Dev Log Week 2024-19: Week of Data

It’s incredibly frustrating, but we’re still waiting for AirlineSim to be cleared for release on Steam (or rejected again). The core issue that got us rejected the first time around was the fact that AS is technically a “paywalled game”: Once you download the client through Steam, you get 60 free credits like anyone else and once those run out, you have to purchase new ones. This would technically render the AS app in Steam “useless” according to Steam’s standards. This is why we have launched - for the first time ever - a free game world. With this in place, we technically offer “perpetually free game play”, making AirlineSim “free 2 play” on paper. We’ll have to see how well this goes. My gut tells me the new game world is already cutting into our bottom line, so we’ll keep a close eye on it. The influx of new players from Steam needs to compensate for the lower revenue per active player or the free offering (and likely the Steam presence) will have to go again…

Anyway, while this whole wait is starting to become a serious issue for us, I’ve been again making sure to make good use of the “gained” time: After wrapping up the final bits of the data version configuration and install mechanism I mentioned last week, I moved my focus over the the upcoming and long-overdue geo data patch. This meant I was doing quite a bit of data work, which I haven’t done myself in a long time. Among the things I tackled were:

  • The new maps that have been partially active for a while uncovered a problem with airport coordinates which caused basically all airports to be slightly (or less slightly) in the wrong place. I have fixed this for all airports, which might actually cause a little bit of friction on existing game worlds as flight times might vary slightly…departure offsets are your friend!
  • As a side-effect of the above, I came across a whole bunch of airports that had no real IATA code (anymore), so I investigated why this was and cleaned up whatever I could.
  • I tried to formalised the handling of airports to be removed. There’s a difference between airports closing in the real world (which might still make them relevant for AS in the future as we implement time progression features) and airports having to be removed because they were added by mistake (like duplicates or irrelevant airports). Data-wise, this should be dealt with now. An active removal mechanism will follow at a later point in time (so in some game worlds you’ll find airports with a “(duplicate)” marker for a while.

But there’s even more data stuff: On Friday I tried to troubleshoot a statistics issue reported by users in Stapleton (and I assume it exists elsewhere as well…please let me know if you come across this issue!). Some airlines have much higher reported passenger numbers in one statistic compared to another. Rest assured that this is a bug, not a result of misuse. But sadly, I wasn’t able to find the cause just yet. More investigation will be needed.

After that, I had a look at a data issue reported in newer game worlds, where Mongolia had much lower demand than it should have. I was able to identify the root cause rather quickly: Our relative demand data set is from 2019. Meanwhile, Mongolia opened a new capital airport in Ulaanbaatar, though, so when we tried to aggregate the relative demand (which is reported on a per-airport basis), the matching failed and the demand was ignored. So I changed how and where the aggregation happens. The data is now processed by our data pipeline already, not by the game itself, meaning the game can rely on always getting clean data. ULN/UBN wasn’t the only case, though. In fact, there were around 100 missing airport codes, mostly of helipads and sea-plane bases that we don’t support in AS for obvious reasons. So I added a mapping mechanism that still assigns “traffic regions” to those codes as to not lose the respective information, because in the affected regions (like Alaska, Greenland or the Pacific), this traffic is actually quite relevant.

All of the above will arrive in a patch to all game worlds soon, especially because I fixed a few other bugs as well that I can’t roll out before the new version is deployed.