DCS: World's newcomer experience and how to improve it
Updated: Mar 16
I have been playing flight simulators for almost half my life and there is a constant that I always notice, no matter the platform I am currently flying on: the high new player turn-around rate that flight sims have. Be it because of of their high level of entry of flight sims, unintuitive controls or just the nicheness of the genre, flight simulation is the genre of games where I have personally seen the largest amount of people try it once and then turn around, never to return.
DCS:World is not an exception to this trend. I have seen many try it out and leave without even spending more than two hours on it. But unlike some other sims, I have noticed that DCS has some characteristics that make it easier to get a hold off like interactive tutorials, in-house instructional videos made by the developers and many other things. Yet, I still think that just a couple of things could bring even more player into the game, long-term players at that. I have been thinking about writing this article for a while but it has been difficult as this is a topic that needs to be tackled seriously. Spitballing ideas is not something ideal in this situation as it might bring more confusion to the table. Additionally, remarking problems without bringing solutions to light is just like throwing gas into a fire; I will try to illustrate each problem and after that, I will propose a solution for it. Please take this as a passionate open letter from a lifelong flight sim enthusiast to the fantastic developers at Eagle Dynamics. It is my opinion and everything here just reflects what I think as someone that has observed the environment that surrounds this genre, its people and what some of them think. Oh, and I am not a gamedev, so this is only my opinion as an experienced player. With that out of the way, we shall begin.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER A LOT
It might sound like a simple thing, but it is one of the things that I have been told by several people who have tried DCS and turned away: when they opened the main menu for the first time, it "scared" them. With "scared", most of them told me that they meant that it looked unintuitive and that it does not provide any kind of assistance as a first time user. Sure, everything is labeled right there but as a new player it is kind of confusing.
For long-time users this might be a non-issue as most of them already know how to navigate and, in general, most of them already knew what they were getting into when starting the program in the first place. This is something that only affects players that come from other games where initial tutorials are common. Therefore, my proposal: A guided tour on first start.
This guided tour, which is something that other simulators use, would guide you through the UI via pop-up elements. It would tell you what each part of the menu does, what you can access with them, etc. After that, it would send you to the training section so that you can start your first training session. In my opinion, this would allow new players to familiarize themselves with DCS' menus and it'd get them started on their journey.
HOW A DIFFICULT AIRCRAFT SETS WRONG EXPECTATIONS
The second most common complaint I have heard from the people that I got to talk to to make this article is this: The starter plane is too difficult or variation of that statement such as "why do I have to start with a difficult aircraft?". These comments were in reference to the Su-25T, one of two free aircraft that come with DCS:World, the other being the TF-51 which is a full fidelity "training" unarmed variant of the P-51 Mustang. The Su-25T is, in my opinion, a wonderful ground pounder. It is capable of doing almost every single ground strike task you can think of, mostly thanks to its sensor package and weapon variety. I do not have any issues or complaints from my experienced user standpoint, but, is this really the best aircraft to be someone's first jet or aircraft as a whole?
DCS is, to some, their first flight simulator. They will need to learn all the basics of flight before they even start thinking about combat. In my opinion, the Su-25T does not give new players the best impression. It is slow and most importantly, it is a temperamental bird that might appear unfriendly to the newcomers. The TF-51 is a much better trainer and it would be perfect if it were not for one reason: its lack of multicrew.
I have personally taught several of my friends how to fly in DCS with the help of multicrew. Specifically, the aircraft I taught them with was the MB-339 mod since it allowed me to teach them without them having to spend anything on the sim. That is a very important part of this argument because the fact that they did not have to spend money at the start to begin training with a friend marked the difference between turning around and staying.
I love what the modding community has done to alleviate this problem. One only needs to look at the marvelous work of the A-4E-C team (which I am glad to be a minor part of) or the highly expected T-45C by VNAO. Aircraft like those solve this issue, allowing newcomers to have a taste of DCS before they take the plunge into buying a module. Therefore, my proposal: DCS would benefit from a third free aircraft, an official multi-crew capable module capable of training missions.
I know how expensive and difficult module creation is, I have seen it first hand. My proposal is not without flaws, either. Modules such as the L-39, C-101, YAK-15 and the IFE official MB-339 module, which is in development, exist for a reason and serve the exact role I think would benefit DCS in the long term: but they are all paid. A lot of newcomers would prefer buying a fully-fledged fighter like the Hornet instead of buying a module just for training, or so I have been told by the people I spoke with to make this article. It is all about accessibility and zero monetary compromise Having mods such as VNAO's T-45C is great for the community as a whole as they fix that hole that exists in accessible initial pilot training. But there is no official support for mods like these, their maintenance after each patch falls to the mod developers. There is no guarantee that they will keep working after a major patch such as the upcoming 2.7. In fact, the T-45C developers have stated that they are waiting to test the mod on 2.7 before they release it because there is a chance that the update might break things. I truly believe that a free official trainer would increase sales of actual modules in the long run due to the fact that you have already had a chance to learn how to fly in the sim with a much more friendly aircraft than the Su-25T or the TF-51. But those are only my personal thoughts.
I love DCS:World and flight simulators as a whole but I have always wanted to share that experience with more people. It is one of the reasons why I write reviews that take me days to complete, to inform people that might be questioning what aircraft is the best for them. Modules are expensive, after all. It is always better to buy something after you have informed yourself about what you are buying. I wrote the article to throw a bit of light into these two issues that I have noticed ever since I started playing DCS. I hope that it can help in some way, make people discuss about these things. After all: the more people that talk about this, the more likely is something to change.
Take care and fly safely. If you want to talk with me about this, feel free to contact me on my discord which is linked on my author bio below.
About the author
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034