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XPlane - Open Letter to VATSIM


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OPEN LETTER TO VATSIM

 

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Greg Barber and I have been a VATSIM user since 2004 having helped administer this network up to Divisional Director level. The statements below are my own feelings about have VATSIM have approached a recent change and in no way reflect the views of any organisational level that I represent. What I write below is not intended to single anyone out, but to hopefully generate a team effort fix the unintended issue that have arisen. If you share or disagree with these views, feel free to join the conversation below.

 

Recently VATSIM mandated a change to the way certain pilot clients maintain their connection to the network. I won't go into the technical nature of this as I believe it has already been well covered.

 

I fear this is a case where VATSIM has shot themselves in the foot (for those unfamiliar with the expressions please exuse it). They made this change to prevent the guy with the slow PC from "ruining everyone elses experience". Honestly I have heard of one instance where the x-plane method of slowing the sim rate has caused a problem for a controller. If you search these forums you'll be lucky to find any either.

 

So they made this decision, so what, that's their choice. Here's why it's been poorly implemented...

 

VATSIM has in recent months seen a vast increase in it's user base due largely to the voice codec but in part due to the improved accessibility of X-Plane to the network. I know of severl long time x-plane users who are just finding themselves joining VATSIM for the first time. With this came very few reported users having issues with sim rate (actually I can't find any evidence of them but I know a few are out there through other channels).

 

So VATSIM implement a function that disconnects users when their AVERAGE frame-rate (or is it sim-rate that it looks at?) drops below a certain level. Unfortunately it appears that function is now disconnecting users who have average frame rates much higher than the published threshold.

 

Unfortunately in true VATSIM fashion, the notice period for this change gave users no chance to investigate whether they'd be affected or make anything more than minor changes to compensate. The update dropped within one day of the changes being posted on social media.

 

Additionally the tech support offered in the pilot client forum below is badly lacking and reduced to a few high up VATSIM representatives telling their users they are wrong and that VATSIM is right.

 

All I can do is to plead with VATSIM to listen to it's users, or risk losing them again. Work WITH this cohort of YOUR users to reach a solution that works for everyone and works as it's intended. As far as I can tell right now, this change is not working as intended and VATSIM's leaders need to show some leadership.

 

I would like to close by saying that I have not yet flown on the network with the new version of the pilot client so I do not post this in response to my own experience but in response to the interactions I have witnessed both here on these forums and in other media. This is an effort to get those people who can sort this problem out, together for the good of this network and it's user base.

 

Thanks

Greg Barber

VATPAC3 - Director ATC Training & Standards

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So VATSIM implement a function that disconnects users when their AVERAGE frame-rate (or is it sim-rate that it looks at?) drops below a certain level. Unfortunately it appears that function is now disconnecting users who have average frame rates much higher than the published threshold.

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Néstor Pérez
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I can't speak to the technical side of the equation, and don't know whether pilot clients have been effective at determining frame rates. You're right that VATSIM needs to get the technical side of this change right. For those pilot clients that aren't getting it right, I hope (as is the case with xPilot) the technical corrections can be made quickly.

 

That being said, in my view, the concept is bang on. Greg, if you've not experienced the "slowness" issue, I'm surprised but happy for you. It's wreaked havoc on several of our events and can be problematic during a regular evening too. It's become so commonplace that we used to .wallop for it...until we were told by SUPs, during busy events, that we were required to accommodate, no matter what. A few weeks ago, I had to hold 5 airplanes while an X-Plane pilot affected by this issue flew an approach to KBOS. I put the first regular speed aircraft about 25 miles in trail of the X-Plane pilot and by the time the X-Plane pilot landed, the guy behind him was on short final. At a place like KMSP or KORD where there are runways for days...sure, put him on the departure runway or out of the way. At KBOS, we only have 1 arrival runway in almost all configurations. If we are forced to accommodate, everyone will be affected. We're not talking about trying to sequence a jet with a slow-moving prop. We're talking about sequencing a jet behind a helicopter. In a hover.

 

I've watched people fly JFK to BOS (maybe an hour-long flight, at most) over the course of more than 3 hours. Literally, they've been flying --in a jet -- from the time I sign in to the time I log off, and they still haven't made it the roughly 150 miles to their destination. These users should have the opportunity to realize there is an issue with their simulator's performance. Not only has VATSIM done that, it's also presented a number of solutions to fix an issue that should be very strongly negatively affecting their own sim experience, nevermind that of other people.

 

In my view, it's refreshing to see the network embracing change. I'd like to think this decision comes from feedback VATSIM has gotten through its survey and other comments from the membership. Hopefully anyone who is negatively impacted by it takes the opportunity to improve their sim (using the provided recommendations), and/or provides feedback to the client developers where there are issues with frame rate detection. Until then, it's nice to know that we can count on a B737 to outrun a C172. Before this change, that wasn't always the case.

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Evan Reiter
Boston Virtual ARTCC/ZBW Community Manager

 

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Hi Evan,

 

Thanks for sharing your experience. I don't doubt that it causes problems. My beef is not so much with the change but the way it's come about. There has been little to no community involvement until after the fact and the response to the feedback has been somewhat disappointing.

 

One issue that's been raised by a fellow controller is the number of aircraft that are now disappearing and reappearing within the traffic picture because of this change. This isn't always slow traffic but people who are in no way interfering with the sequence at all Suddenly not being there for a few minutes only to reconnect a random number of seconds/minutes later.

 

One such issue occured where an aircraft disconnected and reconnected several times during approach. Each time the tag has to be re-tracked, CFL readjusted and the sequence checked to accommodate. Then with the aircraft on 5mile final he disappears again. With 6 waiting for departure at the holding point, do we take advantage of the new gap in the arrivals sequence and clear a takeoff only to have them reconnect again? Or wait, wait, wait and have the aircraft reconnect at the gate and miss the opportunity?

 

Consider this, "UAL123, give way to the B738 p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]ing right to left, continue..... Oh wait, he disappeared. When will he reconnect I wonder????"

 

Not saying there are not answers to these questions but why were they not asked before? Why wasn't a full risk analysis undertaken to consider exactly how this change may affect ALL users?

 

VATSIM should undo this change until they have a solution to the questions. By fixing one problem, they have created 2 new ones.

Greg Barber

VATPAC3 - Director ATC Training & Standards

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It was moved to xplane user discussion.

Matt Bartels
VP: Marketing & Communication
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Unless otherwise stated, opinions are my own and not representative of the official opinion of the VATSIM Board of Governors

 

 

 

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Interestingly when I try to go into the 'XPlane User Discussion' sub-forum I just get the main 'Board Index' page loading... i.e. the following url (copy/paste from the page) :

 

https://forums.vatsim.net/viewforum.php?f=36

 

results in me ending up at:

 

https://forums.vatsim.net/index.php

 

Notes:

- Am logged in

- Other subforums seem ok so far

- tried IE and Edge (Chromium Canary stream - ie same engine as Google Chrome) and same result

- tried an 'In Private' session and same result

 

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It must be said that Greg's post was not so much an XPlane post as it was a comment on governance. It is a shame to see that it has been moved somewhere where it is not going to have the opportunity to provoke a thoughtful discussion.

David Zhong

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It must be said that Greg's post was not so much an XPlane post as it was a comment on governance. It is a shame to see that it has been moved somewhere where it is not going to have the opportunity to provoke a thoughtful discussion.

 

Yeah I was a little disappointed that the main point of the post was apparently missed. Alas it's been conveniently moved to the hidden, inaccessible forum now (aka swept under the carpet).

Greg Barber

VATPAC3 - Director ATC Training & Standards

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Greg,

 

I moved it and it was never with that intent. We often do housekeeping with posts from General Discussion so this was nothing untoward.

 

At the time the xplane subforum was working perfectly. It was only after your subsequent post here did we see the issue. Even we cant view the forum right now.

Norman

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Well, it might be a good joke for you, but it‘s definitely a quite serious topic for X-Plane pilots.

 

I am sure everybody would have loved to discuss this development in a single thread in the general board, however, the topic of establishing forced disconnects was rather sneaked into the forum - hidden behind a description like „VATSIM’s suggestions for a better framerate“ (or something like that). That‘s why we ended up with several fragmented topics in the X-Plane and software boards.

 

To me, it feels like the whole plan was something like „Take them by surprise and than stay bold until the storm is over“ There have been some good points made in various user posts (for example: If it‘s about approach sequencing, why are there forced disconnects in cruise and on ground and even in areas with nobody around?), but all we are hearing is kind of „Whatever you say, we won‘t change anything“, „not going to happen“ and „if the plugins don‘t work for you, you need to use another sim.“

 

That‘s a quite different communicational approach VATSIM now has taken towards a part of it‘s userbase compared to former times. Of course it‘s the right of the staff to decide to go this way, but at least it‘s also a right to say: I am not happy with it.

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Alexander;

 

I don't fly online much these days, but have a history back to the very early days of SATCO.

 

Since that time, the teams have tried to accommodate as best they can... and this even got to the point where it could be argued accommodation stood in the way of progress... For a few years I despaired at the analysis paralysis I saw in VATSIM, a reluctance to risk annoying anyone at all...

 

In this instance I think you are right the changes could have been better communicated or handled, especially explaining that it caused major issues that affected the ability of others to use and enjoy the service.

 

It is also possible it could have been tested more, and introduced in a different way.

 

As an IT Manager and having a p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]ing knowledge of some of the Dev teams and Exec, I would expect VATSIM will take some learnings from this, in the same way they took learnings from the previous lack of agility. Perhaps this time they were too agile.

 

I would be annoyed if I was affected, but I also know VATSIM need to break some eggs in the short term to make that omelette... they just need to keep reviewing how they can minimise impact, and learn from the good and bad.

 

I do hope XPlane users are able to find a happy medium that allows them to continue to fill the skies, and again I'd say make sure you h[Mod - Happy Thoughts]le Laminar to ensure they find a way to shed load to maintain proper speeds....

 

Now, back under my rock...

 

 

edit: Also I read the joking as a way of trying to be friendly and understanding - perhaps the opposite of how you are perceiving it

 

edit 2: spelng!

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Hi Norman and all,

 

My "under the carpet" remark was a little tongue in cheek I admit.

 

I want to point out to everyone commenting on the change that was made that I am not against the frame rate limit. I am actually all for it, if it is applied in a measured and considered way. I think that its current implementation (and this has improved greatly over the past few days), gives rise to more problems than it solves with pilots leaving and rejoining the mix very regularly.

 

Personally this change hasn't affected me. I have the means to keep my equipment updated and have been able to conduct online flights on VATSIM in X-Plane without being disconnected.

 

My original post was more about how he change was that upon the community.

 

In any case, this is not my original post and was more about where my original post went than the issue at hand. Norman, feel free to lock this one as it's kind of merging with the other one a bit now.

Greg Barber

VATPAC3 - Director ATC Training & Standards

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I think I can speak on behalf of many in the tech team in saying that I agree with your point, John. Especially with the omelette part.

 

I do also think that joking is the only way for us to keep on going... On our side it’s pretty often to only hear the negative comments about something -even if it’s a minority that “screams”:-, but unfortunately at the end of the day it does demotivate us at times... the only way we can keep “working” on stuff without “suffering” too much is by taking things with humour. This community is a VERY demanding community, and even if we try to do stuff for good for the most, we only get to see/hear the people who are not satisfied with what is delivered, or that instead of appreciating what we do just keep asking for more stuff.

 

And now some food for thought... if we all want to continue moving forward, it would be nice to see some more support from EVERYONE in this community (support doesn’t mean just saying how marvelous something is, but rather not saying exclusively the bad things about it). I’m sure I’m not the only developer in the team that thinks like this; even if I’m the only one that’s saying it out loud, but this motivation and will-to-progress is not something that the BoG can or has to deliver. It is EVERYONE’s job to guide the network towards the future, with its decisions, with its mistakes, but above all, we can not stop SUPPORTING ITS PEOPLE (EVERYONE: from Founders to whoever the last created account belongs to). We are all here for one reason and if all we do is criticise stuff or the way that stuff is done, we’re gonna be the ones that suffer it at the end of the day.

 

And please, do not misunderstand my message: I am not saying that we have to agree with everything that’s done; not at all, but rather that we should maybe give a bit more thought to how we ALL voice things. All the posts in this thread may be speaking about one topic only, but it’s been John’s post the only one that (at least to myself) has made me stop and think about ways of improving in the future.

 

Be it with humour, jokes, coffee, beer or whatever, but PLEASE lets all try and help instead of just sit and moan. You cannot imagine how sad it is seeing someone lose motivation about something they started... (from AFV, to pilot clients, to websites or to “preventing trolls”; we could be light years ahead if everyone (or many) had shown a bit of support for every little thing we have done, seriously).

 

P.D.: I have no clue why I’ve typed this in this thread or at this moment. I guess I just had to voice my concerns somewhere... thanks for listening to my TED Talk.

 

 

EDIT: Greg’s post came in just before mine... darn it! For reference, mine was supposed to be “replying” after John’s post.

Néstor Pérez
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