Online Multiplayer Options for Flight Simulation
We seem to be experiencing a growth spurt within our flight simulation community as I’m seeing more and more questions pop up within social media circles regarding multiplayer options for flight simulation. I wrote about this very subject many years ago, but like many things in life….things change and in our case, the change has been for the good of the hobby. Allow me take a short walk down memory lane and then I’ll explain all the online multiplayer options for flight simulation.
As some of my readers will know, I’ve been a part of the flight simulation community for a long, long time. A little over 34 years to be exact and my first experience with multiplayer dates back almost as long. Well….sort of. See, my friend and I both had Commodore 64 computers and we both enjoyed the subLogic Flight Simulator (which eventually became Microsoft Flight Simulator). Anyway, long before the internet and long before the online multiplayer networks we have today were even thought of, my friend and I would get together at either his house or my house and we would setup both of our C-64’s and we would fly together. Of course, the only way I could see his plane was to look at his TV set and the only way he could see mine was to glance over at mine. But we set them nearly side-by-side and we had hours and hours of fun.
Of course sometimes one of us would pretend to be a crude version of ATC and we would provide clearance instructions to each other. I’ll admit, neither one of us knew what we were doing and pretty much everything we based our experience on was what we had seen in the old Airport disaster movies (Airport, Airport 75, Airport 77 and Airport 79) with perhaps a mix of comedic fun from watching Airplane. No, I’ll neither confirm or deny I ever sniffed glue. LOL Anyway….neither of us could imagine that someday we could enjoy the hobby in a true networked multiplayer environment with real-live humans performing the knowledgeable and experienced role of ATC and we could fly our favorite aircraft all over the world. Enough of my old history, let’s get back on subject.
Setting the Stage
As the title suggests, the purpose of this writing is simply to share with those who care to read…the available online multiplayer options which are available for flight simulation. This includes the older FSX (boxed), FSX Steam Edition, all versions of Prepar3D and X-Plane flight simulation platforms. It has long been a desire of mine to write a definitive guide to multiplayer (specifically VATSIM) and one of these days I might just get around to it. But for now, I’ll share with you the options available and provide links where you can conduct your own research to determine how you can get started.
Finally, of the options I’m going to discuss in this writing…I feel I need to break them down into three different categories. The first being “free/no-cost full ATC simulation”, “paid full ATC simulation” and “No ATC simulation”. We’ll start with the later and work our way from there.
No ATC Multiplayer Environment
There really is only one in this category which I will discuss in this posting. If all you are really looking for is a solution where you and your friends can fly around, perform pattern work and essentially not have the need to worry about Air Traffic Control services, then FSCloud might be of interest to you. FSCloud works with FSX, P3D and XPlane 10/11. The cost is absolutely free and the process for registering an account, downloading and setting up the software and getting online is easy. The focus on realism isn’t as strong as you’ll find on VATSIM, IVAO or Pilot Edge. However, common courtesy of others should still be considered when using FSCloud. In other words, follow their rules and guidelines and you should be OK. I’ve often used FSCloud (and still do from time to time). Visit the FSCloud website for complete information on registering for an account, downloading the client software and please familiarize yourself with their rules and guidelines.
Paid Full ATC Simulation
As was the case with the previous category, currently there’s only one option available in the paid category of full ATC simulation and that is the PilotEdge Network. PilotEdge works with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, Flight Simulator X (including FSX Steam Edition), all versions of Prepar3D and X-Plane 10/11. One of the main advantages of PilotEdge (as compared to VATSIM/IVAO) is they provide Air Traffic Control on a guaranteed basis during specific hours, in a specific area. Their staffing hours are 8 AM – 11 PM Pacific, 7 days a week. At the time of this writing, PilotEdge offers ATC within the Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque ARTCC’s. This coverage is split into two different subscription options including ZLA (Los Angeles) and Western US. Subscription plans start at $19.95 per month for just the ZLA area. An additional $19.95 per month would be required for access into the Western expansion area. A two week free trial is available.
For full disclosure, I personally do not have any first hand experience with the PilotEdge network. I’ve been wanting to take advantage of their two week free trial, but for me personally…I really don’t think I would be interested in PilotEdge beyond the two week trial. My reason for this is I enjoy flying all over the world and the majority of my flying is jetliner routes of anywhere from 300 – 1000+ miles. While the vast majority of my flights originate out of Denver (within their coverage area), I don’t always fly west. Additionally, I’m a fan and supporter of the VATSIM network. I’ve been on the VATSIM network since it first began back in 2001 and I suppose it boils down to what one is used to. While the PilotEdge audio is wonderful (from what I’ve heard on YouTube and Twitch), I personally believe their pricing structure is just too expensive for the casual simmer. Don’t get me wrong…for real world pilots and students, PilotEdge is fantastic. But for a busy guy like me, I just can’t justify the expense at this time. Visit the PilotEdge website to learn more about their network, their coverage hours/area and sign up for the free two-week trial.
Free/No-Cost Full ATC Simulation
This category currently has two main contenders with a third to be launched sometime in the future. These are VATSIM, IVAO and the yet to be released network is POSCON. We’re really only just now beginning to understand all that POSCON will offer the flight sim community. However, I did write an extensive article about POSCON a few weeks ago. This article covers many of the planned features and let me just say, that I’m really excited about what I believe POSCON will bring to the flight sim community. You can read that article here.
Both VATSIM and IVAO offer a similar online experience. Both networks provide the software necessary to connect and experience the world of multiplayer flight operations.
Before I dive into the world of VATSIM, I would like to just briefly mention SATCO. Now SATCO has been history for a very long time. But all that we enjoy today with both VATSIM, IVAO and anything that may or may not come down the road, have roots back to SATCO. The first version of an online client was developed back in the late 90’s and as both the evolution of the internet and flight sims came along, this launched the ability for users to fly together in a multiplayer environment and so SATCO or the Simulated Air Traffic Controllers Organization was born. In July of 2001, it was announced that VATSIM would succeed SATCO and as a result a brand new organization was created and launched.
VATSIM or Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network is considered to be the largest online flight simulation network in the world with over 209,000 registered members and recently exceeded 80,000 active members for the first time. An active member is defined as any member of the VATSIM network who has connected to VATSIM at least once within the last six months. I’ve been a member of the VATSIM Network since it began back in July, 2001 and yes before VATSIM, I held a membership with SATCO.
The IVAO or International Virtual Aviation Organization was formed in 1998 and currently has more than 170,000 registered members. The creation of IVAO occurred when a group of people left SATCO to form a new network after management conflicts developed. Like VATSIM, the purpose of IVAO is to provide an environment for a realistic flight and air traffic control simulation via the internet. Again, like VATSIM…IVAO provides the tools needed to connect to their network and offers training to both pilots and ATC based on real-world aviation regulations and procedures.
Both IVAO and VATSIM networks came about as a result of management conflicts with the original SATCO network. Both VATSIM and IVAO are 100% free and provide all the necessary tools and training. Both VATSIM and IVAO host regularly scheduled events all around the world. As for which organization is the best? I recommend joining both experiencing what each network has to offer and making your own conclusion. As more information becomes available on the new and exciting POSCON network, I’ll certainly share it with everyone. At the time of this writing, POSCON is expected to go into an early beta stage sometime after the first of the year. Like VATSIM and IVAO, POSCON will be a 100% free service and available and open to all.
Until next time…
Enjoy the multiplayer experience! It’s As Real As It Gets!