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FS Payware Addon Prices, Quality And Support


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tigisfat made some remarks in this thread https://www.flightsim.com/vbfs/showthread.php?t=181206 which caused me to reply. He is taking the position of the end user (consumer). I'm taking the postion of a developer (payware FS addons).

 

Since the discussion is worthwhile but off-topic for that thread, I've opened a new thread here.

 

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tigisfat's initial post ...

 

Customer service has completely gone down the tubes; I agree. It's even spread into the MSFS world now. It seems like most of the time, when you contact a dev to tell them you have a problem, they're standoffish and they want you to prove you've actually got a legit problem before they help you. It's like telling a painter that he's got a smudge or drip. He's probably going to freak out on you.

 

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My reaction ...

 

tigisfat,

 

Most "problems" reported to developers are actually a result of customers failing to read the product documentation ...

 

It would be possible to give you the kind of not-screened support you're after but then a) prices would have to be much higher, and b) that's what simulator-specific forums are for. (But not developer forums -- all too often they become simply soapboxes for angry customers who a) haven't read the documentation, or who b) have not had their pet bugs fixed yet as soon as they would like and with higher priority than everybody else's pet bugs.)

 

Are you willing to take out paid support subscriptions? Or to pay per minute for support phone/Skype calls?

 

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tigisfat then posted ...

 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by xxmikexx

Most "problems" reported to developers are actually a result of customers failing to read the product documentation ...?

 

It doesn't seem that way to me on the support forums of the MSFS world. It seems that most consumers are bitter about high prices, lack of expected quality and capability, and arrogant developers. I haven't seen a request for support in a long time where someone didn't read their manual. Even then, it's the developer's fault. Seriously. If you're getting 200 requests a day for something that's in your manual, you've still done something wrong as a developer. This simply means that your product is not user friendly, and your manual is a pain. If you think people just aren't trying hard enough, you're costing yourself sales, and limiting your repeat customers.

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by xxmikexx

It would be possible to give you the kind of not-screened support you're after but then a) prices would have to be much higher, and b) that's what simulator-specific forums are for.

 

Prices are rediculous right now, and they don't have to be that way. It's obvious standing from the outside looking in that most developers haven't made very detailed business models, and they have no idea how to run a business. I'm not saying that developing MSFS products and marketing them should be only for the Harvard MBA elite, but c'mon. A little organization can go a long way. Almost every business can take examples of efficiency from the manufacturing world right now. There's a revolution going for efficiancy, and the MSFS world is missing out. If people would take a little more time to not run their business like a "take it or leave it" mom and pop shop, they'd be amazed at what they have time for; to include customer support. It takes seconds to respond with a polite and easy answer, and minutes to generate a standoffish "witty" response about how one should read one's poorly created user manual. When one gets an email like that, they're not inclined to buy again.

 

 

If anyone in the MSFS world wants to take advantage of the "lean" concept by utilizing someone (myself) that has contributed to Shingo prize winning organizations, I'll be more than happy to ablige, no matter how small the organization. If I attempt and I'm wrong and can do nothing for that business, I'll bow out and recognize to the world that business's model efficiancy. It hasn't happened to me yet.

 

Developers have backed themselves into a corner where they don't sell more because they can't afford to drop prices, and they can't afford to because they don't sell more.

 

 

Mike, do you really think this is the fault of the consumer? Or could it possibly be poor business practices? I know you err on the side of the developer, but seriously now.

 

 

Customer support is more than the canary in the mine shaft. Right now there are "civil wars" going on with many developer consortiums, with unhappy and jilted developers leaving. Epic MSFS products can't usually be released by one person, and once the consortiums are gone, they might never return. These people can't simply be replaced by the up and coming, it's taken the current guys since the fs95 days to raech their current ability and knowledge, and it's also taken that long for them to form these consortiums. There may be only 50 guys on the planet that can do what they do. (I do remain convinced, however, that abacus products are created by 1,000 trained animals that sit in gigantic rooms and crank products out)

 

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My reply was ...

 

tigisfat,

 

You wrote "It seems that most consumers are bitter about high prices, lack of expected quality and capability, and arrogant developers."

 

No, many people who post are. What you don't see are the dozens of satisfied customers for everyone who complains.

 

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You wrote "Prices are rediculous right now, and they don't have to be that way. It's obvious standing from the outside looking in that most developers haven't made very detailed business models, and they have no idea how to run a business."

 

Let me address your second point first. Yes, most developers don't know how to run a business. Most of them would be the first to admit it and therefore sell through publishers and retailers.

 

So a customer may buy through an online retailer, who often will have co-marketing arrangements with publishers (who may themselves be retailers). The developer does not have to concern himself with order processing, currency conversion, returns and refunds, and so on. Most developers therefore are able to, and choose to, confine themselves to the matters of pre-sales and post-sales support.

 

You can take exception with the quality of support, and with the quality of products, and we can certainly talk productively about that. Let me say, however, that this issue became 50% of the piracy discussions I was heading up on FlightSim, Avsim and SimFlight, before you came on the scene.

 

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You wrote "Developers have backed themselves into a corner where they don't sell more because they can't afford to drop prices, and they can't afford to because they don't sell more."

 

I have been trying to explain the concept of "optimum price". This has little to do with developer's costs except in the area of support. But without going into detail, the optimum price is the one that maximizes the developer's profitability.

 

Below the optimum price the developer sells more units, and he may have higher total revenue, but increased costs of support due to the larger number of customers by definition reduces profits. If it didn't, the optimum price would be at a different position along the continuum of possible product prices.

 

Above the optimum price the developer's support costs are reduced because of lower unit sales, but revenue declines even faster, so once again profitability is reduced.

 

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I'll stop here for the moment. May I suggest that if you want to go into this subject in any kind of depth, let's open a new thread. Do you want to do it or should I? As long as we keep the discussion in the context of FS payware addons I think the powers that be will be okay with the discussion. If not they will let us know.

 

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One more thing. You wrote "Mike, do you really think this is the fault of the consumer? Or could it possibly be poor business practices? I know you err on the side of the developer, but seriously now."

 

It only takes a small number of irate, unsatisfiable customers to hound some developers out of business. Let's take this up in the new thread, okay?

 

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So here we are in the new thread, awaiting tigisfat's reply ...

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This subject is capable of generating a lot of heat and light, but let's not let that happen. The issues are real, and worth discussing, but both sides have important things to say, and because these are largely business issues, we should be able to have calm, objective discussions.

 

tisisfat,

 

Over to you.

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oh wow that's a long OP.

 

if we're gonna have a good 'ol fashioned debate, can we make some ground rules?

 

can we leave out the piracy discussion? That one always seems to get outta hand.

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tigisfat,

 

We can try to leave out the piracy discussion. However, what usually happens is that somebody will come along and say "Prices are too high, that's why piracy is okay, because we have a right to product at prices below what developers are charging."

 

That point having been made, I'm certainly willing not to discuss the piracy matter any further unless and until somebody else folds it into the discussion.

 

Okay, let's return to your issues. I apologize for the lengthy introductory post but I wanted everybody to see what each of us had to say without their having to go to the other thread.

 

Your turn.

 

EDIT: There are points of yours I haven't addressed yet. Why don't you remake the important ones below.

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Well, it may or may not only take a few bent customers to hound a dev outta business, but who's fault is that?

 

Devs have an attitude that people are impossible to please, yet most don't try that hard. Developers are more artists than businessmen, and that's fine. But if you put your art out to sell to the world, you have got to be prepared for some people to purchase your stuff and then flat out not like it and tell everyone so. If you respond to these people in a defensive and somtimes offensive attitude because you can't stand to see your precious creation badmouthed, you're only asking for more trouble, right?

 

It takes hard work, bad times, and a sense of dedication to start a business. Sometimes you must run in the red for years before seeing a profit. Surely you know that one. It also takes an undying "the customer is always right" stance for years to begin to see a community built around your products. It also takes getting the word out about your product to sell it to the most people possible.

 

Also remembering that these guys are usually artists; they frequently release products that there isn't a market for. I don't want to look that gift horse in the mouth, because there's been more than a few I was glad that got made. BUT; jacking up the prices on your popular models to make up for another's shortcomings is bad business, and has nothing to do with optimum pricing. You have to make the right decisions from the get go.

 

A lot of developers are trying to dig themselves out of self created holes by jacking up prices, which only serves to put them deeper in the hole.

 

A business which gathers no data, such as your average flight sim business, can't possibly have any conception of "optimum pricing". I move to suggest that optimum pricing is not a factor at play here, Mike. If it is, people have no idea how to use it.

 

THE COST OF RUNNING A BUSINESS: It would seem that a lot of MSFS developers have no idea how to reduce their own costs, and carry those savings to the consumer with the exact same profits as before. This, in turn, generates more profits.

 

CUSTOMER SUPPORT: You don't have time to accept a flood of support emails and answer them with politeness? (no matter how dumb and annoying) It's time to evaluate how you're spending your time, not get short with customers and decrease your product's overall value by screwing people on support.

 

In short, my entire argument is based on cause and effect. Developers are barking up the wrong trees for a whole lot of their problems.

 

Let's pretend you're a doctor, and a paying patient comes in because they have a rash. They want you to heal them because you placed a billboard outside saying you are the world's most educated rash expert. What in the hell do you think would happen if you told them that they contacted you in the wrong format, and they should read the pamphlets you sent out telling everyrone not to run naked through fields of poison ivy? Whether they're wrong or not, it's bad business to tell them that and then send them away.

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well, if someone comes in here and avocates piracy no matter what their reason is, we don't have to respond. This discussion is about how we as consumers and developers can improve the health of the MSFS industry and as I see it, piracy plays no role in that, no matter it's brought forth.

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not unless yourself or another thinks of any!!

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Mike, have you ran your own business? Have you been in marketing or business planning for someone else's company? I suspect you have, but I'm wondering.

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tigisfat,

 

I'll answer your most recent post, let you react, and then return to your longer post immediately above ...

 

I have been both a marketing guy in other companies and in business for myself. I have also worked as a business analyst. I will say that by "marketing" I don't mean sales.

 

Marketing is the planning, development, production and distribution of products and services aimed at identified markets or market niches. For two of my ten years at DEC I was a so-called "product line marketing manager" responsible for a 5% multinational slice of what was then DEC's $100M/year multinational computer business. This responsibility included not only marketing as I just defined it but also "book/ship" responsibility -- interfacing with the sales force and interfacing with manufacturing.

 

Businesses that I've been in for myself include computer hardware/software consulting, pioneering MIDI cover music development for computer bands, a graphic arts/printing company and most recently, the development of AirBoss ™ (I'll come back to that later) as well as the FS 1-On-1 joint venture with FlightSim.com.

 

To date only the consulting business has been profitable, and that only because we (my wife and I) were pulled into it by a friend who had moved to a very large company and who a) wanted our services and therefore b) encouraged us to set ourselves up as consultants. When his company went bankrupt, our consulting business ended because consulting is, in a sales sense, much more a matter of who you know than what you know.

 

Those things said, what would you like me to discuss next?

 

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EDIT: I forgot to mention that for two years I was the office manager (and effectively general manager) of a high tech startup owned by my son, he and his two friends being devoid of, and uninterested in, the business side of things, their interest being exclusively EE R&D.

 

EDIT: I should also have said that I've been a technical software developer since 1963 though this has been between my stints as a "suit". AirBoss directly exploits my C/assembler programming skills, this piece of software being more difficult than, for example, device drivers.

 

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So I'm qualified to discuss both the business and technical aspects of FS payware addon product development. I should note, however, that there are many other people with backgrounds different from my own who are even more qualified to discuss these things than I am. (Lou Betti, for example.)

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I don't think there's any excuse for the poor support some companies offer, because there are other large companies in this area that have wonderful support.

 

It's as simple as that really.

 

The others just choose not to match that, and it does hinder their sales (I know I havn't bought from a few).

 

You mentioned paying extra for support. Most of the companies out there, can't use that as an excuse, because they don't offer paid support - thus they have an obligation to support their paying customers. Otherwise they should honestly advise that their products are unsupported.

 

As for prices. I think some parts of the market have the prices right, and others are just ridiculous.

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azur,

 

I agree that there are developers out there whose support is poor. In fact, without naming names because my experiences may not have been typical, there is a fairly large publisher I will never buy products from again, exactly because I found their support to be somewhere between poor and non-existent.

 

I wasn't urging paying extra for support. I was really asking whether tigisfat would be willing to pay extra. For example, there are products which are inherently support intensive, not so much because they're buggy but because they're learning-intensive. (No, I don't want to give examples.)

 

As for prices, developers are free to set them wherever they want. I will only observe that the only two addons that I really really want both bear prices that are higher than my personal threshhold for those kinds of products. It doesn't matter to me that in one of the cases the price is high probably because of devaluation of the US dollar -- that may be true but I'm still unwilling to pay what the developer is asking.

 

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So I'm not into blanket statements for or against developers regarding product quality, pricing or support. But I am into defending the developer community against an unreasonable degree of bias on the part of a segment of the customer community.

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This post is kind of on topic, but a little off topic at the same time ... I work for a small company that manufactures a laser tag product. The system is operated and run via standard Windows based PCs. My role in the company is Customer Support. This includes telephone support, email support and online forum based support. I have had 8 years experience in this role ...

 

I agree that many (most) customers simply do not read the product documentation. Customers often have complaints about how the system is failing to operate properly on their computer and more often than not it turns out to be a computer which does not meet the minimum specifications of the product. The required specifications are verbally told to the customer BEFORE they purchase the product AND they appear in the extensive product documentation. I know it is there because my other role in the company is to write and update that documentation.

 

However, regardless of whether the customer has not read the specification or purchased a PC that meets it, it is my role to support that customer no matter what. Many customers get angry when told their PC does not meet the minimum spec (because many of them have just gone out and purchased the thing) and will often complain that "I was not told this". But, I know for a fact that they were told because it was ME who told them. And that was done BEFORE they went out and purchased. Customers seem all too eager these days to rush out, jump in head-first, and then complain to the manufacturer or developer when it all goes foul. Despite that occuring because they did not take the time to do the initial research and get all the facts. But, I still must provide support to them and try to get their issue resolved. Often pushing our product to its absolute limits just to "tweak it" so that it works, only just, in a satisfactory way.

 

As a Customer Support person, I am continually frustrated by this. As the person who also makes the initial contact with our customers and who also writes the extensive documentation, it is very annoying to discover that the customer didn't listen, didn't read and generally didn't adhere to anything they were told or given.

 

Now, this is all NOT to say that our company is always right. There are many many times when our product does seem to behave badly DESPITE the customer doing the right thing. And, in these cases, one needs to work through the issues and try to understand the reasons for that.

 

My point? Despite the fact that customers can be at fault at times, the manufacturer or developer still needs to listen and still needs to provide support. But, at the same time, the customer needs to also understand that often the problem is because of something THEY have done (or, more to the point, NOT done). And therefore, instead of getting angry at the manufacturer or developer, accept that it is they who themself may have caused their own issue.

 

It is a vicious circle and will continue to go the way it is going as long as the wrong spec PCs are cheap, the right spec PCs are expensive, and the world continues to have customers that think they know what they are doing.

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p.s. ...

 

What constitues reasonable response to an email? As a customer I hope to receive replies within one business day, maybe two. However, I also recognize that real life intrudes with developers just as it does with customers.

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What constitues reasonable response to an email? As a customer I hope to receive replies within one business day, maybe two. However, I also recognize that real life intrudes with developers just as it does with customers.

In my opinion, it is polite to respond to a customer to at least acknowledge receipt of their initial email. I believe that should come same day or next day. The actual response to the issue can take longer, depending on how much testing or investigating needs to take place to replicate the customer's issue and formulate a response. Some companys simply don't have the resources to do it this way (for example, small companys simply may not have a dedicated customer support person or team). As someone who works in Customer Support, I am often annoyed when I don't receive the same level of support that I myself offer. But I also recognise, as you have done, that real life can intrude with that or that they simply don't have the resources to do so.

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freddy,

 

I agree that an initial response should be gotten off as quickly as possible. I know several developers who spend prime time doing customer support and development in off hours. This lets them do positive stroking in real time with everybody.

 

However, these are people who generally choose to devote their entire lives to their products -- workaholics -- and while I find nothing wrong with that (I'm a workaholic too), you can't expect everybody to adopt this posture -- though it's wonderful for customers when they do.

 

You know, it all comes down to public relations and setting people's expectations. As I learned in computer marketing, if you let people know what's going on, and that they are valued customers, and that their problems are being considered, they (people) will put up with the darndest things.

 

But not all developers are prepared to open the kimono to that extent, nor are they required to.

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freddy,

 

I just read your post #13, which I hadn't noticed when I responded to your #15, both of which are most definitely on topic.

 

I agree 100% with your attitude. However, do you agree that if a developer is unable to help but offers a refund, then the developer thereafter doesn't really owe the customer anything but a polite note expressing regret that things didn't work out?

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p.s. ...

 

What constitues reasonable response to an email? As a customer I hope to receive replies within one business day, maybe two. However, I also recognize that real life intrudes with developers just as it does with customers.

 

I agree that one to two days is ok... But honestly, we should be talking hours or less to call service 'excellence'.

 

But I want to disagree with your remark about real life intrusion... If you're going to run a business and call it a business then it IS your real life. And if you're not well staffed enough to have someone cover you when 'real life' intrudes then you're simply not professional.

 

My company is LARGE, and we are expected to, and do maintain an industry leading level of personal support and service to our customers. Thats how you get positioned where we are. Everything else is just excuses for failing your customers.

 

And small companies that wont make the necessary sacrafices to support their customers to that level will not succeed in the long run... Thats real life.

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freddy,

 

I just read your post #13, which I hadn't noticed when I responded to your #15, both of which are most definitely on topic.

 

I agree 100% with your attitude. However, do you agree that if a developer is unable to help but offers a refund, then the developer thereafter doesn't really owe the customer anything but a polite note expressing regret that things didn't work out?

Hmmm, that is a difficult one.

 

If a refund is offered and the customer takes up that offer, then the customer should have no further need to ask for support. If the customer continues to ask for support, then a polite response is required advising that support cannot be offered because a refund has been paid. But, this can depend on circumstances as in some cases, even though a refund has been paid, it may be agreed that the customer keep the product and try to get it working. In this case "limited" support might be offered. But there is a fine line here as to what constitutes "limited" and that needs to be clearly spelt out to the customer.

 

If the customer does NOT take up the refund offer, then there is a whole new issue. The offering of the refund is the developers way of saying "the product you purchased is not working; we acknowledge that; and we are unable to figure out why or provide adequate support in this instance". But in not taking the refund, the customer has decided to push forward anyway. And this is where it is difficult. Again, here, I would lean toward the offering of limited support as per above and clearly spell out the terms of that limited support.

 

In my professional experience in the role of Customer Support, "limited" support always usually means NORMAL support. Because no matter how many times you tell the customer you have already tried and you are at a loss as to why, they continue to contact you with the next piece of their puzzle in the vain hope that this latest clue will help YOU to get it going for them. As I said, it is a fine line, and one that is continually blurry and often is not fine at all (it can get quite thick).

 

Remember the old saying "The customer is always right". Whilst I agree with this when *I* am the customer ... I don't necessarily agree with it when I am the Customer Support person. :-) And, hehe, trust me, there are many times when the customer is NOT right at all. But, unfortunately, that saying merely allows the customer, regardless, to continue to contact Customer Support personnel ... often over and over again.

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Perhaps it's time to experiment with the format of the product manuals - perhaps in the form of tutorial/demonstration videos on Youtube? This is the 21st Century, this is the modern way! And it would also serve as advertising - show the unwashed masses the intricate detail of how your product works.

 

Also, having an open support forum (like Dreamfleet do) raises the chance that helpful satisfied customers will answer the query satisfactorily. (Or, recently, tell the customer to 'GTFO' via a Youtube video, ironically!)

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It sounds to me like Kurt and Freddy have their heads screwed on straight. It stinks to be bugged, but when you offer a product you owe support if it doesn't work as advertised. If you offer a full refund because a product is NOT working for that user for whatever reason, then I believe you are no longer obligated. The customer should have the right to refuse a refund up until a certain point.

 

In any court in a civilized country implication will count as a product's advertised capability. There seems to be a divide there as well in the MSFS world.

 

To me, 24 hours is a reasonable response time during weekdays for emails and forums inquiries. We'd like less, but many developers live on the other side of the planet, especially in the UK and New Zealand. Over the weekend, a response early Monday should be considered fair.

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Perhaps it's time to experiment with the format of the product manuals - perhaps in the form of tutorial/demonstration videos on Youtube?

 

OUTSTANDING IDEA!!

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Folks,

 

There is so much to respond to that at this point I simply want to take up the matter of YouTube videos, and then only briefly.

 

Some people learn better from videos. Some we (webmaster Nels Anderson and I) are hoping will learn better from hands-on teaching, and will be willing to pay for that. (It doesn't have to be everybody, it only has to be enough for a viable business.)

 

Those things said, what makes you think that the customer who is impatient enough to not even skim the documentation will be patient enough to sit there and watch a video?

 

Furthermore, how comprehensive do you expect a video to be, and how do you index into it the way a table of contents or a search function can?

 

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Speaking as a marketing guy, it seems to me that videos are an important pre-sales tool that many people will be interested in, but are they the right way to deliver product support?

 

(And how much more are you willing to pay for product so that Joe Dokes can watch developer-funded videos while you read manuals funded by the same developers?)

 

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I have the questions, I'm not claiming that on this one I have the answers. However, I'm fascinated that the concept of videos in lieu of demo versions of products has taken root in just the past three months. Of course not everyone views it this way, but many people are beginning to say "I watch a video and then make an informed buying decision."

 

Maybe some of what's at issue here are people who mostly buy scenery versus people who mostly buy aircraft?

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Come to think of it, it's not a new idea - several years ago the Ready For Pushback 747-200 had a series of free tutorial videos demonstrating how to perform various tasks. I was very attracted by the depth of the systems modelling with that aircraft, and the videos illustrated that depth. In the end I was put off by the inaccurate 3D model, paying for repaints, and my disinterest in longhaul flying at that time. (It's freeware now though!)

 

It wouldn't be a case of videos replacing written manuals - I think it might be best to combine the two. Use the video as an introduction, and the written manual as a reference.

 

A series of short videos is probably best in terms of quickly finding what you want.

 

On a slight tangent, it would be really helpful to have a video demonstrating all the alarm bells, klaxons, etc installed in an aircraft. The cabin alt bell went off in the Dreamfleet 727 last time I flew it, and it took me ~20seconds to work out what bell it was, and ~10 minutes to find the switch to silence it!

 

Ideally, ideally, you'll get your videos made for you by enthusiastic beta-testers. :)

 

I don't think any customer would care if the tutorial videos are freely available. They're/we're paying for the aircraft/scenery/product, not for support - the support is means to an end, and that end is a properly-working, properly-understood aircraft/scenery/product.

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