A Bolt From The Blue: ACES Gone

By Tim Stone on January 24th, 2009 at 1:49 am.

Some staggering news from Redmond via Gamasutra. Microsoft have just euthanised the most successful sim studio of all time. ACES, the team behind the Flight Simulator and Combat Flight Simulator franchises, are effectively no more. A skeleton staff of six will be kept on to service existing ESP contracts but it’s curtains for everyone else. Blimey.

 

Read on for ill-informed speculation.

 

What this means for the phenomenon that is Flight Simulator is, frankly, anybody’s guess. Phil Taylor suggests a rump of staff may keep the franchise ticking over. FS11 is obviously not going to happen now, but perhaps, with luck, the sim will inch forward through official Acceleration-like expansion packs. With hardware just starting to catch-up with the beautiful-but-needy FSX, and the independent add-on sector as productive as ever, it’s hard to imagine this much-loved series fading from view any time soon.

 

The only casualty of the closure may turn out to be ACES’ ambitious Train Simulator sequel (the first train game to feature a seamless global scenery a la FS). The last time an incomplete MSTS sequel hit the buffers, the project eventually made it onto shelves as Rail Simulator. The immature TS2 might not be so lucky.

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60 Comments »

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  1. Sum0 says:

    Whoa.

    That was unexpected.

    As a FS fan since 98, I’m a little worried about the future of this venerable PC institution. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I was looking forward to Train Simulator too. (Okay, I am a little ashamed.)

  2. subedii says:

    I thought the Flight Sim franchise was still making money? Aside from largely being the definitive product in the genre, it’s got little actual competition either.

    Bah, first Ensemble, now this.

  3. Mythrilfan says:

    Curses! You were just

  4. Cedge says:

    Shit. I’ve had my hopes up about TS2 for years now. Figures that they’d get me all excited about it for the last two years, and then dump it within a year of completion.

    So with ACES, Carbonated Games, and Ensemble all gone within a year of each other, I have to wonder how much longer Lionhead and Rare have left…?

  5. Mythrilfan says:

    […] minutes ahead of me there. And I should really learn how to post links correctly, because saying “http://thereticule.com/2009/01/24/developers-of-the-microsoft-flight-simulator-series-shown-the-door/” isn’t going to do me favors.

  6. Ging says:

    I’d be surprised if MS killed off the FS series completely (though, I’ve no idea as to sales numbers for it these days) – they might skip 11 and come back in a couple of years with FS 2010 or equivalent.

    Actually, it would be interesting to see a graph of FS sales figures since it’s first release – how much (if at all) has it’s popularity waxed and waned? FSX was a troublesome one (and quite possibly the cause of this pruning) as it had such high system requirements.

  7. Pags says:

    Well damn. Here was me thinking that “MS Flight sim crashes and burns” topic in the forums was just another person having hardware difficulties with the beast that is FSX.

    Sad news indeed. I may just have to jump back in my Beechcraft Baron 58 and roll one last time for ACES.

    Also, I like the choice of screenshot for this article.

  8. Jonas says:

    WHAT first Ensemble and now ACES!? Does Microsoft not like owning successful game studios?

  9. MeestaNob! says:

    Surely this was a steady stream of money for them every 2 years? WTF are they doing?

  10. pirate0r says:

    RIP ACES, i will forever miss your flight simy goodness :(

  11. qrter says:

    Aside from largely being the definitive product in the genre, it’s got little actual competition either.

    This does make me wonder – how much of a success is your product if there’s little competition?

  12. AdrianWerner says:

    @qrter
    This does make me wonder – how much of a success is your product if there’s little competition?
    It did survive when it’s two main competitors (Flight Unlimited and FLY!) passed away :) Plus there’s always X-Plane to compete with FS

    What really irks me is how much nonsense Microsoft’s commitment to PCgaming has turned out to be. We’ve seen MS reps assure us PCgamers how much they care, that they will be giving PCgaming more focus etc. And during all that all they’ve done is:

    -closed down Ensemble, Digital Anvil

    -Sold of Access (or rather their remains) along with their IPs

    -moved every franchise they could to 360 and even when it failed there (like Links or Bettletech) they still didn’t bring it back to PC

    -let go of their publishing relationships with Blue Fang, BigHugeGames, KUJU and Turbine

    -canceled MS Train Sim 2(and now it looks like they will cancel it once again) and Mythica

    Bassicaly MS has during the last few years completely killed anything PCgames related they had. less than a decade ago MS was a huge PCgames publisher, not Sega is bigger PCgames publisher than MS. The only thing MS has done was an attempt to force us pcgamers to pay for playing online.

    Really, I understand MS is all 360 now and nobody can blame them, but can they please stop saying how important PCgaming is to them? it reeks of falsehood and it feels like they are treating us pcgamers as idiots. Why doesn’t any interviewer call them out on this BS?

  13. James O says:

    Someone at the office joked that we (MSGS) kill off one studio every year – Digital Anvil in ’06, FASA in ’07, and Ensemble in ’08. Looks like the ’09 entry is coming early. I can’t imagine why they’d kill off yet another profitable high-equity franchise – in a volatile industry like video game development, surely it’s important to hang onto the reliable successes you create to help fund more risky ventures later.

  14. Rich_P says:

    Games are one of the main reasons to use Windows. Creating games for Windows means more people will use Windows. Good for MS, good for PC gamers. Shame that MS is divesting itself of good PC game studios (and then protecting the Xbox from PC competition — remember the MS exec who said Halo would sell better on the PC in Europe if release simultaneously?)

    Interestingly, sales of Windows and Office make the hugely expensive Xbox endeavor possible.

  15. Kanakotka says:

    Personally, i don’t think this thing is such a bad one afterall. While FS series has been great fun, the engine has always been somewhat demanding… and to be honest, IL2 – Sturmovik’s engine very much one-upped Flight Simulators badly. Sure, it doesn’t have seamless global scenery, but it gives much better graphics with much lower requirements… and the flight just seems so much more… real.

    Also, there’s a certain amount of glee from watching your plane break into million pieces from plummeting down from the sky, instead of just the game pausing up with a fully intact plane balancing on it’s nose on the ground.

  16. Heliocentric says:

    Yeah, aces couldn’t make 360 games that were viable so they go.

    But what about halo wars? What if its an awesome success?

    The guys who make flight sim must go indie or find a new publisher. There is too much experience for them to fade away.

    Rare and lionhead are safe, they make 360 games now. The way microsoft see it every pc gamer is a lost 360 subscription.

    Thankfully pc is open platform, but xp might be the last os for real gamers. I don’t see windows 7 doing anything useful in light of all this.

  17. Jazmeister says:

    To think I came here specifically to tip you off about this. It’s the morning after! I hate not being at my computer 24/7.

  18. Winterborn says:

    That’s a shame. I was hoping for another Combat Flight Simulator.

    Though what I really want is a good WWI flight sim with campaign mode ala Red Baron.

  19. Katsumoto (jvgp100) says:

    This is indeed very sad news – I spent the entire summer playing nothing but FSX and was really looking forward to the next one. I majorly geeked out on it with a mate, we got our pcs together and did a flight in a Cessna from Aberdeen to New York, calculating how many fuel stops we’d need etc.

    One of the best multiplayer games ever! I really hope the guys form their own studio or get bought up by someone else.

  20. Katsumoto (jvgp100) says:

    In two cessnas side by side that is, not just one. That would have been very boring, whereas in fact it was just awesome.

  21. Dinger says:

    Absolutely moronic. In his post over at The Reticule Mythril points out the Apple version of Flight Simulator was released in 1979 Bruce Artwick purportedly started working on it in 1976, and according to Wikipedia, was selling it for the Altair 8800 in 1977. That’s 33 years of continuous development history for a marketed PC software title. Not even DOS/Windows is as old. So this is probably the oldest continuously developed PC program.
    33 years of market research can give you a pretty good idea of how many people will buy your product. And, unlike so many PC Games, Flight Simulator has assets that don’t ride the elevators, not to mention a huge secondary market.
    So, sure, I can see reorganizing, or scaling down to meet what the market will buy. But it’s one of the few software titles out there where you can guarantee sales of anything bearing that badge and that code.

    I remember playing the first FS on the Apple, and the “high resolution” terrain that would appear when the gear came down (to help with landings on a black-and-white screen at 320×200 or whatever it was). It’s astonishing to see such a piece of history meet such an incomprehensible end.

  22. mandrill says:

    My suggestion: Open Source it. I’m not an FS man myself and will admit to having a stereotype of the kind of person who is in my head, I would imagine that the FS community (who build terrain packs and other gubbins as a matter of course) would keep it alive.

    but then its M$ so that’snever going to happen.

  23. Optimaximal says:

    Thankfully pc is open platform, but xp might be the last os for real gamers. I don’t see windows 7 doing anything useful in light of all this.

    Have you used the Beta? It has a similar memory footprint to XP and a much more responsive interface and common-sense design approach than Vista. It’s more likely to be XP’s death knell.

  24. Dinger says:

    Optimal — it’s only a beta.

    Microsoft appear to be determined to keep the “Flight Simulator” name, and release something under Live (as they once tried to build the Zone around MSFS). In the meantime, they’ll just fire the dev staff. It’s been said here and elsewhere, the flight model for MSFS kinda sucks, but in the short term, Microsoft’s abandoning of a whole market leaves a vacuum.

    Maybe someone can leverage a base of elevation data and satellite imagery, experience is multiplatform development and internet-based software and produce a replacement? Maybe that’s why M$ is claiming that FS isn’t dead, just everyone involved in it.

  25. Heliocentric says:

    @dinger
    True they have lots of time to “fix” it.

  26. teo says:

    This and Ensamble really shows how much MS (doesn’t) care about PC gaming

    I think it might come back to bite them in the ass. The reason I use Windows is because of games and I know that’s the case for a lot of other people too

  27. Arnulf says:

    Rich_P says:

    Games are one of the main reasons to use Windows. Creating games for Windows means more people will use Windows. Good for MS, good for PC gamers.

    This.

    Doesn’t Microsoft realize that much of Windows’ success hinges on the gamers? I would gladly abolish (overpriced) Windows software in favour of Linux and/or MacOS X if I could play games on these without much hassles.

  28. Ravenger says:

    @Optimaximal

    Windows 7 is up to 40% less efficient than XP according to a recent article, and it performs exactly the same as Vista. Windows 7 is just Vista with a sugar coating.

    http://www.infoworld.com/article/09/01/22/03TC-windows-multicore_1.html

  29. drewski says:

    lulz at people saying Windows is overpriced compared to Macs…

  30. Markoff Chaney says:

    The pricing of Windows may not be too out of line when compared to Macintosh(R(TM(C))) but when you hit a Linux distro the pricing difference becomes one that is, literally, exponentially infinite. I won’t go into my anger at Microsoft’s breaking, already, of 2 of the cardinal sins of console development (low cycle life and horrible failure rates) but the fact that they don’t push their pre-existing gaming environment with hundreds of millions large installed user base is the part that confuses and angers me the most. You are working on it’s SEVENTH iteration! Support games on it!

    I can absolutely and definitively state that the only reason I still use a Microsoft operating system is because of gaming. Linux can do everything I need (as far as a surfing / downloading / burning / viewing / creating machine) right now other than play a lot of games. Recently, however, many indy developers are realizing it’s important to try to capture the linux market, and that’s a good thing. Speaking as purely a consumer, I think that would be wonderful. Maybe gamers as a group can swing further and further away from reliance on an operating system whose very creators are in direct competition with getting you the games you want to play because they have a vested interest in getting it on their other proprietary hardware solution solely or first. Bah.

    Kill the longest running game series development house? I hope you kept all your Vista developers. Bastages.

    -EDITed for clarity and because I can-

  31. Haggis says:

    Rich_P – that is no longer the case, MS won the operating system wars a long time ago. It no longer needs to support PC gaming as it brings it wery little money in the grand scheme of things.

    Everything MS learnt from PC gaming it applied to the Xbox project which is where its focus is now.

    Ravenger – an anti-ms site claims beta 1 is slower, excuse me while I laugh out loud at their win 7 BETA 1 claims. Any reputable site shows otherwise and some us do not consider WinXP the pinnacle of operating systems.

    MS isn’t intentionally picking on PC gaming but shedding itself of things it doesn’t really need (zune is getting hit hard too) as are other divisions like game testing and some internal MS game studios (not Lionhead/Rare).

  32. Ziv says:

    @drewski: windows IS overpriced compared to mac even though buying a mac is much more expensive than a windows w/ a PC. mac software is more complete and gets updated frequently (even though you have to pay for the updates) these computers give you more sense of speed in working than windows wich gets stuck transffering a file from my DOK to the desktop.

  33. Ziv says:

    one more thing @Ravenger:
    This article is full of shit! it’s their own tests which weren’t used anywhere else and they don’t tell you what they do, if they would’ve used PCmark vantage or something proven like that I would take the results but comparing how many CPU cycles it’s taken to do a task????? if you don’t have the code in front of you it doesn’t mean shit! 500% more?? serioulsly do you think this number even makes sense? until I see tests using proven systems I don’t believe you and I just hope other people won’t believe you too.

  34. jalf says:

    Ravenger: Isn’t it a shame that the article doesn’t provide a single verifiable fact? If I wrote on my blog that my testing had shown a Ferrari to be 83% slower than Linux, would that make it true (or meaningful)?

    I’ve been using the Win7 beta for a few weeks now, and you know why? Because it runs at least as well as XP. This is a beta version, and even now, it compares favorably to XP performance-wise. Vista, of course, is left in the dust completely.

    As for your article, it is hard to take seriously. Where are their benchmarks? Where do they say which hardware they tested on, exactly which tests they ran and so on? If their results aren’t reproducible, they’re worthless.

    Anyway, why are we talking about Windows performance and pricing, again?

  35. Buemba says:

    Real top notch commitment to PC gaming, Microsoft. It’s funny to go back 2 years to see all the great promises they made with their GFW initiative and look where we are now.

    Thank god companies like Valve, Blizzard and Stardock are around. And say what you will about Ubisoft, Activision or EA, but at least they also release good PC versions of most of their noteworthy games.

  36. Funky Badger says:

    Don’t fret for the devs or the game line – if it was profitable (and promised ongoing profits) someone will back it. EA perhaps.

    Law of the market, and that…

  37. macc says:

    The Commies will fill the gap!! They already make the best military flight sims (Il2, Lock On, Black shark).

  38. Thingus says:

    When did this turn into a Windows 7 article? :S

    One of my first memories of computer gaming was watching my grandad on FS 98 ( I think). Watching him fly into buildings again and again and again never got old :D

    That said, I haven’t brought a FS game, or even any kind of flight sim (not including Crimson Skies :P), in my self-financed gaming life. So, it’s sad, but I don’t think I’ll miss the line that much.

  39. Phil White says:

    MS care about good business. The PC isn’t as commercially viable as the 360; not by a long shot.

    My motherboard is four years old. I have no intention to upgrade in the near future, having done so every couple of years between ’96 and ’02. I think there are lots more like me, who can’t be bothered keeping up any more.

    I would buy some new bits if Live for Speed S3 could take advantage of them; or if SWAT 5 appeared; or if ArmA/OFP 2 are better than I’m expecting. Another Thief…

  40. Erlam says:

    I think the 155 million (or however many) people who own PC’s make it a little more commercially viable than the 360. Just a little though ;)

  41. jackflash says:

    Yeah no surprise there. It’s all part of Microsoft’s strategy of killing the PC as a game platform so they can take over your living room with the 360. Fuckers.

  42. SavageD says:

    I use Windows mainly because I have to in order to game PC style. Other than that, there’d be no reason for me to use it except for a lazy familiarity and a deep seated fear of that scary bloody Linux Penguin. So, Windows it is then…

    On the flight-sim-options side though, X-Plane is looking better and better with each version (up to v9.20 now). It already kicked MSFS’s bottom re: the actual simage of flight, and mainstream accessibility’s only going to improve.

    It’s a little more hardcore than MSFS but there are Linux, Mac AND Windows versions available now too (not to mention a mini version for iPhone/iPod touch).

    It’s a shame that MSFS is gone, but MS made sure it remained more of a flight ‘game’ than flight ‘sim’ when viewed side by side with the likes of X-Plane.

  43. Hosidax says:

    Maybe there is hope: think iRacing. The main guy(s) from Papyrus have moved on to make an incredible online sim experience .

    Maybe the brains behind FSX development could talk to a baseball mogul that likes airplanes and get financing to create a similar product.

    Built from scratch (like iRacing apparently was) could offer a hug opportunity. I’d pay for a subscription to that.

    (“iPlane”..?).

  44. minipixel says:

    So, the long term view of the pc market for Ms seems to be about two things:
    Gaming – the good old “insert coin”.
    Working – the new cluod computing / Live crap.
    Am I wrong?

  45. minipixel says:

    @Hosidax:
    iRacing wasn’t built from scratch at all. There was a lot of attrition between them and the community because they were building the new sim from the Nascar Racing 2003 engine and they threatened legal actions against modders.
    Sad story.

  46. Tei says:

    I use windows for gamming, because making games run under wine is a absolute pain. Even If you make the games run under wine, is poorly.
    I like the games you can run nativelly in Linux. Stuff like Nexuiz, OpenArena, Tremulous, Warsow, and others… but having only like 8 options gets boring, and a plus for windows gamming is just playing new stuff, even if is bad, the “OHH new stuff” is cool. It seems i am a graphipwhore, and a freshwhore.

  47. Mo says:

    DirectX is one of the most important things that has happened to PC gaming. To say that Microsoft don’t care about PC gaming is ridiculous.

  48. Tei says:

    I think Microsoft want to move all the windows gamers to console. Where have more control, set the prices for thenselves and others (and don’t like free stuff).

    Direct-X hurt gamming, because force most game developpers to stuck on windows, that is a awnfull OS.

  49. Heliocentric says:

    Direct x is a honey trap. It was a way of controlling development. Nothing else.