The prominence of independent developers criticising Microsoft over its management of the MSFS Marketplace has grown in recent weeks. Concerns including the lead time for updates and product releases, Microsoft’s cut of revenue, and poor quality addons being distributed through the marketplace have been raised.
But how founded are these concerns, and what can Microsoft do to resolve them? Let’s take a look.
In its current form, the MSFS Marketplace features a wide array of addons for the simulator, ranging from aircraft and airports, to traffic packs, to more quirky offerings such as vehicles and boats. It includes both free and payware, with the products coming both from independent developers, as well as from Asobo and Microsoft themselves – the Top Gun: Maverick expansion was distributed via the Marketplace, for example.
It is also the distrubution platform for updates to products purchased via it – if you buy an addon airport from the Marketplace, subsequent updates to that airport will be downloaded from it too.
The Marketplace is managed solely by the Microsoft Flight Simulator team, and this is the first cause of contention: developers wanting to release a product on the Marketplace need to first submit that final build to Microsoft for it to be tested and screened prior to release. It is understood that this process can take up to eight weeks, with even longer times also being claimed in some cases. The same is true for updates to that product: once the update is ready, it needs to be submitted to Microsoft before it can be downloaded by users.
While the process is time-consuming and therefore inherently frustrating, it is an inevitability given Microsoft is at least partially liable for the products available on the Marketplace. If a rogue developer was to (deliberately or inadvertently) ship a virus within an addon available on the Marketplace, for example, that would likely have serious repercussions for Microsoft both legally and reputationally. Equally, if a product is made available on the Marketplace and includes fundamental bugs and flaws, that also reflects poorly on Microsoft, in addition to the original developer.
Developers have the option to and do distribute their products elsewhere for PC users – vendors like simMarket and Orbx offer efficient installation systems, and far shorter lead times for new builds of a product to become available to users. That said, the way in which the Marketplace is integrated within the simulator, and it being the only way for Xbox users to access addons, make it unlikely that developers would entirely abandon it.
Then we come to the second issue being raised: the cut Microsoft takes from Marketplace purchases. This is admittedly standard across the industry – Apple, Google, and Amazon all charge a 30 percent platform fee on digital products made available on their marketplaces, for example. It’s understood that the cut Microsoft takes from purchases on its Marketplace is in a similar region. Clearly, this results in financial considerations for developers.
Finally, concern has been raised in the past around the inclusion of so-called ‘low quality’ addons on the Marketplace. The inclusion of Captain Sim’s “C-130 Exterior” on the Marketplace, for example, drew considerable ridicule.
The extent to which these concerns and more are aired by developers publicly has grown in recent weeks.
In January, Edson Soriano, managing director at Parallel 42, took to Twitter to criticise the Marketplace’s “unreasonable deployment times, exorbitant (flat) royalties for developers, and horrible communication with the “partners” they love to flex to you, the community”.
In a thread, he added that “release hype” had to be duplicated to accommodate for the “slow pace” of Microsoft’s build approval process, saying “pre-tested content [is] in queues for months before release, [and] updates take forever to get to customers.”
Separately, he raised the concern around the quality of addons being allowed on to the Marketplace: “Week after week, we get a peek at what was clogging up the pipe…bottom of the barrel releases absolutely flooding the pipeline. Addons that are hobby-ware quality at best. Why not have a premiere partners program? Get quality software to the people first.”
Speaking to MSFS Addons, Got Friends said: “It’s not uncommon for the holiday season to slow down release time-frames for any project. The biggest bottleneck for us recently was the localization file. This file is responsible for containing translations of marketplace data to roughly 11 different languages. It is provided by the Microsoft Marketplace Team and they usually take the longest time during the ingestion process.”
“Jorg Numan, Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator, has recently touched on this subject during a public Dev Q&A. It seems like this conversation has started to gauge developer and community feedback in regards to how long the process takes. He also mentioned allowing the option for marketplace releases in English only that have faster releases opposed to multi-lingual ones that take more time. That said, on the public Q&A, it sounds like they are aware of the issues and looking for intuitive solutions.”
SoFly, known for its MSFS guide and missions, has also addressed the ongoing Marketplace issues. In January 2023 blog post, the team wrote: “It’s no secret that the process of getting products into the in-sim Marketplace is a long process. By the time a product is ready, it then needs to be sent to them, tested, and ultimately then be released on a weekly basis. How that process -actually- works is a mystery to many – including us.”
The team revealed that while its products took just four weeks to reach the Marketplace a year ago, the time taken is now at least twice as much. It summarised the issues into five areas:
- Customers have a worse experience due to the lengthy delays on updates
- Xbox customers have to wait longer for a product release than anyone else and they are bound by the timeframes set
- Our business is impacted as we cannot plan releases in a timely fashion
- Customers get frustrated with us when we cannot give them an accurate release date
- Microsoft/Asobo get inundated with requests from developers/customers about when products will be released, which may contribute to the delay
Miltech Simulations has echoed this, recently calling on PC customers to use ORBX instead instead of the Marketplace: “Not only you’ll have a better experience and get updates faster, but also you’ll get a discount a 20% discount applied to your order”, it said via Facebook.
The way forward
It’s clear that the relationship between developers using the Marketplace and Microsoft is growing fragile; what appears to previously have been behind closed door frustration is now crossing into vocal and public criticism.
This is undeniably a problem for Microsoft – these are developers with loyal fanbases who will inevitably have their perception of Microsoft influenced by such criticism.
There does however appear to be a positive acknowledgment and appreciation, across the community, that a thriving Marketplace is good for users and developers alike. While the revenue cut Microsoft takes and the delay in products and updates being made available to the community are undoubtedly sticking points, there does not seem to be any sign of developers abandoning the Marketplace.
That said, there is clearly room for improvement, with the first step being Microsoft recognising that problems exist.
Indeed Jorg Neumann, head of Microsoft Flight Simulator, recognised that addressed some of the concerns raised by developers in a recent developer Q&A.
He expressed a desire for increased transparency with developers seeking clarification on their status with the Marketplace, and added that he wanted updates to be processed “faster”. He said processing these updates “sometimes [takes] a few weeks and sometimes even more and that is not okay”, adding that there are “plans” to reduce this.
The delay, he said, is partially attributed to the Microsoft team needing to test addons internally ahead of release: a task he described as “overwhelming.”
He said as a result the team was “really seriously thinking about opening it up so the developers can test it themselves in a particular safe method…I think that will help a tonne.”
Microsoft did not directly respond to a request for comment from MSFS Addons.