Over the last three years we have seen tremendous growth at X-Aviation. Our catalog has expanded, the talent has improved, and our customer base has become quite large. In this same amount of time I have witnessed rumors fly off the wall faster than they can be printed in a tabloid. If there’s any one thing I thought I would never see in the X-Plane world, it was crazy rumors! The truth is quite clear to me, however, and it’s the fact that X-Plane has vastly changed in the 13 years I’ve been around it!
I began using X-Plane in 1998 (time really does “fly!”), and back then a lot of us couldn’t even begin to shake a stick at promoting payware products for X-Plane. In fact, back then X-Plane.org was just getting started, and I was a heavy supporter having gave many donations to the cause as well as culminating ideas in my head as to ways that I could help give back to the community in more than just a monetary fashion. You see, as a child I always had an ambition to fly. If it wasn’t planes, it was trains (planes first!). I started simming back in the Apple II series days, and I can remember playing around Meigs Field in Microsoft Flight Sim 2.0. It’s funny to think that even back then a flight simulator on what is now a very old fashioned machine was considered an immersive and fun experience. It is memories like that which make me always question “What’s next?,” or “How can this get any better?” As hardware continues to advance at a more rapid pace than ever I have come to the realization that the “sky is the limit” even with my wonder of what’s to come still fully intact. I flew the Microsoft Flight Simulator platform all the way until they discontinued supporting Apple hardware, at which point I was left stranded. I was a Mac user (yep, one of THOSE guys), and there wasn’t much out there until X-Plane and the Fly! series of products came to fruition. Even still, I always kept up with what was out there for the Microsoft sim series, and a few of my friends had it installed on their PC’s at home. So now we come back full circle to the question I asked myself in 1999: “Cameron, how can you further give back to the community?”
Having followed what my friends were doing with MSFS, and staying in the ring of the various Microsoft Flight Sim dedicated forums (Avsim, Flightsim, Simviation, etc) I had knowledge of what people were doing and who they were. There was one group that really stood out to me, however. These guys went by the name of Project Open Sky and they’re still kickin’ today. X-Plane needed growth, and we already had a great community ramping up (X-Plane.org) thanks to Kristian Nader, so the next logical step in my mind was to create a team of people to work together and bring the equivalent of what Project Open Sky was for MSFS to X-Plane. This was going to be my way to give back, and I was determined to do it right. I began to learn all about web programming, databases, various methods of hosting, and at the same time I started working in Plane Maker for the first project release. All that remained was a name, and after some careful thinking I came up with a very simple yet true name for this team: The X-Plane Freeware Project. Many of you know it still today (often times referred to as XPFW).
In December of 1999 I announced XPFW to the X-Plane community and started previewing a 737-300 project I had been working on. I was a solo man for the moment, but interest quickly caught on from various developers in the community to participate in this project. I had recruited people who I thought would fit the bill well, and some of these people remain big parts to the X-Plane community today. In particular: Morten Melhuus (IXEG), Tom Curtis (Scenery4XP), Tom Kyler (X-Scenery), Dhruv Kalra (XP Jets), and Jim Kallinen. In 2002 I came up with the idea and proposed to Tom Curtis what would then be X-Plane’s first third party payware product distribution and development website. Some of the money garnered through sales would go to supporting the X-Plane Freeware Project’s growing server bills. With that in mind, I registered a domain and designed a website for what would become XP Scenery. The spirit of this effort still remains active to this day, however, it’s been re-labeled as Scenery4XP and is the host to Mr. Curtis’ popular scenery products. We enjoyed many years of great freeware releases at XPFW and payware at XP Scenery, but I had to face the harsh reality of real life obligations starting to get in the way. In October of 2005 I had been recruited by a major airline and I could no longer dedicate the time needed to maintain XPFW. The time had come to separate myself as the owner, so I passed the torch on to Tom Curtis. He is still the current owner of XPFW to this day, and some of us XPFW originals still meet up annually at Jim Kallinen’s place over a span of a few days and have some good chats. There were many good experiences that came out of XPFW for me, but the best of anything to come out of it was the friendships I created along the way!
In late 2006 I started to get a newfound amount of time on my hands, as my schedule with the airline was easy to predict and I had settled in well. It had also been enough time for me to have missed flight simming, and I made the ultimate X-Plane user sin (*gasp*) by choosing to get my first Windows machine and installing Microsoft Flight Simulator. I know I may have just let some of my Apple cohorts down, but if it’s of any consolation, I’m a man of four latest generation Mac machines today, not to mention the various “fun” gadgets they create for us all to enjoy! With that redeeming fact out of the way I’ll explain to you why these Microsoft Flight Sim (MSFS) days were a breaking point in what helped shape X-Aviation today. I caught the MSFS itch almost immediately. If anything, it was probably because it was “new” to me all over again. There were (still are) loads of free add-ons, but if you wanted to take it to the extreme you could even stock up on some hefty payware packages that took the sim to the next level! I jumped right into the fray and had a ball. VATSIM combined with products like LVL D’s 767, PMDG’s 747, and Ariane’s 737 made it the ultimate experience. Top that off with the little cherry they call FlyTampa and you’ll have an over sweetened pie that was just too good to quit! Once I had my fill of add-ons and flights I started a new chapter in my MSFS adventures…
Like my days of starting X-Plane development I had a high interest in creating add-ons for MSFS. I learned about scenery and aircraft design, teamed up with a company called Online Simuation Solutions (OSS) and began to create an aircraft as well as scenery. I also worked with FlyTampa in early projects while beta testing products like their San Francisco package. All these products had to sell somewhere, and those “somewhere” outlets still exist to this day. The most prominent distribution channels then and now include SimMarket, Aerosoft, and Flight1. SimMarket was where most (and in my opinion still is) sim add-ons were sold. The catalog was huge, the business was thriving, and it was a quick and easy way for me to obtain payware packages without much hassle. However, there was one downside to this little fact. To quote Forrest Gump, SimMarket was/is “like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” The same can be said to these other distribution channels, but it’s more easily applied to SimMarket in part due to their rather large product catalog. If you didn’t “get it” already, I’m alluding to the fact that some purchases from these outlets were great, some were good, and some were very disappointing.
In mid 2007, X-Scenery’s Tom Kyler had approached me to talk about a new product he was developing. He was very excited about it, and Tom was determined to set a new precedent in the X-Plane payware market for quality. He had gone the extra mile to produce high quality manuals, a fantastic flight tutorial, value added features for the customer, and a very advanced plug-in complimenting some beautiful 3D artwork. Many of you will know of Tom’s product that I am speaking about: The Mitsubishi MU-2B. Tom was set on making the customer experience the best. There was one thing missing, however, and that was a distribution channel that could compliment his desire for an all around good customer experience. Tom had gone the normal route that so many developers to this day have gone. He approached X-Plane.org’s current owner (Nicolas Taureau) to gain insight as to what Nicolas’ terms were. After assessing the “features” of X-Plane.org’s distribution solution, Tom decided this did not fit into his needs for the type of product and experience he wanted to offer to his customers and he discussed this with me. Even worse for Tom, what he sought wasn’t even “alive.” It was at this time that I realized Tom and I had the same views and frustrations about stores in general and that we could really compliment one another. Tom had great 3D skills, and I had the ambition to want to build websites at any given time. It was also my chance to get back into X-Plane, to make a difference yet again, and interact with customers who shared the same passion as myself while providing them with a great experience and friendly customer support. And so, my friends, this is where it all really began…
From late 2007 through December of 2008 I developed the base for X-Aviation. I had programmed the merchant system, created a robust database, and gone through more designs and logo ideas than Lady GaGa has outfits. Tom flew out to my home in California in mid December of 2008 where we hunkered down the final details of the customer experience, the final logo design, and his products manuals. We also completed beta testing on multiple computers. I quit my job with the airline at this point, as I wanted to give full concentration to what was finally the public release of X-Aviation and its first product. This was a giant leap of faith, no doubt, but it showed my commitment to X-Aviation and forced me to make it work. X-Scenery’s Mitsubishi MU-2B and X-Aviation made a joint public debut on December 22, 2008. To this day it is still my full-time job.
All of the above leads us into what X-Aviation is really about. I have seen many people misconstrue the true reason for X-Aviation’s existence, or state that we’re in direct competition with the likes of X-Plane.org. In fact, there’s one blogger who posted the following:
I mean, I’ve read Cameron’s standard party line speech now about twenty times…you know, the one about how they won’t be rushed and quality takes time?
Okay. Here’s a clue: Hire more people. Increase the pace of development, quicken your development cycle. While people still give a damn. Sure, Austin grabbed your best devs to rev up XP10 and left you hangin’ in the breeze, but we’re in a major global depression. There are people out there starving to death, begging for work. Take a chance. Hire some. Get things done. Make more money. Ya know, sometimes you got to spend it to make it? People who invest and expand wisely in a depression tend to make out like gangbusters when things turn around, but you gotta take care of your base market, and the base market in XP seems to be losing interest faster than an ice cream cone melts on an August sidewalk in Sweetwater, Texas. You got that? And don’t blame the messenger, okay? - Chip @ XPlane10 Blog
It is indeed people like Chip that misunderstand the reason for X-Aviation’s existence, and I think he’s certainly not alone. This is not a war for the most cash. It may come as a side effect in the end, but X-Aviation is built upon so much more than just trying to get all the cash out there. The people I look for to work with X-Aviation are not found just anywhere. They are people with a good personality, a passion to push the envelope, and a vision to see their hard work through. They are people who care about the customer, and want to make a customer’s purchase worth it. I have had many developers come to X-Aviation and wish to sell with us. In the mass that have approached, many have been declined. Almost always it comes down to the quality of work I am looking for. I always encourage these people to keep at it, and that I’m truly humbled that they would like to sell with X-Aviation. I have even had one of our current developers who has a rather popular product be denied at first, but he took my constructive criticism to good heart and proved to me that he could do it. He upped the bar for himself, and in turn for X-Aviation products, and I’m very happy he did. I’m always willing to take another look and see if people have improved, and it’s important that the people I work with share the same core values. We’re all in this movement to improving the customer experience and product quality together! Some may consider this prerequisite to be rather rude or arrogant in its execution. The reality is that I do this for you, the customer.
Remember how I said the MSFS distribution channels were like boxes of chocolate and that you never knew what you were going to get? At X-Aviation, I want you to always know what you’re going to get. If you want a Snickers every time, Snickers is what you’ll get (or whichever chocolate is your favorite). Consistency is key! You see, I’ve been in your shoes (still am)! Retail and marketing on the consumer end is something we can all relate to, and my desire is to give you quality over quantity. It is why I don’t accept everything on X-Aviation. It’s a selfless move and not a cocky, greedy one, and I’m proud of those that work with me to help make this happen. There is one other thing that I feel sets X-Aviation apart as a distribution channel than any of the others out there, and that is that I, the owner, have my hand in almost every project in some form or fashion. I feel it’s not just the way to provide you with proper, fast customer service, but also a great way to ensure consistency is met. It allows me to lend a hand to the guys developing when it’s needed, and to keep an open line of daily communication to let them know I fully support them and their efforts. There was a quote in a movie I watched recently, and it holds true to the philosophy of X-Aviation:
Steve Jobs: We’re better than you are! We have better stuff.
Bill Gates: You don’t get it, Steve. That doesn’t matter!
-Pirates of Silicon Valley
I like to consider X-Aviation like the Apple of X-Plane, and the rest are (so far) the Microsoft philosophy. Steve Jobs knew he had something good going, and he never backed down from his vision. He was about quality over quantity, customer service and experience over cheap and frustrating customer service, but in the earlier years it came at a cost: marketshare.
X-Aviation is not invincible. We have had our growing pains, and we’re learning from them. The important thing here is that we are listening to you as a customer and we are responding in a positive manner. I am working hard to correct mistakes quickly when they pop up, and to treat you, as our customer, with respect. I am constantly looking to be ahead of the curve, and while it helps it doesn’t mean I’m not prone to mistakes either. As long as I learn and continue to develop, I think X-Aviation and its team are on the right track. Chip (and assumably others) in his quote above has wanted us to take more of a Bill Gates approach, increasing market share and getting things out faster by hiring on more people at the ready. It’s just not who we are, nor is it who we will be.
Earlier I stated that with this approach X-Aviation is taking to quality over quantity, and that more money may ultimately come as a side effect. Apple is now the richest company in the United States, was briefly the richest company in the world, and is richer than Microsoft. Steve Jobs knew what he was doing, and Bill Gates couldn’t see it at the time. Bill did very well for himself to a very respectable degree (no doubt here), but in saying that, he also did what almost everyone else would have done. X-Aviation would not have taken the Bill Gates approach. We are not taking the Bill Gates approach.
So, my friends, it is with this that I say I, as well as the others at X-Aviation, are working hard for you. Your positive compliments and the enjoyment shown through your writing about our products is what motivates us above all. I thank you for embarking on this journey with us. Customer service is what really sets us apart in the end, but in a more dynamic way than seen in many industries today. X-Aviation loves it’s customers, and we want our customers to love us. That, fellow pilot, is what X-Aviation’s really about.
Thank you for your trust, your business, and your patience.