One topic that I’m sure we all saw pop up constantly throughout 2017 in the gaming community was that of microtransactions. Although they’ve existed for years, special attention was put on them last year due to their rise in popularity. The consensus from gamers is that it’s a pretty bad business practice, which is a sentiment I agree with. Even so, microtransactions are a minor offense compared to what’s been happening for several years in the world of simulators. Three words: overpriced payware add-ons.
Although simulators are classified as games, they kind of fit into their own little corner of the industry. Many simulator fans (“hobbyists”) tend to invest quite a bit of money into their passion. This is a trait a lot of gamers share, but the difference here is that a number of sims almost demand an extra investment.
For this article, I’m going to mainly focus on the Microsoft Flight Simulator series—specifically FSX. But, a lot of the points that will be brought up apply to several other other well-known sims. The MS Flight Sim series is not just one of the oldest names in the genre, but it’s also the one that introduced a lot of people to the world of simulators, myself included. I’ve been a fan ever since I was a child, and still regularly play the last entry, FSX. In fact, I’m doing a flight as I write this article. Despite my love for this series, I’d say it’s also responsible for setting the trend of overpriced add-ons.
Looking back at the entries in the series from the late 90s up, you’ll find a growing number of add-ons with each new release. FS2004 and FSX in particular have an incredibly vast amount, and each of these sims is still being supported today despite being several years old. What has made their add-ons so attractive is that the base game feels rather empty. Since these are simulators, the quest for achieving realism is a priority for every serious player. With the default content being so basic and bland, this has created the perfect opportunity for add-on developers to swoop in and provide the realistic content that simmers are looking for.
What makes add-ons for a lot of simulators so popular is that the base games feel very empty.
Most of the add-ons for FS are, unsurprisingly, new airplanes. Next up would be detailed airports. But there are even more kinds, such as scenery upgrades and utilities that enhance the gameplay mechanics (or introduce new ones). While it’s cool to have such a wealth of additional content that legitimately enhances the experience, the problem is that it all ends up being quite an investment. A lot of these add-ons cost $20 at the least but are often quite more expensive. I find this to be, quite frankly, rather absurd. To put it into perspective, FSX: Steam Edition costs just $25. That’s right, there are add-ons that cost the same price as, and some even more than the actual game itself. I picked up FSX on Steam back in 2016 for $22.49 during the Summer Sale as part of a bundle that included five add-ons. Had I bought each of these add-ons individually, it would have cost me a whopping $90! That’s over three copies of the game itself! If this isn’t proof of how ridiculous the add-on price situation is, I don’t know what is.
If you really want to get a kick out of all this, just take a look at the “Downloadable Content” section of FSX’s Steam Store page. There are several add-ons available there, but not nearly all that’s out there. Even so, just this selection alone can all be bought for only a mere $4,613.52. I’m sorry, but what? I could use that money to buy a car, or even invest in a small apartment for a few months! But, remember how I mentioned earlier that FS isn’t the only sim that has this issue? It’s cousin, Train Simulator, has a whopping $7,509.73 worth of add-ons on Steam. Again, I have to say—I’m sorry, but WHAT?!
Now I know that there’s nobody out there who’s going to buy literally every piece of add-on content for any given simulator, but considering that the price of most of these single add-ons falls in the range of $20+, that’s what really makes it so annoying. In other genres of games, this is the price what one would pay for expansion packs; that is, packs that include several new pieces of content at once, not just one little new item. When it is one new item, usually the cost would only be $2 a piece or a little more than that. Clearly a big difference.
As nice as some payware add-ons are, I find it hard to justify spending $20+ on a single new plane when entire expansion packs in many other games cost a similar amount.
Another reason why this situation annoys me so much is that these ‘payware’ products are not the only type of additional content. On the flip side, there are freeware add-ons. While the vast majority of these are not nearly as polished as their payware counterparts, they’re still good enough for a lot of simmers to enjoy. I have quite a bit of add-ons for FSX, and 99% of them are freeware. The detail of a lot of the payware content is alluring, but the price continuously keeps me turned off from buying. The few times I have a made a purchase has always been during a decent sale. When I find a new airport I want to visit or a new plane I want to fly, I always first check to see if there’s a freeware add-on available. If there isn’t, then I just let the desire go, even if there’s a payware option available. What’s really made the price-gouging of these sim add-ons so clear to me is that in the age of constant digital sales across PC and consoles, along with the rise of indie games, the price of gaming seems to be a lot more balanced. You don’t have to break the bank unless you really want to. So, when I see the price of these add-ons, I look at it from the perspective of: “Am I going to spend the same amount of money on a single new add-on that I can use for an entirely new game (or two)?” It just isn’t worth it, in my opinion.
Still, despite the absurdity of it all, I already know that this is a “problem” that won’t be addressed. If this really were a massive issue, simmers wouldn’t be continuously supporting the greedy companies that profit off selling these overpriced add-ons. Like I said earlier, this has been going on for several years, and it’s clearly not going away anytime soon. Even so, I’m thankfully not the only one turned off by this whole thing. As I was looking up the aforementioned total price of the Train Simulator Steam add-ons, I saw a comment with someone complaining about how the base game is so empty, clearly encouraging players to purchase the add-ons. Their main point was that they couldn’t justify investing in the game for a complete experience, and I totally agree with that. This shouldn’t be the case at all, but unfortunately, that’s how a lot of these simulators are.
Thankfully, they’re not all bad apples. For instance, popular sims like American Truck Simulator/Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Farming Simulator 17 have massive modding communities that do a pretty amazing job at consistently supplying quality free content. While there is official DLC for all of these games, they’re far more fairly priced than the likes of sims like FSX and Train Simulator. Kudos to all the hard-working modders out there across all the different simulators. In the face of this price-gouging, these guys are a big help to millions of sim fans everywhere.