Orbx has grown massively in the past few years. The number of product releases outpaces pretty much everyone else in the community, and for the most part, the quality has always been extremely high. With a talented team of developers, marketing managers, and web experts, someone needs to manage them all and drive business forward ensuring releases remain of a high standard and boundaries are pushed. That person is John Venema.
John was kind enough to take the time to chat to us. This isn’t your standard “when will product X be out” interview, but I wanted to invest time in speaking to him about Orbx as a business. A few months back, Orbx turned 10 and John gave some interesting accounts on how he built the company it is today. He also gave insight into the future of the brand, so that’s the direction I took this interview.
Enough from me, I’ll let John take the spotlight now.
Q: Orbx has one of the largest libraries of products available. How has your role developed and changed since the beginnings?
JV: My role these days is focused on managing the management team and joining the dots on technology deals and IP acquisitions and partnerships. I do miss the heady days of developing and creating scenery, but I don’t think I’ve developed anything for at least five years or more. I do a lot of work behind the scenes to keep the overall team focused on Orbx’s goals and putting the right people in place to do so. Having a management team that runs Orbx day-to-day gives me the time to focus on growing the business overall.
Q: How large is your team now? What challenges have you faced with the continued growth that you’re seeing?
JV: We have over forty people being paid each month now. We also have about twenty people in voluntary positions such as beta testing. Of the forty, about fifteen people work full-time for Orbx. The biggest challenge that we face is finding the right people to fill much-needed development positions, something that is an ongoing need. We plan to expand the team to over 100 people by the end of 2019.
Q: We have seen some familiar faces return to Orbx after trying self-publishing. Why is this important for Orbx and why do you think these developers decided to rejoin the Orbx umbrella?
JV: It’s very important to Orbx that we attract world-class developers and IP to publish under our brand. We want to grow the business, and to do that we need more content. Our customers have come to expect a certain standard in our sceneries and you just can’t grab people off the street and get them to Orbx standard in a few weeks. That means when old friends of Orbx approach us and ask for their work to be published, we always welcome them back because we know their quality is unquestionable and they already understand our workflow, processes, tools and standards. I think these developers have decided to have Orbx publish their work because first and foremost they are developers and are passionate about creating too quality software and are not necessarily passionate about running a business or an online store. It makes sense for them to publish through the fastest growing online FS store in the industry – and these days we offer very attractive royalty margins to encourage more developers to join us.
Q: Orbx is certainly one of the most popular flight simulation brands out there, do you often feel the pressure from the community to continue to produce high quality products and new innovations?
Yes, always. Our customers are our best critics. They pay good money for our products so they demand high quality, bug-free software to be provided to them using the simplest delivery platform possible. When we announce a new title they expect it to be delivered in a timely manner, so it’s a constant challenge to meet those expectations. When we innovate, they want to embrace new tech across as many platforms as possible and make it affordable at the same time.
Q: You mentioned at the beginning of the year that you envision Orbx being a company on the stock market. I believe this would be the first time a flight simulation company would be held accountable by shareholders. What benefits will this have for the community? How will this change the way you develop products?
To float on the stock market is every startup company’s long-term goal. The main reason for going public would be to raise operating capital to expand, and that would be the primary motivator for us doing something like that. So the immediate real benefit would be having the budget to hire more people, move from the cloud to bricks and mortar development centres around the world and attract the right talent to the company. Being accountable to shareholders means we will be continually focused on positive revenue growth and that is good for customers because it means a constant release schedule of new exciting products. It also means that our customers may one day have the chance to invest in Orbx themselves and get dividends and a return on investment from their stock.
Q: Speaking of innovating products, you’ve talked about how you see a future whereby you see future flight simulators to be rendered in the cloud. Why do you think that? How will that impact Orbx and future development?
That was a ten-year blue sky vision. Right now you have iOS and Android phones running Fornite at the same fidelity as PCs so the tech is there today to make flight simulators incredibly popular. However, those devices won’t have terabytes of storage that are needed to explore the whole world so that is where streaming content will come into play. The infrastructure isn’t there yet in our small industry but it’s something we want to help pioneer. We will find ways to make our content available to various platforms as they emerge – and VR and mobile are a crucial part of that.
Q: Bringing it back more on the simulators of today, Orbx has started to bring a huge focus to X-Plane. I know the community have been excited to see an Orbx product in that sim and it’s finally happened. What’s your current strategy on bringing content to the X-Plane market?
We aim to release TrueEarth regions for X-Plane over the coming years, which will change the way in which people experience that sim. Right now we have almost finished the core work on England and it is just stunning. It’s incredible to be able to fly over parts of the world I know and to be able to recognise landmarks and places with actual 3D models positioned correctly. It’s incredibly expensive and labour-intensive work, but I think our customers will embrace it. We will also port our most popular HD airports to XP11 as well – you’ve seen Meigs, Barton and Broome airports released already but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot of development work going on in the background around XP11 and we can already see sales for that platform contributing to our bottom line in a significant way, so we’re excited to both port existing IP and innovate new tech for it.
One of the first airports Orbx released for X-Plane
Q: You also have invested in IPACS’ Aerofly FS 2 and they’ve just announced they will be bringing Vulkan to the sim. Why are you confident in the future of that sim and what can we expect from Orbx in the future?
We work very closely with IPACS on projects and share tech between our companies all the time. There are obvious technical issues to solve as we introduce new systems into AFS2 but working so close with IPACS allows us to overcome those obstacles in good time. AFS2 has so much excess framerate bandwidth that adding new systems won’t diminish its performance as we move forward. We have TrueEarth Netherlands coming out for AFS2 in the next week or so, followed by the UK, Pacific Northwest, Germany and perhaps many more. We previewed Palm Springs airport at FSExpo in June running at 200fps on a laptop with full PeopleFlow2 support – What a sim! We have internal tools being coded in conjunction with IPACS and other contractors to allow us to rapidly build out airports and other aspects of terrain, so we are investing all the time to accelerate the development cycle for that sim. Vulkan will provide even more headroom for further tech to be added.
Q: With technology getting more and more powerful each year, what innovation do you think simmers will appreciate the most next? I get the impression you’re a big fan of Virtual Reality…
JV: VR is the future for sure! The headsets are getting higher resolution and lighter materials – also PCs and mobile devices will drive them with better GPUs each year. The next wave is haptic feedback gloves that will let you feel the weight of the yolk or flight stick and feel the pressure as you toggle switches and buttons. That will make VR inside a cockpit so immersive it will be a game changer.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
JV: I think the consumer flight simulation industry is undergoing major rapid growth right now. The amount of innovation I saw in Las Vegas was extremely encouraging. We want to see more and more startup companies seeing FS as a viable industry to enter and I believe competition will be great to see further innovation and progress. For the flight simulation hobbyist this is indeed a golden age and I can’t see it slowing down anytime soon!
Thank you John for taking the time to speak to us. Be sure to visit Orbx for their latest products.