X-Plane 11, Prepar3D, FSX, And The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Readers of this site know that over the past few months I’ve transitioned nearly entirely from Prepar3D 3.4 to X-Plane 11. I’ve done so having spent a significant amount of money on  Prepar3D add-ons:

  • The A2A 172, 182, Piper Cherokee, and Piper Comanche
  • Various Carenado aircraft, my favorite being the Cessna 177 Cardinal
  • ORBX Vector, North America Landclass, Europe Landclass, and four US regions
  • A handful of add-on payware airports
  • NightEnvironment and Taburet night lighting
  • Photorealistic scenery for several states
  • MultiCrew Experience
  • MyTraffic
  • Active Sky 16 and Active Sky Cloud Art
  • REX Direct HD textures
  • Flight1 GTN 750 GPS
  • And probably a few others I’m forgetting

The total for all these add-ons? I don’t know. A lot. Too much, probably. Please don’t add them up for me and tell me. Suffice to say I’ve spent a fair amount getting Prepar3D to look and act the way I like. In this I am in good company, because if you use Prepar3D or FSX, you probably have done the same. Because of its old code base and limited formal development since being abandoned by Microsoft years ago, FSX/P3D have benefited from a significant amount of work by the developer community to keep the sims up to snuff. Getting them to run takes a PC. Getting them to look and act in a modern fashion requires add-ons.

So it’s no surprise that a common lament here and in other online forums this year has been, “I’d give X-Plane 11 a try if I didn’t have so much invested in P3D/FSX.” Emotionally I know that makes sense, but economically, it actually doesn’t. That’s because it’s a “sunk cost fallacy,” described here as:

Individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort) (Arkes & Blumer, 1985). This fallacy, which is related to status quo bias, can also be viewed as bias resulting from an ongoing commitment. For example, individuals sometimes order too much food and then over-eat ‘just to get their money’s worth’. Similarly, a person may have a $20 ticket to a concert and then drive for hours through a blizzard, just because s/he feels that s/he has to attend due to having made the initial investment. If the costs outweigh the benefits, the extra costs incurred (inconvenience, time or even money) are held in a different mental account than the one associated with the ticket transaction (Thaler, 1999).

The sunk cost fallacy is at least one reason people hold onto bad investments much longer than they should. It also explains why businesses and governments often keep investing in initiatives that don’t perform well — there is a desire to get a “return” on an investment that’s already been made. In economics it’s called a sunk cost. In our common tongue, we might call it “throwing good money after bad.”

I remember learning about the sunk cost fallacy as an econ minor in college (many moons ago). I also remember the appropriate way to make a rational decision when faced with a sunk cost, which is to ask the question, “If [decision] would cost you nothing, would you do it?” So, using the example above we would as, “If the concert ticket was free, would you drive hours in the blizzard to attend?” No, you wouldn’t.

“Throwing good money after bad” is a bit harsh for investment in sim software. It’s probably better stated as, “Throwing more good money after good money.” But economically speaking to not try X-Plane because you’ve invested in P3D or FSX add-ons — or to not try P3D or FSX because you’ve invested in X-Plane, for that matter — is to commit a sunk cost fallacy. The money you have invested is gone. You cannot get it back, and it is unavailable for future investment whether you feel it was wasted, worthwhile, or something else. The way to treat that sunk cost is to ask, “If you could try X-Plane 11 (or P3D/FSX if you’re an X-Plane user) for free, would you?” Most of us would say, “Of course!” But it’s not free, so the real question is, “If you could try X-Plane for only $59.99 / P3D for $59.55, would you?” And if fact, you CAN try the X-Plane 11 demo for free, so there you go.

But don’t sweat what you’ve invested so far in the other platform. You spent the money, and one hopes you enjoyed the experiences it afforded. But letting it keep you from making a future decisions, while emotional, isn’t economically sound. If you want to give the other platform a shot, and can afford the sign-up fee for the software, go for it. I did, and I don’t regret it. Besides, P3D is still there for me if I want it.

PS: There is a wrinkle in this story. The more accurate economic evaluation would be, “If you could try it for only the cost of getting it how you like it, would you?” In this case, my experience is that X-Plane 11 has its advantages given its large body of freeware add-ons.

8 thoughts on “X-Plane 11, Prepar3D, FSX, And The Sunk Cost Fallacy

  1. That’s an outstanding illustration of the sunk cost fallacy. Way too many people fail to make the right decisions on a lot of aspects of life because they feel they’ve invested too much (time, money, effort, etc) to turn back now.

    Another way to look at it is: “If you had nothing invested, and were starting from scratch, what would you do?”

  2. FWIW, while I’m a supporter of the sunk cost fallacy as being detailed above, switching costs are real, when considering a change like this. In one of my jobs, I’m a “Canon Guy” and have many 10’s of thousands of dollars invested in Canon glass and cameras. Were I to choose to move to Nikon, I would have to buy all new lenses and all new bodies, and this would certainly not be cheap.

    Other real switching cost situations would be moving from Windows to Mac, and having to purchase a entirely new set of peripherals and software, or changing from PlayStation to XBox.

    1. You’re spot on re: switching costs, which is the point I was alluding to in the post script. I’ve found the costs of switching to XP quite low. I think the costs of switching from XP to P3D would be quite high, based on my experience with both platforms.

  3. What a great post. I too had invested a lot of money and time in FSx and P3d. I actually kept putting off trying x-plane 10 (even though I liked x-plane 9) because I had sunk so much time and effort into P3d. So when the beta for version 11 came out I gave it a shot, and I haven’t gone back. It’s not perfect, but boy is it so much more enjoyable to use and I’m not fiddling with it all the time. I also have been totally enjoying developing airport scenery for the gateway, and using Ortho4xp to create photo scenery. That really was the final nail in the coffin for me. Once I flew between two airports I enhanced and used photo scenery I was hooked. I encourage others to at least give the demo a shot. And as you pointed out, its really much cheaper to get it working than P3d simply because so much is available that is free, and also excellent quality.

  4. Wow, great commentary, glad I’m not the only one on same boat as you are…been simming since the 80’s, Apple IIe & sublogic FS, MS FS1, etc…, and yes, have spent $$$ and most importantly, precious time that I would otherwise spent on more productive activities…

    I’ve definitely caught the XPlane11 bug, this sim is such a different breed, lots of new features, not to mention the 64bit code base. I’ve since deleted FSX since installation of P3D, but will soon begin collecting “dust” together with FSX:SE…lol

    Thanks again for this great website and keep up the good work on XP11.


  5. Funny you should mention all this. I was thinking how much I had invested in FSX/P3D not long ago. Terrains, aircraft, Saitek panels, etc., etc. I tried the XP11 demo and wound up buying X-plane. I’ve since bought the Carenado Cessna 152 and Air Manager but overall, I don’t see my costs going too much farther. Especially when I can undock GPS, etc. and put it on a touchscreen tablet. My Saitek radio panels which have been so problematic for me even with Spad next will probably be replaced by a single small touchscreen. I’ve spent $1500-$2000 plus on P3D. I expect to spend a quarter of that to get a far better, simpler simulator. Selling my panels on ebay will recoup some of the expense. Now I just need to learn how to use WED and then I can improve on the local area around Missoula. Thank you by the way for Thompson Falls and Bonners Ferry airports; very nice.

  6. Though, agree with The sunk cost fallacy, and I think that most of us agree that FSX as much as we appreciate it, is coming to it’s final days, there is some more to think of when it comes to the calculation of the “Cost of the Alternative” & here I have some concern regarding the, almost only alternative which is X-Plane. I see the “Philosophy” of X-Plane, as kind of burden, it seems to me that LR gave us a platform and there are so many hoping on the platform and are happy to contribute ( which is nice & highly appreciated) to cover what is “missing”, however for the common Simmer it is overwhelming, way to many Plugins, luck of control, confusions, the felling that in order to accomplish some basic stuff, you need to install this this and this, and of course, don’t forget to load this this and this before, and in most cases you have no idea what the heck you are doing and what does it mean ..needles, to say that real support this is not something that you can expect, unless you call those “Volunteers” that are trying to assist you “Real Support” …… now, I’m asking myself, how many of us will approach a dealership and will be happy to pull out of the lot with just a frame Engine and 4 wheels, and how much will it really cost you ……. I guess you guys know what I mean
    … was about to start a construction of a new Home Base Cockpit, and put everything on hold for now … (-:
    Tnx for your attention


    Please excuse me for my language. English is not my native one …. 🙂

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