• The Death Of Payware?

    The Death of Payware?

    By Robert Murphy (19 May 2007)

    When Microsoft Train Simulator was first released, a number of talented individuals struck out to create new content for MSTS with very little understanding of how it worked and its limitations. The first contributions to the file library were engine files to make some of the AI trains drivable and a few repaints. At the time, the only viable software to create new content for the sim was 3D Studio Max, a $3000 program. Abacus' Train Simulator Modeler was still a year away, 3D Canvas hadn't been adapted to MSTS, and it would be almost 3 years before Gmax was added to the lineup.

    At first, an announcement of a new locomotive or car in the forums was greeted with anticipation and it was impossible to get into the file library the first day it was released. The first North American prototypes started to appear, and the cry in the forums was for a North American steam locomotive. A group of modelers calling themselves Train Artisans released a set called the Empire State Express that included a J3A Hudson, and a passenger train set with a passenger view! It was available, at first, here in the file library and Train-Sim.Com, and was probably one of the most popular downloads of all time.

    About the same time, some of the first routes were released in the Train-Sim.Com library, mostly based on fictional themes, or reworks of the original Northeast Corridor or Marias Pass routes. At the time, no one had down the groundwork to find another way to extract terrain, and the method used by Kuju to extract the original routes was prohibitively expensive and unavailable to the MSTS community.

    Then several new developments occurred: The Empire State Express was withdrawn from the file library, and it was announced an updated version would be available for sale, Abacus released a set of payware locomotives, with a free route download, and a new concept known as payware add-ons for MSTS was born. There were several groups of modelers that banded together to produce high quality add-ons for the sim, including locomotives, routes, and new detailed cars.

    At first, there was discussion on the forums, both pro and con, but in general, the consensus was that it was a good thing for the community. Since the add-ons were generally higher quality, included installers, and the makers included support, they were well received. There were also individual modelers, and groups of modelers that formed, that provided freeware add-ons that were just as high quality, included installers, and provided support, usually through the Train-Sim.Com forums. We had the best of both worlds.

    Since MSTS was literally the only game in town, everything focused on MSTS. When Trainz came along, with easier content creation, there was little migration to the new "model railroad simulator" from the MSTS ranks, and it had little effect on the community of add-on developers. Then several new train simulators were announced, and people began to question whether the death of MSTS was near. Even Microsoft announce MSTS 2, which was eventually cancelled. Other than a few videos and screen shots in the forums, and a lot of anticipation, none of them ever saw the light of day. Life went on as usual, with updates in the file library daily, and more payware announced, and released.

    Recently, several things have occurred that threaten the MSTS community in general and payware developers in particular. Both KUJU, maker of the original MSTS announce a new rail simulator, but Microsoft, publisher of the original MSTS announced a new rail simulator. Both of these are very well established software developers, and it is likely we'll actually see the release of these two simulators. Although, given the track record of previous train simulator announcements, many are still skeptical, and work on improving and adding on to MSTS continues. But neither one of those are a serious threat to either the community or payware developers. New train sims are an opportunity for both freeware developers and payware developers to move to the next level. I'm sure we'll see a lot of new models and I have no doubt that someone will figure out a way to upgrade models from the old simulator to one or both of the new ones.

    The threat that I'm referring to is quite simply, piracy. A lot of freeware modelers take a great deal of pride in their work, and feel that as creators, they have a right to control what happens with their models. As a creator of freeware content myself, albeit small time compared to some of the wonderful developers in the community, I can certainly sympathize with their point. Payware creators have an even greater investment in time and effort, and feel that they have a right to be paid for their creative work.

    I recall after releasing my beer-can tank cars, that I received a very polite email from an individual who wanted to repaint them in beer company schemes, and expressed that he understood if I didn't want that done. I replied that it was perfectly OK with me, and I mentioned I didn't quite understand why he thought I would object. He replied that another modeler of boxcars objected vehemently to having beer company logos on his cars since he didn't drink.

    As a community, the consensus was very strong that we should respect people's copyrights, and the community became self policing. Any objection to a repaint, or any doubt about the source of a model was taken very seriously, and was removed from the Train-Sim.Com file library until its source and legitimacy could be determined. But, like any community, not everyone was in complete agreement. Many discussions on the matter of copyrights and legality of payware occurred in the forums. Occasionally, it was reported that other web sites had uploaded content without permission, and there were occasions where individuals would request that someone email a particular item in spite of the creator's desire that it only be distributed in a certain manner.

    Things have changed. Just about every single payware release is available somewhere eon the web for downloading. Web sites and forums have been established where members can download payware. Since most payware creators are just hobbyists creating content on the side, and aren't making a living at it, they can't afford lengthy lawsuits and expensive attorneys to try to enforce complex copyright laws. It's a losing battle.

    Unfortunately, the losers are the community. If two new simulators come on line this year, we will be back to square one. After five years, the complexities and faults of MSTS are well known, and work-arounds easy to find. Tutorials on content creation, tools, instructions, tips, and tricks are abundant. It is easier than ever to create great looking, high quality models in less time. The tools and easier and cheaper to obtain, and content creation is more accessible to more people than ever. If both freeware and payware developers decide to quit and withdraw from the market place because of piracy, that means that a lot of the talented individuals that brought us to this level in MSTS will not be contributing to the next generation of train simulator content.

    In addition, with the end of the appeal of MSTS as the only software available, current content will become pretty much worthless. Will payware - and freeware - makers want to start all over again? I hope they share my enthusiasm and that of others in the idea of having an all new graphics engine, and the ability to make even better, more visually appealing and detailed models. My fear is that the combination of the complete change in content creation methods and the problem of piracy will contribute to a lot of people leaving the community. We have seen this in the past, with some very talented individuals and modeler groups withdrawing their content from distribution and walking away from the MSTS community.

    The fight against software, music, and movie payware by large corporations has become more and more aggressive. Unfortunately, piracy has become more widespread, and more acceptable in the minds of many people. It is unlikely to change in the near future, as the only solution would be an end to the demand for pirated software, music, movies, and MSTS content. Continued self-policing of the community is helpful, and has proven to be effective. But the worse piracy becomes, the more suspicious people become, the more likely there will be false and unfair accusations against innocent people. It would be a shame if piracy destroyed the community that has taken 5 years to create and the highly anticipated release of two new train simulators is greeted with indifference.

    Robert Murphy
    [email protected]

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