The AirlineSim Convention 2016 is over and it has been a wonderful event! Thanks to everyone who made the trip to Leipzig, it was great to meet some of our players in real life once again. As usual, we took the opportunity to present our latest new feature to the public for the first time. After many years of preparation and almost a year of development, we are happy to announce Booking Classes and Diverse Passenger Types (BC and DPT). Read all about it in the blog post below, including the answers to some of the questions you'll most likely have. I tried to keep it short, but it's a lot of ground to cover.
There are two main reasons why we decided to add these features in particular:
Firstly, there are quite a few issues with the existing ORS - the "heart of AirlineSim". Flight ratings are limited and passenger types exist in very broad categories only (one passenger type for all Economy markets, for example) which leads to symptoms like excessive service requirements in classes that would be completely price-dominated in reality. This in turn causes massive under-capacities...airlines in AS compete mostly for slots, not for passengers. The described phenomenon is merely the tip of the iceberg, though, and experienced players can probably list a lot of related problems.
Secondly, while interlining is one of the most important components of the game there's almost no way to control or influence it below the "contract/no contract" level. In reality, interlining also serves as an important instrument when it comes to sales and distribution, something that is not modeled in AirlineSim at all.
There isn't one new feature. It's more of a suite of features that depend on each other. I’ll describe the most important ones below.
Similar to reality, AirlineSim will allow you to define so-called booking classes which split a single service class - like Economy or Business class - into several ones. This enables you to set different prices, booking conditions and connection settings per booking class, giving you a lot more control over who books your flights when, under which circumstances, and at which price. You can define up to 26 passenger classes and 10 cargo classes.
A simple example: You could specify two booking classes for economy. One for direct flights and one for connections. You would then configure an airport pair in a way that 40% of the available Economy capacity is used for the direct class and 60% for the connection class. The direct class would be offered at a higher price than the connection class because you want to give passengers an incentive to use your network. To avoid the cheap price to support the network of interlining partners, you would only allow connections between your own flights - so-called "online connections".
Diverse Passenger Types
All this wouldn't make too much sense if we would stick to three passenger classes mapped 1:1 to the available service classes. So everything was rewritten to support an arbitrary number of different passenger types, all of which have their own requirements and preferences. So there might be an engineer that has to be at an oil platform in the middle of nowhere as soon as possible and that's all that matters to her, so she'll book the fastest connection at basically any price. The opposite would be a low-budget leisure traveller who's completely flexible in terms of schedule but wants to pay as little as possible. In between these two extremes there is a wide range of diverse passenger types and you'll have to decide which ones you want to cater to.
This is a feature for advanced players: It allows you to define arbitrary physical cabins to install on your planes. The idea is that oftentimes, different service classes actually share the same cabin. Think of Economy and Business class on intra-European: Here, only a movable curtain separates the Economy from the Business passengers. With arbitrary cabins, this will be possible in AirlineSim as well, allowing for more flexible capacity adjustments. In future versions, adjustments might even happen dynamically, based on the current booking situation.
The configuration options you have for airport pairs and flight numbers will only grow over time and the addition of booking classes has already made them a lot more complex. For this reason we've built configuration templates: You specify a set of matching criteria like distance range, involved airports and others and whenever you create a new flight number or airport pair, the settings defined in the first matching configuration template will be applied. This way, you can specify combinations of settings like prices, service profiles and others for whole categories of flights instead of just airport pairs.
Roadmap and Outlook
The BC/DPT feature in its current form is just the beginning. Over the coming years it will serve as the foundation for a lot of advances features like distribution channels, choice of passenger service systems, overbooking, better statistics, passenger loyalty systems, or even often-requested features like codeshare and charter flights. We have a lot of ideas and we can't wait to realize them.
When will this feature be available?
The version we showed in Leipzig was a very early development build and many things are still missing. Before we can open it to the public, lots of things still need to be added and completed. While we aim for the end of 2016, it's more likely that we'll have an early access version ready in Q1 of 2017.
Will this feature be rolled out to all game worlds?
This feature is built in a way that allows it to be rolled out to existing game worlds. Since we won't be able to support two different development branches of AirlineSim indefinitely, we are more or less forced to roll out the new version to all game worlds eventually. How and when this will happen is completely open, though, and depends a lot on our findings during public testing.
What would a roll-out mean for existing airlines?
Since the flight rating system has been rewritten from scratch it is very hard to tell what the exact effect on existing airlines would be. The overall amount of passengers will remain the same, but their booking behavior will be completely different. So while it is unlikely that airlines will see no bookings right after the patch, adjustments to a changing market situation will become necessary eventually. We will run mass tests with actual data from live game worlds to develop a feel for the kind of effects that are to be expected.
Isn't this feature too complex for players to manage?
In theory, you can just continue playing AirlineSim the way you used to. In fact, when you set up a new airline and stick to the default settings, this is exactly what the setup will look like (three booking classes for Economy, Business and First, one for cargo). Over time, when you start experimenting with the possibilities offered by the new feature, you can add complexity where and to the extend you like. We will listen carefully to the feedback we receive and add helpers and comfort functions wherever they are necessary to manage this complexity.
Can I try this out somewhere?
Not yet. While attendants of the AirlineSim Convention already got a sneak peak at the new version, it is not ready for the general public just yet. As soon as we have a stable version ready for testing we will open a game world for everyone to try it out.
Where can I learn more about this?
Since the feature has been announced now, we intend to leave "stealth mode" and inform more openly about the ongoing development. So expect development logs, feature videos and maybe even development live streams in the near future.