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Community Question: Why not Railworks?
Matthew Peddlesden, Date: 13 September 2009


Note 1: Before I begin, just to save time and boredom... i'm going to refer to "Rail Simulator and RailWorks" just as "RailWorks" in this article, while reading it please do consider comments applied to one to be potentially and probably relevant to the other. In a similar vein i'll say "rs.com" when I mean generally Kuju, RSDL or RS.com

Note 2: It's all "why not railworks" so the views will generally lean towards the negative, that's down to the question rather than anything else. I think we all understand the positives of RailWorks, this question was about finding out why NOT RailWorks. It is not a review of RailWorks and it is not intended to be a balanced article weighing up pro's and con's - it's about what people have told me is stopping them adopting the product.

Back on 5th August I asked a question of the community to try and understand how the MSTS and Trainz development community is reacting to RailWorks. It was clear to me that while there has been a significant drop in the number of developers as people move on for various reasons, there are still quite a few left and they're still actively producing content for MSTS. With RailWorks being so much more visually appealing and routes being so much more detailed I thought it would be worth getting the feedback from the people really doing the work to understand why they weren't moving over to the new product, and I have to say the feedback has been superb so a big thank you to everyone that replied.

By posting on the front page, rather than the forums, I was hoping to encourage private feedback from those who might not frequent the forums (or might be completely turned off from them), try to encourage people to express a view that they might not feel comfortable expressing on the forums and generally try to get a much more open and frank feel from a wider range of the community than would be possible via the forums. As it turned out, a thread was started on the forums and there was more feedback from there however as expected this didn't really contribute much to the current understanding as most of the same people posted mostly the same views; not that they are any less interesting, just that they were already fairly well understood.

In total I received nearly 80 responses to the question and thanks to some people who went out of their way to spread the question, the feedback includes a number of people from outside the normal community that use UKTrainSim including developers from the North American communities.

One of the things I really wanted to achieve was hearing back from the people that have really helped contribute to making MSTS and this community what it is today. While you can never rule out the possibility that a whole new band of people will spring up to propel a new product, surely the most obvious pool of talent is from those already doing the work - such as these people. I'm delighted that I heard back from lots of the main contributors from the UK and even some from North America, Canada, Australia and South Africa to name a few.

Feedback below is not from the main general end user of the product, but from those who make the content that we end-users enjoy; very few of whom participate in the forum. It is for this reason that I believe the feedback below should be taken with some seriousness.

Reasons for not adopting RailWorks

  1. The people that use my content are all happy using it on an existing product, none of them have expressed any desire for it to be in Railworks, so why move?
  2. Unhappy with some features
    1. Headlights
    2. Passengers in coaches (even in sidings)
    3. General view that other than very pretty graphics, RailWorks is simply not as "good" a train sim as MSTS or Trainz.
    4. AI Traffic / Despatcher / Scenarios
    5. Signals
    6. Physics for long (115 car, 18,000 ton) trains are just entirely wrong, puts off North American builders
  3. Poor attitude on the RailWorks forums
    1. One developer put off developing his RailWorks add-on for two or three weeks just after reading general forum posts
    2. "Footy fan loyalty", rejection of any criticisms
    3. "Its only a game" response, to which people have accepted this and gone back to MSTS where they can make it work a lot more accurately
  4. Poor treatment by rs.com of some members trying to help understand flaws and errors in the product.
    1. The view that some members have almost been chased off the forum for trying to identify the issues carefully
    2. The view that feedback given on the forums is rarely acknowledged and rarely taken on board in the product
    3. Seriously damaged the view of RailWorks in North America with bad handling of developers, conductors, rail engineers etc posting their feedback.
  5. Very busy with big investment in time of current project(s) but might look at RailWorks in the future once these are completed
  6. PC simply not up to running RailWorks and not prepared to invest in a new one until general feeling on the forums for the product improves
  7. Complexities of the Blueprint system put some people off
    1. Though some other people commented it was great and far better than MSTS
  8. Complexities of laying complicated track, understanding track rules, points that always render correctly etc.
  9. Turned off by Rail Simulator becoming RailWorks, and the rapid drop in price of Rail Simulator to the bargain bin
  10. Costly with so much content being payware, prices for wagons and loco's, no sign of routes.
    1. Having to buy the Isle of Wight track and the Foliage pack for many freeware routes also turned people off
    2. Freeware developers turned off because of the payware developers releasing single bits of stock for 12, why should they contribute? So they work for MSTS instead.
    3. Stock developers waiting for a route to come out that excites them enough to get involved
    4. One payware Trainz developer with a large amount of payware items said that even he thought it was silly how much things were costing and that he would have looked at more like 3 for a loco with cab.
    5. Some had the view that rs.com have (intentionally or otherwise) fostered a view that the sim is for professionals to create content for (e.g. lack of 3DCanvas documentation, poor support from 3D Canvas for RailWorks), so the rest are sticking with MSTS where "us amateurs" can have our fun.
    6. The view that the payware folks are keeping hard learned secrets to themselves, and with very few in the freeware community working on it, it seems like everyone's starting from scratch learning the same lessons and really doesn't have that warm community feel that MSTS does.
  11. Already have so much MSTS content to use (stock, scenery etc) that moving to a newer sim with better graphics would still be a major backward step.
  12. TSM developers, no way of getting content in to RailWorks without learning new tools, far easier to stick with MSTS.
  13. Lack of a Michael Vone style "Route Builders Guide" book
  14. Unfriendly interface and approach for building scenarios
  15. More documents for tools that non-professionals can use, e.g. there are documents about 3DStudio, there should be step by step guides for 3D Canvas and Blender too.
  16. Resistence to the "Steam" distribution mechanism

My own analysis of things leads me to believe that there are a number of root causes for things not picking up, one of these is that with scenarios not working well other than for the very simple style of scenario such as those included in most of the rs.com payware and the base product itself (with the notable exception of a couple of excellent scenarios contributed by a couple of folks in the community), this is turning off the route builders; why build a complex detailed route that people won't be able to enjoy the way you want them to, additionally a lack of rolling stock variety is not helping to theme peoples thoughts in route building. This lack of routes is in turn turning off the stock builders. That's a pretty crude overview of that particular "scenario" as there are lots of corrolaries and variations as you dig deeper of course.

The topic of payware was certainly emotive amongst many respondants, while most acknowledged that the level of skill required for RailWorks was obviously significantly greater and thus the amount of time required to complete a good looking model, many felt that the vast presence of payware in RailWorks given very little freeware made the whole thing feel less like the friendly community that MSTS has which turned some away feeling that if payware is what it's got to be for RailWorks then i'll stick with MSTS because I only want to release my stuff freeware. While there are some outstanding freeware releases, the fact that others are making 10+ per loco does turn off those who might consider it.

One thing that I was not aware of before doing this survey is just how many of this group of people have actually bought and given RailWorks a good shot. Almost everyone that replied described not just why they weren't doing anything for it but also what they'd tried to do and why it had gone wrong. Again, i've tried to capture some of those key items in the list above.

Ok, so some conclusions, what should rs.com be focusing on to help improve the product?

There's still a lot of damage from the previous RSDL approach and rs.com need to really work on mending bridges if they want to engage with the community (which doesn't just mean freeware, there were many payware respondants in the above feedback as well). The current completely hands-off approach where you get a simple cold response email saying to look in the Wiki and that's it is also not going down very well as people feel ignored.

There's not much that anyone can (or should) do about people wanting to be paid for their work, in my view that's an aspect of the RailWorks community that will either make it thrive (because perhaps more people create models feeling they can be rewarded for their work) or die (because perhaps fewer people make models at all and for those that do there are still fewer people interested in purchasing them). My personal view is that if the RailWorks eco-system were able to grow in a more accelerated way, with a good spread of routes and supporting stock, then the single loco or wagon payware packs would actually be very well received by those specifically looking to get a top quality version of that particular item. As it is, people feel pressured in to it because it's that or, well, nothing. Of course that's not strictly true, there is a growing amount of freeware out there however one thing that has become clear with many of those who responded that do develop for RailWorks is how important some key individuals have been (such as Kevin Martin) in helping far more content happen than just the items that they themselves released.

So, skipping on from the payware/freeware aspects, fundamentally you're left with a chicken and egg problem because, for example, route creators want to see scenario creators and relevant rolling stock. Scenario creators need routes and stock. Stock builders choose what they want often because they are inspired by a route. With this intertwining set of inspirations it's difficult to see how to kickstart things but then that spark keeps igniting already; with Kevin Martin, Richard Scott and others releasing some wonderful items of stock and John Griffiths and others releasing some outstanding routes, why isn't it picking up? It seems that the common theme for what's really not working is the scenario side of things. While it's certainly possible to write 'a' scenario within RailWorks it's not always possible to write the scenario that you want to, for various reasons. Normally a scenario runs pretty well until you start wanting to intertwine the user service with player services, and perhaps have those crossing over each other as well, then you start depending on a signalling and despatching infrastructure which is simply not up to the job. This results in trains running red lights, green lights that should be red, trains stalling and running very slowly, trains crashing in to each other, trains re-routing themselves around red lights because the path finding algorithm "knows best" and so forth. So, in my view, rectifying this broken aspect of the simulator will go a long way to helping things, but it isn't the whole story.

For RailWorks to really be adopted well in North America there are a number of things that they need to be looking at and i'll cover them briefly because i'm not a US railroad enthusiast so i'm probably just badly paraphrasing what i've been told... Proper headlights are often commented on, somewhat more importantly it seems that big long trains are both difficult to create, difficult to make sure they're the right weights etc and then if you can do that, the actual simulation of the train is completely unrealistic. Given that most North American trains fit in to this category, it is easy to see why many users are cold towards RailWorks. Lastly, again important for the long trains, brakes seem to release instantly across the whole length of the train, when in fact this is not the case - when you release the brakes it can take two or three minutes before the train has fully released right to the rear of the train, by which time you could be rolling if you're not paying attention. Similarly, it means applying brakes has to be done very carefully on the steep gradients. The end result is that much of the challenge is taken out of the driving experience.

It is also definitely worth noting that not all the respondants were in the "won't" group, there were a small handful that replied even though they are now developing for RailWorks. Some commented that they'd gone through lots of challengs that in some cases nearly put them off (which i've covered above) and others have simply said that they don't understand many comments on the forums, they've found RailWorks to be an enjoyable challenge and simply worked through the issues and been pleased with the results.

The last thing i'll comment on here is that a common theme among many of the route builders that replied spoke about the difficulty in laying trackwork in the way that they would like to see it. It could well be that this is simply an education issue and I do recall that rs.com have a great library of tutorial videos over at Blip and for a long time these videos have all been quite buried, if you know that they exist they can usually be found but it was amazing how such an incredible resource was not advertised. Even as of now, assuming you know they exist you will find them under "Support" then scroll down about 3/4 of the page and find "Tutorial Movies" which will link you over to http://railsimulator.blip.tv where you'll find something like 50 excellent little tutorials concentrating on specific aspects of route building; with quite a bit of it dedicated to laying track.

In summary, I want to say thanks again to everyone that replied and apologies this summary has taken a while to be produced. I'm not sure what good it might turn out to be but the question was asked and the answers were written up; we'll see what happens next. I also want to say a big thanks to all those who create content for the community, whatever sim you do it for. We have a fantastic hobby here and it can only survive for another 10 years if the same spirit keeps going that got us this far, build and share, learn and improve. It's not just about specific items but knowledge, information and resources. We need to get the RailWorks forums back to being more like the MSTS ones were "back in the day" with everyone feverishly soaking up and sharing things they learned, encouraging each other and I believe having some real fun.

Download John Griffiths South Devon Banks route, use some of Kevin Martin's GWR rolling stock or the new GWR Rail Car from Richard Scott, use the outstanding GWR prairie tank engine cab view and assorted wagons from Pete Gillam and you'll really see what the community can start to achieve. Currently modern image rolling stock is a bit lacking in the freeware community but steam is quite well catered for.

Matthew Peddlesden



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