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GaryGB

A question to the small commercial designers

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I got a bit of a slap in the face this week when I found out that the scenery I've been toiling over for the past year stands the real danger of without warning being eclipsed by a large agressive corporation. Now as all of you know from my posts on scenery design forums and my contributions in software, I've created a small company called Simulating Art and focused on the Phoenix area. Before I went commercial I double and triple checked to ensure no other designer that frequents the forums was working on this area. I have to tell you I was greatly surprised nobody else was working on it. A week or so ago I was just beginning the final beta phase towards release of my Version 2 of the Phoenix scenery when I got solid clues that Megascenery was about to release their own version. One of the clues came from their own website where they were soliciting their users to help them provide autogen for a handful of scenery tiles in exchange for free products. The example tile they had in their forums was clearly the Phoenix area or some Southwestern city. My own customers have told me that they just received emails telling them of the impending June 1st release. Needless to say small companies cannot reasonably compete with the huge marketing blitz available to a company like Megascenery which you see boxed in stores wherever software is sold. I have no doubt that my own loyal customer base will still support my company as they have since I've released (in a rush) my second version and I'm told that Megascenery's quality and attention to detail comes nowhere near what I put into my packages. My problem is this. Obviously, I want new customers as well for my efforts and this is where I'll be stung. Simmers with a few extra bucks in their pockets and an interest in Phoenix simply won't get to me through the deluge of marketing Megascenery is capable of.I am a firm believer in free enterprise and have no beef at all with the absolute right a firm like Megascery has to take on any area they desire. What rubs me wrong in this case is that the world is huge, aerial photos are prolific and it seems to me that an ethical threshold has been crossed. What's made this industry special is the level of cooperation I've seen in flightsim designers. Sure, there's rivalries between the corporate giants in the release of aircraft but there's plenty of market share to go around in those cases. Why go after a small player that's carved out a tiny niche and has tried hard to stay above board and support the rest of the industry?I'm curious if this type of thing has happened to any of the rest of you and how you handled it. There's a real burning in me to go out to the more public forums and attack back a bit here. What's so crazy is that all this could've been avoided had someone been up front to me about all this instead of shrouding it all in secrecy.Please don't turn this into a debate about whether we should all be freeware distributers. That's been long debated and it makes no difference to me in this issue. Oh, and one last thought that has a real irony to it. I wonder how many Megascenery customers, out to get a free copy of their Phoenix release, used my freeware autogen editor to provide Megascenery with their free labor?Art Martin

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What you say makes sense. They have the right to create anything they want, but why does it have to be my small part of this big world? I can understand your frustration.This has happened to me in the freeware world. When I was in the middle of designing my Samui scenery, Jan Martin released his own version. I certainly don't blame Jan, since he had no idea what I was doing, and besides, he has every right to create scenery that I do. People who did know that I was working on this encouraged me to stop so that my efforts wouldn't be wasted. In hindsight, I think some of these people wanted me to move on to the next project since this one was now "done".Instead, I decided to finish the scenery, mostly because that is what I enjoy doing - it isn't all about pleasing other people. I looked at his scenery, and decided that if I worked harder, maybe I could improve on it - that is, I would use the extra time to improve the work I had already done. This resulted in a lot more detail being added to the airport.So, maybe that's where the secret lies - if you can't beat them to the gate, wait until they are complete, and then make sure you do a better job. Maybe that means adding more custom buildings, or lowering the price to beat them, I don't know. Hopefully you have enough of a fanbase to make it worthwhile. Also, if your version doesn't lag Mega's by too long, there are plenty of people who will wait-and-see. Other than that, I think there's not much else to do.It doesn suck that they are competing directly when there are so many parts of the world to re-create. But I'm sure this sort of thing goes on in regular businesses outside the FS world too.- Martin

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Sorry but I don't understand the point you are tying to make. I appreciate that you aren't happy because some other organisation is going to release scenery that duplicates yours but that's life in the real world.Although you say you are a firm believer in free enterprise but, apparently, only as only as long as free enterprise doesn't affect you personally. Unfortunately that's not how the real commercial world works. If someone else spots an opening in the market they are free to exploit it, regardless of their relative sizes and marketing budgets.Finally, if you didn't want people to use your autogen editor then you shouldn't have released it.

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Look, I understand business and the risks. I'm not that upset so much about the competition as I am the secrecy which seems to have been aimed at my company. Secrecy is certainly a valid business practice when the stakes are huge or the product itself is sensitive or millions are spent on its development. That's hardly the case here. What would they have believed I'd have done had I known they were wanting to duplicate the area? I'd have simply gone on doing what I do already which is to concentrate on the ground details more than just the picture from high above. I would also have been better able to target my audience in advance which I doubt would've altered their bottom line one iota. It just smacks of the same type of thing we see in the rest of society these days where small mom and pop stores are going under by the boatload after having giant Walmart Supercenters show up every few square miles. Is our society better for that? Prices may be a bit cheaper but eventually we all end up paying. As far as the autogen editor, I have no regrets on releasing it freeware. It was my payback to the scenery design world for all the support and tools they made available to me as I was learning the ropes. I was more or less laughing at the irony not condemning it. I appreciate your comments though. I don't take this stuff personally. I just have an unending curiosity about human nature. It's just a new chapter.Art

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I think the problem is in photoreal business. There are only so many good areas with aerials, so those are the ones that are going to get done.If it's any consolation, MegaScenery recently released a Honolulu product. It appears the source is the USGS 0.3m hi res photo data recently made available to the public. I have some of it downloaded and could use your autogen tool to create a freeware version to "compete" with theirs.scott s..

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Art, we all understand your problem and your perspective.Perhaps you would consider that the Avsim forum is not meant to be used by commercial developers to promote their products, and even less to speak ill of the products of other commercial developers.Of ocurse, you are very new at this and perhaps still feel yourself a hobbyist, and, no doubt, you are, as are most of the so-called "commercial" developers.And to us, you are one of us, a very distinguished member by nature of your important contributions, and we all appreciate your participation and your presence. Certainly, all of us are grateful for your efforts.Nonetheless, Tom Allensworth has established rules for the use of the Avsim forum system, and most of us agree with them.So, perhaps you would keep that in mind when you are in your persona of commercial developer.Best regards.Luis

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Scott, the most recent version can be found in my company forums. I'm releasing another version very soon but documentation needs to be attacked. There's a few bugs in the current one but it's still very powerful.Art

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Louis, my intention here is not to disparage Megascenery or their product but merely to start a dialogue about the way we all coexist within this community. It's why I didn't start this discussion in the general discussion forum. Had I wanted to cast real dispersion on Megascenery, an area like that would've been the obvious target and I wouldn't have chosen my words so carefully. I don't want Megascenery to be unsuccessful in business nor do I hope they lose any customers with this discussion. Their spot in the industry is vital for the success of flight simulation. What I hope for is that business owners consider not only bottom line but an obligation to the hobby as a whole and a comraderie with other developers. The label of commercial developer is a grey area. Were you to narrow that definition to people that make their living or even a profit at this stuff, very few of us would truly qualify. It's kinda like the old Olympic rules about not allowing professional athletes to compete. There were so many holes in the definition they eventually just started calling these people athletes and threw out the rule. Luis, if I violated the rules of the forum, it certainly wasn't with intent. This is scenery design discussion and I think it's a valid topic for designers to be able to discuss the letdown that occurs when they've put their hearts and time into a project only to discover at the final hour that they're being eclipsed by a large corporation. If I've started a dialogue that prepares people for that eventuality and possibly shows companies the repercussions to the community of secrecy, I can't see how that's an attack.Art

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A commercial developer is one who takes money for his product. It doesn't matter how big or how small the organisation is or if it makes a profit.Also, entering the commercial market is a totally different environment compared with issuing freeware. For one thing, a wide range of legal requirements become applicable (such as those relating to consumer protection, honesty in advertising, etc). Also, once people have paid money for a product they are entitled to expect that it will perform as promised. Often in these forums there seems to a blurring of these distinctions.

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Hi there,I'm not sure what statements about developer-customer relationships have to do with the issue Martin has brought up? It is obvious that payware products operate in an entirely different realm than freeware offerings in regards to the end user and anyone who doesn't know that before venturing into commercial development will learn that very quickly ;-)What is also obvious though is that quite a few designers that start out as freeware developers, myself included, will end up doing payware add-ons at some point, most of us part time. If you really want to have the clear-cut distinction between the two groups, as Luis and mgh seem to propose, then you would lose quite a bit of expertise in these forums. After all, I haven't seen any complaints yet when payware developers have shared their specific ideas and knowledge with the Avsim community.I'm happy to report that my experiences here and in other "subcommunities" of fellow developers have been very positive and the polar opposite of mgh's dog-eat-dog ideas (ideals?). I'm here to chat, to learn, and to share what I know, and I see no reason why these discussions should exclude general issues of interaction between developers (and projects) even if they include specific examples. As Martin has pointed out, those "nasty surprises" can and will happen to any developer, freeware or payware. If nothing else, I find it interesting to read how different people deal with those kinds of situations.Perhaps it also is important to point out that competition is not just limited to payware developers. All of us who have been around for awhile know of examples when freeware developers have engaged in bitter battles for download numbers and "fame".As for Art's specific issue, I think the key word again is "communication". And that is my personal concern whith his original post: I don't see any mention of attempts on his part to contact the developers and/or distributors after he heard the rumours. For me that would have been the first step. It's possible that his colleague isn't interested in communicating but how does he know if he doesn't try? An "I've been here first so they better contact me" stance may be ethically justifiable but has no pratical value ;-) Thus, my suggestion is to first make all efforts to work with or at least along those that do similar projects as yourself. Only if that doesn't work out at all should you consider "establishing" yourself as a direct competitor.For me, open communication has worked very well thus far and actually led to friendships with developers I instead could have positioned myself against as competitors. That doesn't mean that we don't compete with each other anymore, it just means that there is no room for a "community of secrecy".Cheers, Holger

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Thank you for the clarifications, Holger. Your experience is important, since I believe that you and Art are some of the few here who have also done "commercial" work.As I tried to point out as kindly as possible, most, probably almost all, commercial developers are no different from you or Art, just hobbyists who for various reasons offer their work for money. There is nothing wrong with this, and I most emphatically do not make any distinction between the "free" Holger and the "dollars" Holger. They are both the very nice colleague who shares in our common hobby.What I will say perhaps more clearly is that Avsim rules are pretty clear on the matter of what can be discussed here, and that it seems to me that it is better to receive a gentle reminder from a friendly member of the forum than to get intervention from one of the moderators. They would most likely issue a warning and close this thread. If, heaven forbid, Tom should come across something like this, he has been known to react more expeditiously.So, one should always consider the alternatives, n'est-ce pas?Best regards.Luis

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Holger, you're of course right but I made the conscious decision not to communicate right now to the folks at Megascenery because I didn't want my emotions to blow any chance of meaningful dialogue. Once again, it's why I went in here to the development community instead of going to the main boards. It wasn't so much a feeling of anger against them as this huge sense of frustration. I felt this bunch would understand.The dialogue has been very theraputic actually. We've been having great discussions on my own bulletin board and many people have pointed out things I never would have thought of. I've been a bit whiny now that I look at it but I'm not sure we should ever become so politically correct that we can't show our human side on here. I've also made a number of very good friends because of my contacts with other developers and, had I done that at an early stage with people at Megascenery, we certainly wouldn't have an issue today. I have no illusions of becoming a direct competitor of an organization so large. It would be business suicide unless you were willing to pour your entire life and resources into it. We will both take customers from one another but it just doesn't have to be with intent. It's just a fact of personal taste. Art (Martin's my last name)

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>What is also obvious though is that quite a few designers that>start out as freeware developers, myself included, will end up>doing payware add-ons at some point, most of us part time. If>you really want to have the clear-cut distinction between the>two groups, as Luis and mgh seem to propose, then you would>lose quite a bit of expertise in these forums. After all, I>haven't seen any complaints yet when payware developers have>shared their specific ideas and knowledge with the Avsim>community.Exactly. There are a few payware guys who still visit the forums are are willing to help out new designers. I think we can't afford to banish them just because they crossed over to the "dark side".I remember reading about AVSIMs policy about commercial developers posting in the forums, but when I went looking, the most recent post I found was this one by Tom:"Commercial vendors are not allowed to post images in our forums in regards to either about-to-be-released products or previously released products. In short, commercial vendors are not allowed "free advertising" on AVSIM. If you have a forum on AVSIM, you can post images, hype, whatever you like. If you don't and haven't previously arranged for a forum on AVSIM then don't take advantage of our readership for commercial gain."http://forums.avsim.net/dcboard.php?az=sho...ing_type=searchSo, that seems to say "no pictures", and "no free advertising". I think that Art Martins post was not advertising his product, but was instead an informative post (in a development forum) and was in keeping of the spirit of the rules here at AVSIM. Besides, there are plenty of other payware guys here who occaisionally mention their products in posts, often to asnswer specific questions. What about the MS Dev team? Should we bar them?OTOH, I am always suspicious when a new product is "announced" by an account with less than 10 posts. To me, this is a blatent attempt by the developer to get around the rules, and the result that good people like Art Martin are punished by extreme enforcement of the rules.Anyway, I don't think there was anything wrong with his post, but if there was, maybe we should reconsider the rules to allow it. His intent clearly wasn't advertising (to me it didn't even sound like he was finished his product yet).- Martin

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My definition of a commercial developer was not related to the point made about use of the forums for commercial purposes - personally I don't think the original post broke the rules.Anyway, the question of whether it did or not is a matter for the moderators, acting on behalf of the owner, who will decide if it's appropriate or not. I don't believe for individual members to pronounce upon.

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Art Martin Wrote:>One of the clues came from their own website>where they were soliciting their users to help them provide>autogen for a handful of scenery tiles in exchange for free>products. The example tile they had in their forums was>clearly the Phoenix area or some Southwestern city. My own>customers have told me that they just received e-mails telling>them of the impending June 1st release.Art: I couldn't find this on their site; do you have more details on this? (I'm just curious, not intending to participate). If freeware authors of design tools want to keep their tools in the freeware cummunity, consider some type of digital watermark technology. And ask yourself, how well are photorealistic companies really doing in the marketplace if they are encouraging or even expediting via their websites having endusers modify their commercial package to add in the "missing" autogen and XML objects etc. that in my opinion could have been done by the developer themselves to make a more comprehensive product. They probably know that the costs would have made the package price too high above the consumer threshold for volume sales, which must be some part of the consideration in getting a product into the small FS niche market.>Why go after a small player that's carved out a tiny niche and>has tried hard to stay above board and support the rest of the>industry?Art: I don't think its likely they decided to "go after" your turf, rather their product simply chronologically "came after" your excellent detailed release! This has even happened with the "competition" between Horizon Simulation and Megascenery at other cities/regions. IMHO even though both companies likely had access to the same source data and imagery, the color balance and (rudimentary) autogen with some repositioning of buildings/landmarks (and I believe a FEW custom buildings?) in the Mega packages results in my having given them my business for PNW and California where I mostly do my FS flying. If I didn't already have Steve Greenwood's excellent FS-Traveler 30 Meter mesh, the 30 Meter mesh included with the Mega package would be yet another incentive to buy theirs over the "competing" Horizon Simulation version of a given scenery.I think there is only a number of cities in the US with both good aerial photo coverage to use for photorealistic packages, and any real world volume of both GA and commercial flights. The ones with lots of commercial flights would seem more likely to be eventual targets for Megacity and/or Megascenery titles. Phoenix was inevitable as a major airport in its region of the US, since I believe Megascenery has its greatest appeal to people who fly heavies above 3500 ft AGL, otherwise the limitation in the FS scenery engine are manifest. As I said above, I appreciate their efforts to include some additional details in their package for a region of interest to me. But if I had the option to get lots of VFR detail for GA flying such as you are developing for Phoenix on top of photo tiles, and others such as Georender and FS-Addon develop with hybrid methods, I'd give them my business rather than something I have to get above 3500 feet to appreciate.I'd like to believe this photorealistic tile/ground texture detail limitation will change as early as FSX, but we'll just have to see later this year. I think in the not so far off future, FS will come on high density DVD's with a 30 Meter equivalent of UT-USA, complete 30 Meter mesh and water flattens, and mostly photorealistic world cities and surrounding environs. What will make the difference for me as a consumer is the accuracy, visual quality, detail of the VFR experience, and all those delightful VFR bells and whistles I am only now getting a chance to enjoy through the current "fledgling" FS technology!I believe the "big" companies really can't compete with a person who has an attention to detail in the VFR area like yourself, and your target market is for those who want to experience the ground details. Companies who simply process and render photoscenery into FS usable formats without autogen, terrain mesh, abundant corrected and supplemented custom buildings/landmarks and without multimedia bells and whistles will be a dime a dozen very soon. In a parallel example, there is already a number of companies who offer terrain mesh in addition to some freeware mesh, all based on the same available source data (how many know that most mesh data originally came from special optical processing of aerial photos?). But when flying over it in the sim, one begins to see who puts the tender loving care into making their product, and one may do well to give them their business in the future.Art, I hope you keep up the great work you have done in your niche: To paraphrase a popular movie line: "...Build it, advertise what's "different" about it, and they will come!"; the big guys are less likely to try and compete with the way you are currently making Phoenix. They may sell a higher volume of high altitude lesser detail scenery for a lesser price; you may sell a lesser volume of low altitude higher detail scenery for a higher price. Hopefully everyone will have acces to what they prefer!:-) GaryGB

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