A William Reynolds Interview
Aerosoft, one of the oldest and most respected names in our flight simulation hobby.
From the Aerosoft stable we see the recent Airbus-X, as well as cooperative work with Simcheck's A-300, and the PMDG MD-11 to name a few. Also some fantastic scenery, AES, and even forays into Rail, Ship, Bus and Farming Simulation!! Talk about a stop shop for all tastes!!
So we had a chat with "Mr. Aerosoft" himself...Mathijs Kok, to learn more about Aerosoft and also about the man behind the company, products and endless forum support chats.
Q: You are an incredibly busy person, yet you seem to be always present at the Aerosoft Forums...what is your background? how did you start in Aerosoft?
Yes, I do make long hours, but it’s not hard. Attending the forums is partly work and partly the same as for other people there, just a way to interact with friends. I also work from home so it hard to stop working and it’s even harder not to ‘quickly’ close something late at night. My background is rather standard for many people of my age who work in this line of work.
The moment I started to make a little money the first personal computer became available and I was hooked the moment I touched one. I was able to use that experience in my work and later in my flight simulation hobby. I started at LAGO a now defunct Italian flight simulator add-on company but that company closed at the peak of its success. Winfried Diekmann, the CEO of Aerosoft then asked me to lead the download sales section of Aerosoft and to make the company more international. At that time it was very much aimed at the German market. That’s now eight years ago.
Q: How did Aerosoft begin? what was the plan/idea/goal?
Aerosoft was founded in 1991 and the idea was to develop software products for flight students. There was hardly anything interactive for them at that time. The plan to have the company grow was always there and a lot was invested. The current CEO Winfried bought out his partner soon after and saw the potential in flight simulation in the hobby market.
Q: What were the first works that came out of Aerosoft?
The first Aerosoft product was the ‘PPL-Trainer’ a training software for the examination in early 1992. We still have a small line of products for professional pilots. In 1992 the first product for Flight Simulator 4 was released by Aerosoft. The ‘Top Scenery 1’, the first part of a series of Sceneries to cover Germany (Dusseldorf shown here).
In the same year, the first Aerosoft hardware was released. The Aircraft Control Panel – ACP. We are not very active on hardware anymore but it still plays an important part of our sales.
Q: What is your direct current role in Aerosoft?
Officially I am the Download Sales Director and responsible for almost all parts of Aerosoft that directly interact with customers. So the forums, the content of the webpages, customer support etc. But I still do a lot of project management at this moment; experience is something that cannot be replaced with education or enthusiasm in that task. We are training more project managers but that takes a while. The plan however is that I will slowly move towards a more commercial job.
Q: Is Aerosoft mainly a publisher? Developer? Researcher? What would you like Aerosoft to be?
We are a publishing company first of all. We are by far the largest publisher of boxed add-ons (keep in mind they are still very popular in Europe and often outsell download versions). We got a very large warehouse and we think that half (if not more) of all boxed FS add-ons sold worldwide spend some time in our warehouse.
Our download store probably has the largest turn-over of all the download stores, though we might fight with simMarket.com on that. But we got a large production department as well, we got at any given time at least 6 projects in development. We feel the combination is important because we got the resources to invest in projects that independent developers can’t match and we think we know what customers want. When it works out it is of course also more profitable. Doing research is just an extension of what we need to do, it’s not a core task though.
Aerosoft is really doing well at this moment so first of all we like to stay as healthy as we are now. But if there is anything we like to change it is that we like to handle more non Flight Simulator things. As long as they are serious simulators we think we should have something to do with it. Project like the World of Subway range is doing real well because the customers overlap a lot with FS customers.
Q: What is the support structure for Aerosoft products that were developed by other companies, like PMDG, etc? How does Aerosoft handle this?
We got our forums as our major support structure because it is public and the information is seen by people who might have the same issue. We also got a lot of customers willing to help others, that makes forums so efficient. For email support we got a ticket system that makes sure nothing gets lost.
We got three full time support officers who know how to reach the developers when they do not know how to solve an issue.
For some products we ask customers to use the support forums of the developers because that is just more efficient. But for products that we sell we are responsible for the support, that the law in Germany where we sell from. Many developers choose Aerosoft as their publisher because we handle support, it’s important to us. We do support in 6 languages, 14 hours a day, 6 days a week.
Q: What would you like to develop in the future?
From a commercial relationship with other producers to products developed directly by Aerosoft.
As a publisher we just like to handle as much projects as possible as long as they are good value for money, we are choosy in that aspect. For our own development X-Plane 10 is very high on the agenda. Our hobby needs simulators that are alive and that are being worked on. The moment you stop working on code it starts to die, no matter how many enthusiasts are around to keep it going. FS2004 is a perfect example, still hugely popular but it does not have a great future, right?
We are very happy with Lockheed Martin that has made Prepar3d into a viable platform building on FSX, we see good things happening there. We also have a professional department that works for other companies and often uses the files used for FS for professional simulation. Also projects like the Airbus X Extended have professional versions.
Q: Your favourite or most pleasing Project to date??
Personally I like the more quirky aircraft and airports. I think the Catalina and OV-10 Bronco as aircraft and Lukla as airport are my favorite projects. The Catalina because it is just so weird in many aspect, the Bronco because we were able to do some special stuff there, the turbo prop engines in that model are still without rival.
Lukla was a good while ago but I am sure I land their at least one time a week to test something. If you can land there the aircraft you use got to be okay.
Q: Finally....your views on the Munich Conference, the demise of MS Flight....and your views on the future of the Hobby?
Let’s start with FLIGHT.
The moment we understood what it would be we told each other that it would not work, that Microsoft just did not understand the kind of customer that pays our bills. There were promising parts, but it was released as a brain dead simulator. Aircraft without cockpits? What were they thinking? Strangely enough we did like it, we hoped it would bring in a new generation of simmers and we hoped Microsoft would see the light. We told them we spoke to them, they spoke to us, but as so often the people working on the project at Microsoft had little say.
The problem with Microsoft is the company itself at this moment. It seems to lack direction in any field expect the Operating Systems. They start and stop projects seemingly without reason, we worked a lot for them but they did not prove to be a very reliable partner.
Just two weeks before FLIGHT was cancelled they were talking to us about new content.
Our conferences (Munich one year, Paderborn the next) are needed because Germany needs an event like that. We do see the need to make it grow into a more ‘simulator’ based event with attention to other simulators (as long as they are serious and not games). Of course we also support events as in Paris and Lelystad. We like customers, we like to meet them. Some even buy us beer! And certainly in hardware, it is very important that a customer can touch the stuff before paying.
Our view on serious simulators and Flight Simulators as whole is positive. There are problems, like the fact PC gaming is just not very healthy and that our customer base lacks young people, but I got more simulators on my computer than ever before and almost all of them have a healthy following.
Many thanks for your time, Mathijs, will keep an eye out for the exciting projects your company brings, that makes our hobby all the more enjoyable!