FSElite Original: Interview with Orbx’ John Venema

2017 4 3 14 27 19 689

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.

Turbulent Designs now publish under the Orbx banner


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.


Tags : InterviewJohn VenemaORBX
Calum Martin

The author Calum Martin

I have been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of '2000 and have been developing my love for aviation ever since. I have the knowledge and experience to really deliver an excellent aviation community. Although no real life flying experience, I have a good understanding and always learning more and more. | View My Specs

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John V. is kind of a moody guy (had a run-in with him in Orbx’s early days) but he a genius at marketing.

Now if he could make a Global Base with hi-res textures…currently my improved textures (freeware) look better than his product.

Because SSD costs arent exactly coming down, certainly not at the rate information is growing. I moved my FS stuff to 1tb samsung and its already 700gb full.

Prices will not change much during the next 3 years, just like they didnt change during the past 3. And if you are willing to wait 20 years into the future.. eh who knows then.

It has already been talked by many that the golden age of tech leaps is over. Remember 1994? Then in 1996 everything literally moved up 20 times. Those leaps aren’t happening any more. So there is no reason for you to expect changes in the next 3 years.


Why do you say “drive space will be stupid”? We are both not the youngest generation here so I am sure you remember (same as I do) the times when we had to use 3.5″ or 5.25″ disks or even cassettes with the capacity of few MegaBytes and HDD with less than 1GB. Time moves on, amount of data needed to install/use is rising and not only in ORBX products. DId you imagine 20 years ago that the time will come where 30-70GB of space will be needed to any game? And I’m talking about the games like FIFA or GTA, not our sims.

I don’t know what is going on with the global product. Everybody has been bugging them to update it for a long time now but other than a cryptic “eventually” like 2 years ago nothing yet.

Im not sure if they just want to let it go into obscurity and push regional packs. OFC there is no reasonable timeframe to do this even if they hire 100 (or 200) people and the drive space will be stupid (you do need an SSD at this point so imagine paying for 6tb one lol)

anyway, a little off tangent here. tldr: we need updated global; orbx is very mum about it

so when can we expect the long awaited region around Nice in the south of France it was announced 2 years ago!!!!!

I have to laugh about JV’s comment a about how they listen to feedback. Yep they do. If you post negative feedback on a product, your removed from the Orbx forums. That’s hiw JV reacts to constructive comments that are not suppotive of an Orbx product final outcome.

JV should have a good look at the comments on this page to realise thst the majority of comments do not hold him in high regard.

JVs public comment about XP being rubbish in PC Pilot magazine showed his level of unprofessionalism and his arrogant attitude.

Orbx will survive and continue to do well due to the talent of the majority of designers, but sadly but have created many enemies along the way. Not something Orbx should be proud of. But l doubt JV really cares.

“We aim to release TrueEarth regions for X-Plane over the coming years”…coming years? well i hope ORBX is not concerned in releasing all the fun stuff first to P3D forgetting the huge growing of XP users, can be a shoot in the foot imho.

ORBX is all about projecting and show, they are very good at it, making people think that they are a big corporation and thus consumer confidence in purchasing their sub-par and overrated products (with some exceptions) is what keeps them afloat.

Makes me smile read how the “CEO” says that they are looking towards and IPO… that’s way too crazy to even believe when you have a small community of ‘customers’ who actively buy scenery its under the 30 thousands and this niche hobby.. they seem to believe that they can expand this, but every since 2008 the amount of people into this hobby has decreased significantly… perhaps when FS9 was released? and ACES did not close? JV is 10 years behind.. unless he can come up with the almost 100 thousands active in 2004…

@Tom. Where are you getting your information from? Pretty outlandish comments with no evidence to back any of it up. You obviously bear a grudge to post three negative posts in a row bagging ORBX, with no substance other than your opinions.

To JOhn,

if you own ORBX products you might tell the difference from those of Flightbeam/Flytampa, Turbulent etc… the vast majority of ORBX products are done by third party outsourced developers who seem to believe that teaming up with ORBX is their big chance in the game.

The scenery is subpar, overrated and lastly OVER PRICED. but hey, its the customer who decides… I take it they are very successful and kudos to them for their strategy.

Well, ORBX needs to use this big corporation, millions in earnings, and IPO argument to keep up with the recruiting of other developers out there. After all their plan is to do all airports in the world even though other developers have done them (even the good ones)… I know this from inside knowledge etc. Know people who work for ORBX and worked in the past.

They have a very good corporate image, nice website etc, the good products which I can count with my hands are very good and at the same level as Flytampa, and Flightbeam, Turbulent and others but the rest they are just very nice screenshots made edited with Photoshop… that’s all.

Perhaps they might be able to buy the entertainment license of FSX if its true they are so powerful and wealthy.

Tom, Tom, Tom. Sub-par? Overrated? I think you’re in a pretty small minority with those views.

As for the statement that the number of FS hobbyists has decreased… on what is this based? Evidence that I see all the time points to the contrary. Please enlighten us…

Just curious, where the numbers (~30K and 100K) comes from? Could you provide a link to the source?

Is JV really 10 years behind? Behind of what? Because for sure not behind the wave of changes needed to run a successful company which is growing. And even if market is much smaller than was in past (again I wonder where those numbers comes from), ORBX is expanding rapidly.

Not only that but also bringing products that no other developers for FSX/P3D made in past – Global, region series. There is no alternative for these products. Yes, I have seen that Ortho came to P3D but where is it now? It just crawling.

Also, in the group with such of brands like FlyTampa they rise a bar for quality of the products delivered to the market. That’s why I truly I have no idea what do you mean by “and overrated products (with some exceptions)”? I would say that there is few products overrated and rest is top quality. And believe me, I’m not the guy who says “OH, AH, wonderful!” to 99% of the products.

Aerosoft is also in very good shape as far as I know so the flightsim market is still very strong.

They expand with acquisitions or partnerships, they make profits and they have plans and vision for running this business in the future. Could you be so kind to explain to me in which part they are 10 years behind? In my opinion it’s actually 10 years ahead of all other companies.

However, since we have no full access to the details about expansion (IPO and physical offices), I have my doubts about it. I have seen already some companies opening offices around the world just to close them sooner or later because of the costs. Also stock market isn’t my favorite way to get the boost for the budget. There were companies who were passionate and very good or the best in what they were doing but after entering the stock market, they lost the path for interaction with the customers.

ah JV. you either hate him or love him. not much in the middle. Its good to know that he is still away from actually managing the products and fiddling with useless stuff like IPOs and bloated physical offices. If he thinks he can build towers in the sky based on shares and pay for physical offices (and employee relocation costs), he is in for a rude awaking.

But that’s JV. always been that way. As long as he stays away from the products I don’t care much what he does

Great interview and some really interesting points raised. Thank you OrbX and thanks FSElite!