Several UK-based media outlets (Daily Mail, Sun, BBC), reported a few days ago (Jan. 2019) that a person had built a Boeing 737 simulator in his living room and rented it by the hour for profit. The builder charges about £120 per hour, starting from half-hour sessions, to those who want to experience the thrill of flying a big airliner. To put together his sim, he bought parts on eBay and other online stores and spent approximately £15,000.
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This, under normal circumstances, would be great news, as it would encourage others to make their hobby a professional activity while, at the same time, showing people the beauty of flying. However, a few days after he was featured in the news, a member of a group on Facebook wrote a post explaining that he had discovered that the builder was using some software, a modification of the popular ZIBO 737 add-on, in spite of the developer’s (Andre Els) warning about the software being free only for personal use and not for profit-making purposes.
The post said: “I’m sharing this here because Andre is a member of this group and has been developing a freeware glass cockpit software to work with the Zibo 737 called ZHSI and the guy in this article is using ZHSI with his 737 setup and is charging the public for its use. This is not fair to Andre who has been painstakingly working on this freeware software for us to enjoy in our personal use setups. This has caused Andre to withhold future updates of this software until further notice.”(N.B. The Zibo is a popular modification to flight simulators).
Andre himself commented:
The group, of course, exploded with different views on the subject of “free” software being used for revenue-making projects. As it sometimes happens, small, one-person developers, spend countless hours programming a particular piece of software, put it online for free for personal use to make it become popular, only to see their work being used professionally. In this particular case, Andre, the software developer, noticed in a picture published on the media outlets, that one of the cockpit instruments had a feature available only on his software. Andre contacted the builder, who told him he was using some other software and refused to communicate further. As a result, Andre suspended the availability of his software, to the loss of the whole sim community.
Here at AFSBI the issue raised a few interesting questions:
The first is: why would one not pay for a commercial license and be on the right side of legality? It seems that free-for-home-use developers rely mostly on the honesty of those downloading their product. The fact is that enforcing a system that checks on the type of use made, the frequency of the use of the software and more criteria to determine that the software is used professionally, is expensive and not within the reach of most small developers. Usually, those who break the agreed convention of software use, do this for all the software they have installed in their simulator.
In this case, the base software used was X-Plane, which cost USD 60 for a home license (yes, they charge) and over 10 times more, USD 750, for a professional license. “Add-ons,” software that users add to their base simulator to make it perform more realistically or more representative of a specific aircraft, are often offered free or for a small charge. There is, more often than not, no clause on professional use. This may be part of the problem. In this case, Andre claims that his notice was posted and ignored.
To verify how the commercial use is evaluated, we called X-Plane which gave us a very simple answer: “If you make a dollar out of it, it’s commercial.” Fair enough, this is the cost of doing business, and should be respected. Before the next point, a solution here would be to use fairly conventional tactics, such as a EULA signature page that must be agreed on, and an email verification before downloading a free product.
Second, this particular sim cost £15,000 to build. The builder obviously spent money on the hardware he needed to reach his objective of having a fully functioning sim. Why did he skimp on the software? Is this a byproduct of the expectations that are built into the software market? Are we getting used to getting software for free, but then claim to have the best video card, processor, instruments and controls, which we obviously paid for, often at the tune of hundreds and sometime thousand of dollars, euros or pounds. Why the bias against software? Likely in this case, an additional £1,000, a few hours worth of sim rental, would have put the builder in the clear. Again, what comes to mind is how easy it is to get software for free, which has created the expectation that not paying is fine.
Lastly, sim building is a relatively small, albeit thriving, community and while we do not know exactly what happened in this case, behavior that encourages less than honorable actions damages everyone in the community. Why risk creating a negative precedent that may discourage creative, enthusiastic people to make their work available? Much important innovation has come from individuals who dedicate time and money into breaking new fronts in simulation. Integrators (those who buy parts and assemble sims), regardless of level of production, whether building just one sim or an entire range of them, should respect that and support it.
For us this is something to think about and definitely an issue to keep tracking. We would like to see developers paid for what they do so well and users to realistically budget their builds to account for everything in them. Let us know what you think in the comments below.