Yesterday, June 9, 2018, PMDG finally announced their long-term secret development in a presentation at FlightSimExpo by their CEO, Capt. Robert S. Randazzo. Termed PMDG Global Flight Operations, the product is essentially a “continuous-degradation persistence platform,” a cloud-based world simulation providing aircraft-state, wear-and-tear data, and livery saving and synchronisation by MSN, in tandem with simulation of essential datalink technologies such as ACARS, ADS-B and CPDLC. In practice, this means that if John flies his 747-400 from Heathrow to Kennedy, where Bob picks it up, then Bob will experience the aircraft as left by John, including the consequences of mishandling (this will highlight the necessity of proper cockpit preparation as well as checking the levels of consumables such as oil and hydraulic fluid!). Described as eventually X-Plane ready by Randazzo, the product features a subscription-based pricing model, with either monthly or yearly pricing.
I have been part of the flight simulation community for over 25 years, and I know that there is a user segment looking for a daily-operations simulation like this: this segment includes myself. However, the real elephant in the room is whether this platform has wide enough appeal to justify a 10-year development cycle, even as a background effort? My personal fear is that it will not. Let me take a moment to explain why.
PMDG products are designed as premium-tier packages deep enough to serve as systems and operational training aids for their subject aircraft. Designed in close co-operation with the aircraft manufacturer, they feature hundreds-upon-hundreds of mechanical failure scenarios copied directly from full flight simulators, which can be induced not only by the user triggering one, but also due to mishandling and external factors, such as weather. This carries an inherent problem in that the average user, whilst they might be enticed to try a simple system failure now and then, will simply not be qualified enough to manage the long-term consequences of wear and tear and the resulting failures might simply ruin their day, so to speak. In fact, to fully appreciate the depth of these simulations one needs both an airline transport pilot qualification and a type rating in the airplane in question.
Whilst the product will, without doubt, serve VAs to great effect, adding an RPG/social element to the experience, I doubt many sunday fliers will be interested in participating, as for many, simming is simply a relief from the stresses of daily life, and as such, the resulting simulation will simply be too deep for those users to enjoy effectively. In fact, as the income from aircraft releases is usually cyclic in nature, waning with time, the product can be seen as an attempt by PMDG to secure a steadier income stream in between releases.
The future will show whether GFO is “a bridge too far” for PMDG -- I, for one, hope the future will prove they ended up making the right choice!