Grumpy Tales – Journalism or Marketing?

me_in_totoNot an interesting question for many of you, I am sure. Or maybe it is? Here’s my continuous dilemma, one that I face on a daily basis, and have done so ever since I started working for simFlight (and simMarket).
Also one that I have so far managed to work with pretty well, supported by my friend and business partner Miguel.

SimFlight is a NEWS web site bringing you independent news about flight simulation, and aviation topics. And one of the agreements its owner and I had from the start is that I would have total freedom in deciding about WHAT gets written on the simFlight sites. Except for some minor things, because simFlight gets paid out of the profit that simMarket makes, and hence depends on simMarket’s health. So obviously and logically there is a mutual and open interest to make new products on simMarket KNOWN to the readers. The exception of free news publishing is hence that simMarket news gets priority and is always on.

Fair enough.

And since I run an add-on publishing company myself, I use my ‘powers’ to promote that company and its products too, of course. In the end, ALL of the important ‘news sites’ work the same way. Not one of them is financed by a wealthy backer who doesn’t expect anything in return. They are either part of a company with an interest, or sponsored by one (or more). No exceptions. And no surprises to any of you, I am sure.
Marketing is good. YOU want to know what products become available, when they do, as much as I do.

But… here’s the rub.
I am also a writer, a journalist (I started my working career at a major newspaper even), an active flightsimmer myself and yes, a grumpy person at times. Like now.
So, I want to be able to tell you that something is rubbish when I see it. That is in YOUR interest, since you don’t want to spend your hard earned cash on crap products.
And I also want to be able to tell you when I am smitten by a product. I am passionate about flightsimming, or I wouldn’t have spent more than 35 years in this business, and I want to convey that passion. Including news of other passionate people or products. Not just sell it.

But it is in simFlight’s interest too.
We want to continue to be seen as an honest publication (or at least I do).
Of course we (our editors and me) can be opinionated. We all have our preferences. You know that. So you take that into account when making up your own mind about stuff we write. At least I hope you do.

But in essence simFlight does NOT sell you golden shit. In essence, it doesn not even wants to report on such, although it sometimes does, sometimes unknowingly.

So where is this going?
Well, I am ‘okay’ with it all as long as we can keep simFlight’s sites OBJECTIVE. And the ‘breadth’ of that objectivity is in the eye of the beholder, obviously.
So far I have been able to. Even though I do marketing services for a number of companies in the industry, not the least that of simMarket.

But if that becomes impossible, if I can’t PRINT my editor’s opinion on certain things anymore, if there appears to be too large of a gap between reporting and advertising, if simFlight would become a mere billboard for just any product that wants to be sold….. then it would mean a downgrading of the publication and loss of its actual value to the hobby.
In my humble opinion.

It would mean I’d have to set up a totally new service where I could again write JUST what I would find interesting. A service that would not be sponsored or financed by ANY party with a vested interest in what I would write. A place where nobody would tell me what NOT to write, especially!
You would then only see my writings as a ‘supplier’ of  ‘news’ in my role as marketing director for other companies, NOT as a news editor and NOT as a reporter.

For objective news and (maybe not so objective) opinion you would then have to add a new link to your bookmarks.

Maybe Grumpy’s FS News?

Actually, that ball is not in my court right now……

0 Responses

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  2. I think you’re making this unnecessarily complicated. Shit will always float, so there’s a simpler solution than worrying about independence or journalistic freedom – ensure SimMarket doesn’t stock the shit products…

    Shit don’t sell anyway, unless your fertilising fields as the true opinion always seems to find a way to surface through the shit, so you’d be doing Miguel and his commercial considerations a big favour as well. No point stocking a turd if all it does is float and stink.

  3. I hope the message is delivered. I thing “shit does sell”, it’s all a matter of “package”. We love pretty packaging. And above all I hope we can continue to trust’s news for being impartial and honest.

  4. Ah but if shit sells the stink remains on the vendor. OK there will always be the occasional blunder, but too much of it seriously dents the vendors reputation… just ask Abacus!

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  6. I come to this site to get honest opinions from other experienced simmers who get to test out a new product before I buy it. as long as the reviewers are experienced and being honest in their praise or constuctively critical with their review, then report-the-news and market as much as you need. I’ll buy it at simmarket if it’s worth buying. as for abacus – don’t bother to review any of their garbage until they decide to make non-garbage! otherwise, we’ll assume it smells.

  7. I completely and totally agree with this.

    For example, how many AWESOME FS addon companies to you know of? I don’t need to go beyond counting them on two hands. That’s all there is, if not less.

    I’m not saying that we should all step in and have some sort of dictatorship over what gets published, but we’ve all got to do our parts as individuals and a collective to promote greater quality within this community.

    Recently I purchased the A2A Simulations Cub. Although the aircraft itself is very good, the one part that really stuck out was their Accusim addon. These guys get it, and they are moving the community forward in their own way.

    Then there are people like PSS. I can mention these guys because the political fallout will be less damaging. But these guys had an alright quality product, and a freakin’ horrible customer service and company backend.

    Let’s get something straight. People don’t buy products anymore. They buy ideas, and feelings. The only reason I bought the Cub was because I wanted to put-put around Alaska, my soon to be home, in FSX. This has a very deep meaning for me.

    Once we start getting into this little product and that little product, it doesn’t mean a whole lot.

    Francois, I’m grateful that you are sticking to your guns. We need more people like you in this community.

    Keep on keepin’ on, my friend.

  8. I also agree. Reporting is objective fair and balanced, both pointing out the good and the bad. I purchase a lot of flight sim addons (over 2K) from SIMMarket. I visit Simflight and it’s forums for feedback before I buy. If this is going to be just a marketing hype page rather than objective views my money needs to go elseware. I appreciate your views Francois and will follow this story closely.

  9. But what is a “good” or “bad” product and who gets to decide? There’s a reason I don’t like to put scores on my reviews, which is that I have no right to assume that what I want from a product is what anyone else wants – hence I try to say what’s there, what isn’t and let you make up your own mind.

    A typical example is Abacus – as they’ve been mentioned already. You say they’re bad products. I say they’re “budget” products, which is not the same thing. However, you can buy a reasonable quality Blackhawk for the best part of €50, a high spec Seahawk for €40… or you can buy Abacus Military Helicopters 2 for less than that and have a Blackhawk, a Seahawk, a Nighthawk, a horde of Gazelles, a VH-3, two different Apaches, two Huey Ds and a brace of Eurocopter Tigers. They’re significantly lower quality than the Blackhawk and Seahawk that are more expensive, but as “get in and fly” aircraft they’re reasonable. Beginners will find them a lot less off-putting and a lot more accessable than the more expensive options.

    There’s a big assumption amongst those of us who are “deeply” into Flight Sim that complex and high quality is always “best”. It might be for us, but if you have a €30 budget and want a helicopter that is not available freeware…?

  10. The quality of the vendor is as much responsible for the opinion of the purchaser as the product. And many vendors are poor, very poor.

    How low one’s expectations may go before they are met by the price point is a contentious issue, but has no bearing on the quality of the product. Quality is quality, not `value for money`. The review process should reveal the quality of the product. Only in a consumers personal assessment does the relative `value` have any sway, once one learns of the relative quality, the price and other associated factors.

    And for that the source is INFORMATION: Preferably independent, unbiased and untainted by commercial consideration, but always mindful of the fact that most reviewers are not professionals, either in the journalism or pilotage fields, and there is always the problem of personal emphasis, bias – and unmitigated stupidity or deliberate misreporting. But that’s the readers problem to penetrate, not the writer, site, developer or distributor to correct.

    I’ve said this before and it is even more true today: It is for the consumer to educate themselves. It’s the only basis upon which caveat emptor operates. It’s `BUYER Beware`, not `distributor`.

    Reviews – even tainted ones – perform as part of that function. A biased review reflects very poorly on the host. If the host is engaged in business it will also git ’em where it hurts – in the wallet. And the reputation… which is also a wallet-hurter.

    So handling a poor product could be said to be a far riskier venture for the vendor than a good one. All too few flight sim vendors take this simple commercial lesson to heart.

    In fact, I think this may be the first where it has been overtly spoken of…

  11. Quality is relative. Specifically relative to price.

    If you take a gadget, make everything so solid that you’ll never get a broken track or a loose solder joint, make storage solid state, construct every one by hand, check it, test it and give a long warranty on a long feature list, it costs money.

    On the other hand, if you make a gadget with a little hard drive that’ll fail if you drop it, save money on the amount of metal used in the solder meaning that tracks and joints can break, you get to sell it for a third of the price of the better one and most people won’t care less because they won’t drop it, they won’t need 99% of the features of the more expensive one and they’re happy with their purchase.

    So why can both markets not exist side by side? The lower quality, much lower price market for those happy with that and those who want more can only buy the products that provide the level of detail that want?

    There’s a lot of mud in the water at the moment, obscuring the view – I think most people are at least a little put out when they buy something marked “FSX” and get FS9 modelling and texturing. However many people are perfectly happy to use FS9 models in FSX. Personally, I do think that the vendors should put a lot more pressure on developers/publishers to label products correctly, but ultimately it’s on the developers/publishers heads what they say and produce. If you open a packet of brand name food to find out that it’s not what is advertised, you’ll take it back to the shop, but it’s the manufacturer that’s to blame. If I walk into a high street store that stocks both ImitationOwnBrand and Full Price Named Brand, it’s up to me what I buy based on what I want. This industry/hobby is no different and nor should it be. It’s the customer’s responsibility to do their own research, as you say.

    However, we do have one major disadvantage compared to the mainstream games industry. It’s a small industry. No-one can make a living just writing reviews of FS add-ons because insufficient people will pay for reviews to subsidise that, therefore almost all the people whose reviews you will read are unpaid volunteers. Some do it for the freebies. Some (including me) do it because we want more people to have more information when making product purchase decisions because as many people have said before and agree, there just isn’t enough out there.

    Where vendors come into play is how they deal with problems that occur and there the standards vary widely. No-one makes enough money in this industry from selling add-ons to get someone to open up, install, check the quality of and test more than a very tiny fraction of what they sell. Therefore there will be problems, there will be upset customers and, at the end of the day, that’s where the reputable vendors will stand apart from those who don’t care at all about their customers.

  12. I think we agree. Your analogy happily separates ultimate quality from the relative price. I endorse everything else you’ve said.

    …it must be Christmas!

    We cannot hold the reviewer responsible for our irresponsible purchase, (although we SHOULD – there is a culpability to publishing that many would do well to understand as both publisher AND author can be held accountable – I think Francois understands exactly what I mean…) but we can most certainly hold the retailer to a quality standard. Just because it’s a small, hobbiest market doesn’t devolve them from proper trading standards. Again I’ve said this before: The first moment the product moves to `paid for` status the amount means nothing, the business ethic and the required legal standards apply just as much to the kitchen table mom and pop operation as the multinational corporation. The `no refunds` bullshine is simply not a tenable business methodology when in reality the card holder can ALWAYS get a refund from their credit card provider, and if feeling vindictive can lodge formal comlpaints of business malpractice which can bring unwanted attention on the vendor – publicity goes BOTH ways. Better then, for the vendor to not sell the contentious products, or act in a way that reinforces the customer experience, not detracts from it.

    And that is where most developers, vendors, publishers and even reviewers most often fail, when they fail. If those standards improve then the number of `acceptable` products will also have to follow, or have no outlet. And we ALL gain.

  13. But again, Simon, what is “acceptable”?

    I don’t find paying for scenery made from default or third party objects acceptable. The poster above does not find Abacus products acceptable – yet default object scenery is still being made and clearly selling because the authors come back to sell more. Abacus is one of the oldest players in the business and certainly hasn’t gone broke yet. Indeed almost everyone I know in the hobby has at least one of their products running in their sim of choice.

    A vendor will sell what sells. If a market exists, who are you, I or the owner of a download shop to say “Oh, you can’t have that. It’s not good enough. If you think that’s not what you want, you’re wrong. I say so.”

    I don’t have the right to say that and nor does anyone else reading or posting on this thread.

  14. Incidentally, I don’t separate quality and cost. The two are linked. The more features, the higher the level of detail the more it costs. The less features, the lower the level of detail, the less it costs. Quality is relative to a price bracket and that is simple, undisputable, fact. You can have very good cheap products, you can have very bad cheap products. You can have very good expensive products, you can have very bad expensive products, but that range – the “quality” of a product – is not a fixed feature. An excellent “quality” low price product can be a very low “quality” high end product, depending on user expectations.

    It’s purely and totally subjective and there is no fixed scale you can apply.

  15. Buy shit, get shit works for most anything. Have to do own your research and you get what you pay for. Before I buy I really evaluate things, read things and I started going with reputable vendors. Its about buyer beware. Want cartoons or want close to realism. I complained to one company about their product and after being screwed at Christmas time with gifts to me from my wife with no dvds or cd’s in it I decided no more business to them. They have already been mentioned by someone else. In FS we all got burned in someway by someone, we’ve all read about it somewhere, we’ve all seen those wannabee phantom reviewers show up in forums blowing up about someones product who themselfs don’t have a clue about their system.
    BUYER BEWARE is the best way to go.Gee now I sound like a grump old fart.

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