By now, everyone in flight simulation knows who iniBuilds are. An established developer in their own right, they are known for their high-fidelity aircraft and airport sceneries. These have recently included their lauded Airbus A310 for Microsoft Flight Simulator, included as part of a free update for all players thanks to a licensing deal with the game’s developers, as well as critically acclaimed international airport sceneries such London Heathrow, Los Angeles LAX, Detroit, Ibiza and Oklahoma City – just naming a few!
The developer has even given us freeware delights such as the Venice Beach Pack and Maasai Mara Safari Pack for simmers who prefer to fly lower and slower than the airliners. However, newer entrants into the flight simulation hobby (like myself – I only started all this with MSFS 2020!) may not be aware of the company’s protracted history of developing for other simulator platforms, and some of their best selling products from years gone by.
iniBuilds – A Brief History
The company was founded in 2019 by a small group of mod makers creating liveries for Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D which were then posted into the first rendition of the iniBuilds library, as well as GSX profiles. Their name actually comes from the .ini file type that is read by GSX to do all of it’s wizardry, combined with the fact that they were ‘building’ these profiles. Despite the sands of time changing the nature of what the company builds these days, the name has stuck.
They moved on to creating dynamic lighting packs which added realistic lighting effects to various airports in Prepar3D. These packs were praised for enhancing the realism of the simulator. Although with a growing base of experience working on addons, and a commitment to high quality driving all their work, it was only so long until their operations expanded into aircraft. Late 2020 saw the company launch its first major airliner for any flight simulator, the Airbus A300-600R. It quickly became a staple of the company’s fleet and to this day is remembered fondly among X-Plane 11 users.
Early 2021 saw iniBuilds release their second plane, the Airbus A300 Beluga. This charming high-capacity cargo carrier came with a range of new features pushing the envelope further than that original -600 did, extracting the most of out the simulator at the time. Later that year saw their Airbus A310 for XPlane-11, and free updates for the A300-600R and the A300 Beluga, bringing the enhanced systems depth and other improvements made over the months of development time and learning to the full fleet of three aircraft.
The launch of Microsoft Flight Simulator and the mass market it brought into the flight simulation niche presented massive opportunities for all developers, and iniBuilds didn’t hesitate to start porting their work over to the new platform. It’s hard to believe that the original Heathrow Airport v1 launched over a year ago now back in February 2022. The addon received praise for its high level of detail, as well as criticism for it’s primary focus being on terminal 5 and other areas receiving less love, among other things. It would be easy to grab the money and run, a practice that gamers are unfortunately no strangers to with the rise of early-access titles, but iniBuilds not being the type to shy away from their critics released 2 major updates that completely overhauled the airport – completely free of charge to their existing customers. These were exceptionally well received among simmers.
Since then, they have continued releasing highly-detailed international airports at an incredible rate, including Buffalo Niagra (KBUF), Ibiza (LEIB), San Antonio (KSAT), Los Angeles (KLAX), Detriot (KDTW), Oklahoma City (KOKC) and more.
However, I would argue that their biggest success to date has been the A310 for Microsoft Flight Simulator. In mid-2022 the studio entered into a partnership agreement with MSFS and we got the shock announcement that their A310 would be released on the platform as a completely free aircraft. Something like this – a payware, high-fidelity aircraft being made free for consumers under a license agreement – hadn’t really been seen before in… well, ever? It put iniBuilds’ name firmly on the MSFS map (if it somehow wasn’t already!) and the success of the 40th-anniversary update was largely attributed to the aircraft.
The company has since then worked on various other projects, but the next big release from iniBuilds is going to be John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The trailer for JFK released last week and based on a forum post which accompanied it, it seems that a release is on the cards for the very near future. So, we decided to reach out to iniBuilds CEO Ubaid Mussa and asked a few questions about the newest airport in their lineup, what makes the company tick, as well as what might be coming down the pipeline in the future.
I began by asking what was the team’s favourite part of the JFK scenery. From what we’ve already seen of the trailer, it was clear to me that the product is a labour of love by the team of 27 developers. Ubaid told me “JFK is such a large airport with many fantastic areas all providing different levels of satisfaction within the simulator. From a technical perspective, and as a developer, a challenge that we overcome, is always most rewarding; and we certainly felt that when executing the Canarsie approach lighting and elements such as the taxiway bridges. They might seem small to the end customer, but these elements are quite tricky to get right, and we feel that these are quite cool in our rendition of JFK!”
Next up, I wanted to know how difficult it is to make these products and incorporate such high levels of detail. Two and a half years ago when MSFS launched, many of the features we see in scenery products now such as PBR materials and modelled terminal interiors were considered ground-breaking. Now, thanks in part to developers like iniBuilds, it seems to be standard practice, and anything below that standard is considered subpar. Ubaid told me that meeting the increasingly high standard hasn’t been easy, but the team is always trying to push the envelope on what’s possible and improve on their previous work.
“Would I say it has been easy? No. However at iniBuilds we truly do have a company culture of always trying our best and exceeding the quality and performance of our previous releases. This has naturally evolved into pushing the boundaries of what we can conquer and achieve. Customer feedback is critical for us – we want to get it right, and it’s only natural for companies to evolve and add more features as that is what the new expectation is. It’s great when the community do appreciate and see this. However, we also note that performance is also a big metric for customers and what scenery they purchase which is why, when customers buy directly from us they can take benefit of using iniManager. This is our application, to not only manage digital downloads from our store, but also configure sceneries to their desire. For those wanting maximum performance for example they can toggle off extra GSE items or interiors within terminals for example! So to answer your question directly, I think we are doing quite well, managing the evolving expectations of the community whilst balancing the performance requirements needed for a good experience.”
Heathrow Airport was (and still is) iniBuilds’ top selling scenery for Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, when it first released, you may remember that it was met with criticism as well as acclaim. Specifically, simmers were unhappy that the level of detail seen around Terminal 5 wasn’t present in other parts of the airport. Following the release and criticism from customers, the company released not 1 – but 2 major updates which overhauled the scenery, making improvements all around to detail and performance. I asked Ubaid what lessons were learned from the process of revisiting Heathrow, and how that learning has been incorporated into subsequent product releases.
“When iniBuilds first started in the X-Plane market, we did so as we felt we could have a positive impact in a market which back in 2019, did not have many good quality airliners. Were we perfect from Day 1? Not at all, and we learned, improved, and pushed updates that brought us to where the community thoroughly enjoyed our classic Airbus airliner series. The same could be said for scenery… it was not perfect, but customer feedback, building a new, experienced team all previously working at other top industry players, allowed us to expand, learn and grow to being a top tier scenery developer in a relatively swift period of time. Flight simulation for us is not a product, but rather a continued service.
We will continue, as long as it’s not detrimental to the books to keep updating, improving, and taking our products to the next level. I think we saw this with Heathrow V3 – two major free updates, and we have received lots of excellent feedback since, being one of our top selling products in the business. So thank you to all our customers for giving us honest feedback, supporting us in identifying what they would like to see from us. We started our scenery division, with only 5 team members and currently have 27 fantastic developers all working hard on some fantastic projects for you all including JFK!”
Not only that, but iniBuilds have recreated Los Angeles and now JFK on top of Heathrow. What do those three airports all have in common? They’re all Asobo ‘hand crafted’ airports included in the deluxe or premium deluxe editions of the game. Now these sceneries are hardly anything to ring home about by 2023 standards, but still – surely developing airports where there is an existing Asobo hand crafted option is commercially less viable than seeking out airports which haven’t been touched by any other developers? I asked Ubaid what he thought of that, and if these airports, in particular, were a harder sell given the free (depending on which tier of the game you purchased) alternatives available.
“I think Microsoft and Asobo are fantastic, and the community are fortunate to have the hand-crafted airport renditions from Asobo. However, our demographic is really the core simmers, who want an experience to the next level – those used to purchasing payware DLCs for sceneries. They are certainly very expensive to develop and there is an element of risk involved, but so far they have been our best selling airports as it simply appeals to a wider, global set of simmers rather than those focused on buying airports in their geographical territory.”
Interesting, I thought. “Core simmers” as Ubaid puts them, are definitely a big contingent of the flight sim community – or at least the most vocal and involved. The most recent Navigraph Survey would suggest that just under 50% of simmers fly because of an “interest in or curiosity towards aviation”, compared to 28% who play for “casual gaming / entertainment”. So next, I asked about what drives their decision-making on which sceneries to produce, and how much those decisions are impacted by how much money they can expect to make. I think the majority of simmers will respect the fact that iniBuilds need to make money – otherwise they wouldn’t be producing all of these amazing sceneries.
“We want to keep good relations (as best we can) with our colleagues in the development community – so we don’t particularly like doing airports that others have done. However, there are instances where, if we feel like competition is healthy, in certain cases we might do an airport that already exists on the market – it’s a risk, of course, but we have seen that if you provide a good quality airport, people will re-purchase a scenery for the ‘better’ rendition. More recently, and especially since Heathrow, large hubs seem to be where we are most comfortable; yes they come with their own challenges of quality vs performance, but a lot of developers avoid these airports for numerous reason; when in reality they are sometimes the most sought after… There are also some passion projects we have, where our focus is more on providing the community a fantastic experience rather than making a profit. For example, our free adventure packs of Venice Beach and the Masai Mara are totally free, and whilst not being large international airports still do impact the bottom line.”
However, to answer your question directly, it really is based on community feedback. JFK for example was on the back of LAX, and the sheer number of people in our Discord requesting the airport. So we sat back after LAX and said why not? We gain the most pleasure from seeing happy customers enjoying our products, so for the remainder of the year, whilst there are some airports decided by us, many of the ones being made are based on community requests in the past few months! “
Some great answers so far, I hope you’ll agree – thanks Ubaid for this insight into what it’s like to run these projects behind the scenes! Next, I wanted to better understand the process of building these airports. Ubaid admits that they are expensive projects and each one is a financial risk, so what does the process actually look like, from conceptualisation to a market release?
“It’s funny you ask this, as we recently did a ‘Behind the scenes’ of JFK on our Instagram! But you are correct, they are massive projects and certainly involve meticulous organisation and tight coordination with all parties involved. To give you some insight JFK took us 4-5 months to build from nothing to what we have today… We have established a great production line environment within the team, to allow for a seamless process; research, modelling, texturing, reviews, and testing. Each team member on the project knows what they need to do, and in this manner, we are able to cover quite a lot of art production in a swift amount of time. We also have 3-4 waves of review, and we always have a management review before releasing the scenery, to ensure the product is at its best position at release for customers.”
Definitely go and check out iniBuilds’ behind-the-scenes Instagram posts if you’re interested in this sort of thing like me. It contains a tonne of insight into exactly what goes on in the studio to make the assets, place them, detail and texture them, as well as all the trimmings and garnishes.
In our article covering the initial announcement of JFK, we had a lot of positive comments praising iniBuilds’ attention to detail. Many of you even went as far as to say the product would be a “day one buy”! It’s clear, to me at least, that iniBuilds have a very good standing within the flight simulation community. I asked Ubaid how it feels to be so well respected among his team’s customers, and what he thinks is the secret ingredient to building a good reputation in the flight simulation community?
“I would like to say firstly, that we are extremely humbled. Our main aim is to provide customers with the best experience, taking it to the next level- our company motto. To see all the positive praise, means we are heading in the right direction and it fuels us to work harder to provide better products, faster. I really think in flight simulation and gaming in general, the business needs to think like a player or simmer. A lot of our team flight sim / play games recreationally and whilst we may come off as ‘corporate like’ to some, we really are true gamers at the heart of it. I think that has been our route to success as we know what we would expect from our favourite companies, so we must be the same for our customers. It’s going well, so thank you to all, and let’s hope for many more years of fantastic products, and many happy customers in the community!”
So, that’s JFK… but what are iniBuilds working on next?
“We don’t usually reveal much until we are ready for release but all areas of the business are super busy. We are on track to release at least 6 more sceneries this year (maybe more!) including some large international hubs. Our small planes team are working on some really cool projects, and we just announced the iniBuilds Spartan 7W Executive. Furthermore, our large planes team, as many of you know are working on the iniBuilds A300. What many people might not know (as it was only briefly mentioned in Discord), is that our A380 project is formally being considered to be re-activated (no dates in mind). We are very busy and you will definitely be seeing a lot more than just this, this year!”
And finally, FSExpo. At FSElite we’re really looking forward to the annual biggest flight sim trade show. Although not many simmers are able to make it in-person, it’s still a highly significant event because of the amount of stuff that gets released, announced, and previewed there. We already know that 8 new products are going to be showcased on the main stage, and all of the big names in flight sim are attending so it’s definitely something to keep your eyes out for. What are iniBuilds bringing to the show?
As announced, we will be attending FSExpo this year in Houston, as for what we have in store for attendees, we’re not ready to say just yet. However, we promise it will be BIG.
A massive thank you to Ubaid and all of the team at iniBuilds who agreed to conduct this interview. We will continue bringing you all the latest news surrounding this exciting new scenery product here at FSElite!1