Posted by: adrianwerner | January 24, 2009

End of an era.

It’s official now, the news is all over the net
In case you haven’t heard  Microsoft has fired the almost all of ACES studio staff leaving few people to perform an orderly shutdown and service existing contracts. This likely marks an end (or hopefully just a longer vacation) for Flight Simulator franchise. FS is one of the longest running computer gaming franchises. It started in early 1980 and for Microsoft who picked up the license to port it to MS-DOS in 1982 it’s also their longest running project (yes, they’ve been publishing Flight Simulator longer than they’ve been publishing Windows). During it’s whole history it reshaped the whole flight simulation genre multiple times, brought this style of gaming to mainstream and proved you do not need violence to make a successful game. The franchise survived the tough competition from Flight Unlimited and other contenders (like FLY! and especially X-Plane), but it seems it wasn’t strong enough to survive Microsoft’s commitment to Xbox360. Because this isn’t just a possible end of Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise, this officialt  marks de facto an end of Microsoft as PC games publisher.

Five/ten years ago they were one of the main driving forces in PC gaming, now, less than a decade later they have basically completely moved out of it. Closure of ACES most likely mean the end for Microsoft Train Simulator 2 (for the second time already ! I feel sorry for fans of the franchise), which means the only upcoming game they have scheduled for PC is Alan Wake and so far the game is like a mirage almost rivaling Duke Nukem Forever and Elite 4. It’s probably safe to assume that in the future the only PC games we might see from MS will be some ports of old 360 games.

Since Xbox was announced we’ve often heard Microsoft reps assuring us PC gamers that they are still committed fully to PC gaming. Maybe we should have been less trustful, but when MS was shipping games like Rise of Nations or Freelancer we really had no reason to expect the worst. Then came the whole Games for Windows initiative. And we were once again assured how much MS is into PC gaming, we were promised a lot, what did we get? Let’s see what MS has done with their PC gaming division in the last few years.

  • Moved FASA franchises (Battletech, CrimsonSkies and Shadowrun) to Xbox, when they flopped there MS closed down FASA studios and sold the IPs. Not to mention that they didn’t extend the relationships with independent PC developers who worked on those franchises in their PC forms (especially Zipper is a good example, they went in to Playstation 2 where they created the popular SOCOM franchise and eventually got bought by Sony)
  • Moved Links and Midtown Madness to Xbox, they flopped there, so Access Software was sold to 2K
  • Let go of Digital Anvil teams who worked on PC Conquest: Frontier Wars and Loose Cannon. The remaining team was switched to Xbox to work on BruteForce, it flopped, MS as always closed them down.
  • Got rid of Ashersons Call franchise by selling it back to Turbine
  • Let Big Hug Games go (despite owning part of it), the company was bought by THQ
  • Canceled the MMORPG Mythica
  • Canceled MS Train Simulator 2 (it’s developed KUJU eventually restarted the project and released it as Rail Simulator through Electronic Arts)
  • Got rid of Marvel Online MMORPG, the devs went to Take2 where it became Champions Online
  • First switched Ensemble (their most successful PC dev and one that specialized in games that do not work all that well on consoles) to 360 to make Halo Wars and then when the game was almost done they announced the studio will be closed down when the game ships.
  • Zoo Tycoon IP is no longer in MS portfolio as the developer Blue Fang has switched publishers to THQ
  • They bought PC-centric Lionhead Studios and from that moment there’s just sound of crickets when asking about any upcoming PC projects they have.
  • Even some ports of console games MS published (namely Jade Empire and Mass Effect) weren’t published by Microsoft

Basically since MS announced their newly restored commitment to PC gaming they’ve systematically been wiping it out, switching whatever they could to Xbox and whatever they couldn’t switch they’ve closed down, sold or just let go.

the good old times…

It’s ironic that the company who has a monopoly in OS market, one that is creating tools that every PC developer uses has moved out of PC gaming market. I have  troubles thinking of any important publisher who actually has as little support for PC gaming. Yep, even Japanese console-centric publishers like Square Enix, Koei or Tecmo have  stronger line-up of PC games than Microsoft does.Heck… Sony has a lot stronger upcoming PC line-up, you can almost taste the irony
PC gamers who are old enough probably still remember Origin, Bullfrog and Westwood, when Electronic Arts closed them down they got a widespread reputation of an “Evil Empire”. Well, I think it’s safe to say that now we’ve seen Microsoft climb upon that iron throne, threw the emperor out and put the crown on their own head.

To be fair they did more than just destroy, but even this ended up badly. They’ve tried to make us PC gamers give up free online gaming on dedicated servers, something we love so much and instead make us pay for playing through P2P, just like 360 users are. Then they tried cross-platform play, which also crashed and burned. Both of those have failed and we can be really thankful for that.
The only project of theirs that somewhat succeeded was the GamesforWindows branding, except in reality all it did was add an ugly bar on top of PC boxes and  as it was a campaign aimed at increasing retail sales while looking as NPD’s data for sales of retail pc games in US last year it’s obvious they’ve failed at this.

On one of the sites I regularly visit I saw somebody comment that to Microsoft every PC gamer is a lost 360 gamer and it’s probably close to the truth as evident by this interview

If we launch a game that is on 360 and PC simultaneously, we basically shoot ourselves in the foot by allowing the German market to choose to play the PC version – because they are more likely to buy that than spend their money on the Xbox 360.  (…) If we launched a Halo game on PC and 360 in Germany simultaneously, 80 per cent of sales would be on the PC

Closing down developers isn’t anything new and unfortunately it’s also not something that happens rarely. But the reason why it happens are almost always weak sales. In this case though it’s different. MS didn’t just get rid of some under performing PC devs. Age of Empires franchise sold over 20 mln copies (Age of Empires 3 sold well over 2mln copies alone), Zoo Tycoon franchise has sold over 5 mln copies and finally Flight Simulator franchise was taken up in the Guinness Book of Records with 21 million copies sold per June 1999 and who knows how much more it sold since then considering Flight Simulator X sold over million copies in USA alone.
Those were very successful and popular franchises. And from financial standpoint putting Ensemble on console RTS project just didn’t make any sense.

Of course it’s natural, we might hate it, but it’s understandable. They have their console and they have to support it. Especially nowadays considering the tough economical situation when cuts have to be made it was I guess natural to see them fire PC developers instead of 360 ones. Plus they still own the IPs, so they can always outsource the development of them later on to other developers.

What irks me however is pretending that they still are committed to PC gaming, they’ve shown again and again that they aren’t. It’s like they’re treating us as idiots that will swallow everything they throw at us, no matter how much nonsense it is. In the same interview mentioned above the guy knowing well just how the situation with PC Games from Microsoft looks like had a nerve to say that to them both PC and 360 are “equaly important”. Please, for the love of God stop! A lot of us already feel stupid for falling for the whole “PC gaming is back!” nonsense, no need to rub it in even further.
And I swear, next time MS rep guy will say this nonsense during an interview and the guy who asks the questions won’t call him out on it I will send hate/flame mail to the MS guy, to the interviewer and to his damn editor. 😀

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Responses

  1. Amazing article Adrian! I agree 100% with everything you said. MS is fully committed to the xbox and it’s trying to push all pc gamers into buying it. Thank God there are people like you who show the rest of the world that PC gaming is alive and well, despite MS’s efforts.

  2. Great article! I’ve been saying much the same thing since MS released LIVE for Windows. I was pretty peaved when they got rid of ensemble and I would never have known the let go of Big Huge games if it wasn’t for your article. What’s to become of AoE and the Rise of series?! Surely they could find a way to make a decent profit on PC? MS just like the ultimate control they have with the X-box and esentially lack on PC.

  3. […] of Flight Simulator’s ACES team are back with a new studio Microsoft closing down ACES studio was a huge blow for both sim gamers and pcgaming community as a whole. It marked the end of the […]


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