Does Heatblur’s F-14 module (consisting of an F-14A and B, two campaigns and a carrier) do the same? Or are they too pricey to spend money on.
The answer is with each person who has to make the calculation. And that of course is based on a range of factors from socioeconomics down to the simple matter of exchange rate. The Canadian Dollar pushes that $115 USD up to $145 CDN for example.
But there’s also the value for money over time. For me, buying Battle of Normandy early access has already paid off in the time I’ve spent with the already released content and Normandy won’t full release until later this year. Again, for me, the F-14 I paid full price for and I’ve spent just enough time with it to fully appreciate the price I paid. But there is something psychological about spending over $100 on a single aircraft module, no matter that attention to detail, that just puts me off. For me I can’t justify the $115 USD at this point. Knock that price down to $80 and I would have probably bought it.
Developers have to make this calculation too. We’ve heard PMDG, that their MSFS products may sell in high enough numbers that their impending 737 release may be significantly cheaper than past iterations. I similarly don’t want to spend $100 plus on a 737 but at a lower price point it might be easier to jump in and that calculation might be made enough times by enough people to achieve a net benefit in total dollars for sales.
How much is too much for you?
What do you think? I know some in the community have no problem dropping $115 on a module. Others will scoff at $20-30 for a module. How does that calculation work for you and are some of these higher priced offerings and the potential content benefits that they offer make it worth it to you or not? Let me know in the comments!