We’re pretty spoiled in the sim world. Not a week goes by that there isn’t some sort of cool new add-on, preview, or announcement. I’ve got a trio of them for you this week, but I’m also going to hit the pause button for a moment and talk about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.
AoA Sharpens Their Angle
I’ve been following Chris Palmer’s Angle of Attack blog, and I’m impressed with what I see. AoA are investing a tremendous amount of effort into an often-ignored corner of flight simming; pilot training. A while back, I bought their LDS 767 training DVD, and found it fascinating as well as informative. Since then, Chris and the gang have been going all-out to build a name for themselves in the sim training arena. Their latest endeavor, and one that’s bound to get a lot of press once it’s running, is called Aviator 90. I don’t want to steal Chris’s thunder, so head over to his latest video blog post and check out the details.
One thing I will mention, because I’m a huge fan of logo design, is their new mark. Check out this bad boy:
It’s very polished, very professional. Notice how the orange waves suggest both a wing and the airflow over that wing. Even the type treatment is right in line with their name, sporting multiple angle cuts. Nice work, guys.
Super Cub Pack Lifts Off
Yowza! After months of teasing pics and promises, Flight Replicas’ Super Cub package is aloft. This is a deep package, with about the most variation and detail I’ve seen in a sim plane, maybe ever. You get the standard Super Cub, but also a whole slew of variants, making it a seriously good deal.
The way FR decided to package the planes is so logical and flexible, it made me wonder why more devs don’t work this way. If you’re a Cub freak (guilty), you can get the complete package. Don’t feel like you’ll need them all? For a very reasonable price, you can purchase just the ones that appeal most to you, such as Standard + Military variants, Classic Bushplanes, Extreme Bushplanes, or Deluxe IFR Amphibious versions. A friendly word of advice: unless you’re 100% convinced that you’ll only ever fly an amphib or bush version, buy the full package. The forums are starting to fill already with people who started with one package, then felt compelled to keep adding others. You’ve been warned. 😉
Although I haven’t had time to log more than an hour or so in a single bush model yet, I have loaded each of the variants up and fiddled with the switches. Even though flying a Super Cub isn’t rocket science, I’d encourage you to read the manual carefully. Not only does it give helpful piloting advice, but it reveals a host of hidden click spots in the various VCs that toggle things like the GPS unit, the belly cargo pod, pilot, passenger, even a rifle slung under the wing. Yep, Flight Replicas really hit it out of the park on details. I predict it won’t be long before a wave of repaints makes this birdie irresistable to all but the most hardened tubeliner drivers. Get it now! You won’t regret it.
The Best Flight Planner for FSX Gets Better
Originally, I was going to say that Plan-G was the best VFR flight planner for FSX, because the developer, Tim Arnot, seemed to be headed in a purely VFR direction. But with the latest release, he’s added features designed specifically to appeal to IFR fliers as well. In addition to the standard airport and navaid database, Plan-G now sports ILS feathers and info for runways that have it, and an extensive (and user-extensible) list of waypoints, named and unnamed.
In addition, I checked out the flight plan printout view. One of my pet peeves about default FSX flying is that I don’t have a readily accessible way of getting a list of ILS frequencies and headings once I’ve been assigned a particular runway in-flight. Plan-G’s flight plan printing function provides just about anything you’d need for getting from A to B, instrument or otherwise. This is growing into a seriously nice planner. And it’s free!
And Now, A Little Rant Discussion…
Recent events, the details of which aren’t important, have got me thinking about the relationship between myself as a dev, and you as a flightsim enthusiast. I’ve been hanging out on flightsim forums just about every day for more than nine years, and in that time I’ve developed a sense of what it takes to be successful as a developer in this community. By success, I don’t necessarily mean raking in cash, but rather the building of a brand that people trust and a product that they enjoy.
The more I think of it, the more I’m convinced that we devs should stop even thinking of what we sell as products, per se. To refer to them that way calls to mind toasters or sports cars — tangible items that either work or don’t work, with little interaction between the maker and the end user. As creators of FS add-ons, what we’re selling is less a product than an experience, and the boundaries of that experience extend far beyond the time we spend in-sim.
Think about the ways you interact with a given product and developer: you see their preview shots online, you comment on the state of development, maybe express a desire to experience it first-hand once it’s released. From that moment, you start building a relationship with that developer and that product experience.
At some point (hopefully), the product is released. You clamor to the website, credit card in hand, and key in your numbers. If everything goes smoothly, you’ve got the product in hand in no time, and are off enjoying it. If you’re a member of an online community, you’ll probably tell your friends how you feel about this new find pretty quickly. Maybe you love it and plaster screenshots all over the web. Any developer would be a fool not to encourage such behavior, as we all know that validation from happy customers is worth a hundred times more than their own self-generated PR. But what if things don’t go as smoothly as you expected?
This is where it’s absolutely vital that developers get – and stay – engaged, and in the most public way possible. If someone is complaining about this or that aspect of your product on a community forum, log onto that forum and respond! Quell that initial instinct to protect yourself and try a little humility instead. If someone is frustrated by their experience with your product to the point of ranting about it to their friends, you’ve probably done something wrong. Maybe it’s a major bug in your code, maybe you’ve just not explained something well enough in the manual. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve put your own needs ahead of your user by inventing such foolproof, draconian copy protection schemes that going through the registration process makes airport security look like a day at the beach. Developers, know this: your customers shouldn’t have to remove their shoes and submit to a full body scan in order to buy and use your stuff.
Somewhere along the line, some of us have gotten so caught up in trying to stop the bad guys from using our products for free that we’ve neglected our honest, paying customers. Piracy, while reprehensible, is part of the cost of doing business in the digital age. Whenever I start worrying about who’s ripping off my stuff, I drag my thoughts back to how easily I’m able to distribute my bits online, and the ease with which I can reach a potentially huge audience with very little effort. It’s all a balance, yin and yang.
And, for Pete’s sake, communicate! There is absolutely no substitute for being there, in person, for your customers. Don’t hide behind rules and regs, don’t try to mask your identity (which puts even trusting people in an untrusting frame of mind), and for the love of all that’s holy, when things get rough, don’t run and hide. The more people yell about you, the more you should be right there, talking them down calmly, and showing the world that nothing is more important to you than putting things right and making them happy. No, you can’t please everyone all the time. In my experience, however, you can solve 99% of all problems by just listening and responding in a timely fashion.
If it’s true that we, as devs, are selling an experience, then the experience starts the first time the user sees a preview, and continues long after they’ve made their purchase. It’s not just the product that counts, it’s how we interact with the customers and build relationships with them. I’m not talking about some marketing buzzword style of relationship, but actually engaging with each of them, one on one, and making sure that they’re having the best experience possible with the work of our hands. After all, they’re not just giving us their hard-earned money, they’re giving us their precious time. We should be worthy of that.
Okay, that’s about enough for one Friday. Whatever and wherever you choose to fly this weekend, enjoy!