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The Simulation Game


The Simulation GameIn an industry obsessed with franchise building, the closure of Microsoft’s Aces Game Studio was an ambiguous decision. The steward of the Flight Simulator series wasn’t generating the revenue of a Modern Warfare or a Halo, but nobody was expecting it to. Aces was steadily evolving a property established in 1982, one synonymous with the entire genre; it had a loyal following and turned a steady profit. At around the same time, Microsoft also closed Ensemble Studios, despite a long history of strong sales and great games. It wasn’t about talent. It was about “restructuring”.

More than a year later, former Aces employee Kathie Flood is still baffled. “We simply don’t know,” she admits. “Both studio closures were puzzling, given the rabid enthusiasm of their audiences and the consistent profitability of their titles. Microsoft is a big company. The decision was made outside of the Aces Studio itself, and we weren’t privy to the details [of] how or why the decision was made. In hindsight, it provided a tremendous opportunity for us to work on our own game designs, which we’re extremely excited about.”

Flood’s new venture is Cascade Game Foundry, which she established with Rick Selby and several other Aces veterans. The breadth of Microsoft’s game business means that the Cascade team is drawing from experience on projects that fall far outside of the simulation genre, including the Project Gotham Racing series, the Halo trilogy, and Fable 3. More to the point, working within such a vast company has left Flood and Selby – who are Cascade’s managing director and creative director respectively – with an insight into business that few start-ups possess.

“We truly loved our jobs working on games at Microsoft and they gave us the skills that make it possible for us to build our own studio now,” she says. “It’s critical to know your audience, listen to them, and involve them early and throughout the development process. In a similar way, it’s critical to know your team, listen to them, and do whatever you can to empower them to do their best work, as well as provide compelling opportunities for growth and innovation. The other big takeaway is to establish a clear vision and stay focussed on its delivery. Everyone on the team needs to know that their work directly impacts the delivery of that vision.”

However, while a corporate super-structure like Microsoft can support a niche franchise like Flight Simulator, Cascade will find it necessary to raise its ambitions. The studio has some of the most talented simulation designers in the business, but it will live or die on its unit sales, and the traditional simulation audience is too select to offer much security. Factor in the challenging economic conditions, and turning Aces’ quiet success into something that can sustain an independent business seems a daunting challenge.

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  1. CocoFSX

    Hm, sounds like there won't be any new FlightSimulator for GA as we know it, most likely only some arcade half-baked product for the stupid Xbox console generation. No thanks, I'll rather spend my money with real hard core flight sims out there like DCS, Il-2/Storm of War, Rise of Flight, Condor Soaring, etc.. I've been your customer since late 1980s, shame on you…

  2. Fan of FS

    Good luck you all. I can't wait to see what you all develop. I am sure it will be great!

  3. John

    My thoughts exactly. Flight Simulation generated millions of dollars, then millions more with add ons and such from other companies. Flightgear (with major upgrades) or X-Plane will take the stance in FS's place shortly. If they let it linger too long, the FS community will not bring these guys much profit. They need to focus one day a week on building a new FS platform. The rest of the week they can play with the run and gun, or squeal and peel, platforms that sell faster initially, but die out a month later when the next new release from another company pushes out.
    Flight Simulation brought money many months down the road. They said it themselves. FS generated a steady flow of cash, which is what a start up company should need if they are to make it through the first gate on the long track. 20 million on a game title in 2 weeks is great,reaching 45million withing 6 months, but 70 million over the course of a year is even better. Hundreds of thousands of MSFS95, 98, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007(FSX) were sold. The total income from just 2002 was superb. Being well over 150,000 copies its first week in stores. At $60 a copy of professional, atleast 25000 sold the first week, is 1.5 million. After a month, over 150,000 copies of the professional edition were sold. Total, 3million + copies sold worldwide. This was just the first six months. Now, people are STILL purchasing it online, generating an income of about 1,000 a week for FSX. The overall experience kept people coming back and purchasing the newer version, even some 3 years later. They say its not strong enough, I say bullsh!t. Try again with a dumber audience.

    ACES is truly dead. They rest is peace.
    This cascade game foundry will never do what ACES did.

  4. Rocky Northwest

    It was a dark day for me when they shut down ACES. I was really looking forward to the new TS and was putting off buying a new computer until it was released. If Cascade makes anything close to what I saw, I'll be first in line to buy that as well as any FS they develop.

  5. Arul dass P.M

    Expecting the best and new from you soon as possible, the more you delay the more you loose supporters, because as you know the X-plane is speeding up. But the flight simulator is far better, so please try your best sooner, the better. Thanks.

  6. Skyraider

    Dumbing down good simulation and other types of games to get a wider audience has never worked. Hardcore simmers go: “What's this dumb stuff?” and casual console gamers go: “Why do I need to put effort into this dumb stuff?”. I got one word: X-Plane 🙂

  7. Zane

    I would like to see more nature/life simulators that are less goal directed and more awe inspiring thought provoking. I'm talking about real simulators ala Boxless Imaging's Earth: World of Fish.

  8. Northern Warrior

    A new train sim would be nice but with Railworks, Trainz and residual MSTS still going strong it will need to be something special in order to succeed. Personally I would like to see an integrated transport simulation set in the real world where you can fly planes, operate ships and drive trains/road vehicles to your destination. Then you can alight at Yosemite and do a virtual “climb” of El Capitan – another sim it was rumoured Cascade were working on.

  9. Ronpiper

    I don’t necessarily agree with some of the other posts. One of my favorite kick back games was A-10 Cuba. It was a good combination of flight sims and arcade games.  I would like to see a new version of A-10, Where one does not have to spend a year learning to fly it and use its weapons.       I would really like to see a new flight sim based on UAV’s.  Shooting and bombing enemy tanks an so forth with missles and bombs.       Emeraldstein

  10. Adnane

    I don’t agree with some older posts here! It’s Human Resources that make a start-up or a huge corprate like Microsoft successful not the other way around! These guys know what simulation is about and they decided to go further and rise to the challenge in order to adress the gap left by Microsoft who, IMHO, didn’t care about their long time FS fans and, instead, took a whole different direction with their new “FLIGHT” which is more of an arcade game than a true simulation.

    I personally believe that poeple at CGF will give their best and take advantage of their experience to give us some appealing simulations. Best of luck guys!!!

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