Rumours that Microsoft's Vancouver studio had been completely shut down were swirling around the internet this morning, but in a statement to Gamespot, the company has specified that the studio will survive despite cuts. One of the projects that will cease, however, is Microsoft Flight, which means Tim Stone's desire for "jets, smuggling, and air-sea rescues...via DLC" is likely to be forever unfulfilled, at least in this game. The free to play title seemed to have been designed as an expanding world but there will be no growth now. Our thoughts are with those whose jobs are affected, on this and other projects. Statement below.
"Microsoft Studios has decided to end development on Microsoft Flight and Project Columbia [a Kinect game]. As a result of this action, some positions within the development teams have been eliminated. Microsoft human resources is working with the affected individuals to find new roles within the company.
"Microsoft Studios is invested in British Columbia and still has several teams, both in Vancouver and Victoria, which will continue to produce the best entertainment and gaming experiences possible."
It's tempting to look at this as a failure of the free to play model and I'm going to at least partly give in to that temptation, although it's also worth noting that this is the second flight simulation team to be closed by Microsoft in recent years. Maybe they just briefly forgot that they hate planes.
In terms of the model, it would be interesting to see what the average amount spent by people who played for at least a couple of hours was. There are so many questions about free to play that will only be easily answered once there have been a few successes and failures. Apart from the specifics of price points and the frequency of new content, queries must be made about how long a game should be allowed to exist in order to win over a paying audience.
How long does it take for players to start spending significantly, particularly in a non-competitive game? Even if I'm enjoying myself, I'll often exhaust the content that's there before spending some cash for more, which means I'm probably a bad customer for the first few months.
Of course, there might be other factors responsible for Flight's fate, including the general health of the Vancouver development scene, but it's hard not to think the sim didn't really have a chance. When it's navigable area was unveiled, the clouds parting, I assumed it would be growing and growing and growing, until planes were flying across the entire globe and even across the surface of the moon. It's terrible to think of a game in terms of the business lessons it holds rather than the enjoyment it can bring, but with Flight seemingly not given a fighting chance, what can its short voyage teach anyone?