28 February 2009

On another note...

About a month and a half ago, I somehow found and joined an online game, where I try my luck at the airline business against 350 other real human competitors. (I mentioned this game a few times over on my novel blog, as this was done partly to enhance my understanding of the airline industry, therefore making my protagonist's work environment a bit more realistic.)

The game works as follows. I must pay a small amount to enter a game, which starts on June 1, 1992 and ends on June 1, 2005. Each game day lasts 25 minutes in real time. I may set up my hub at any airport in the world, but all my flights must start/end there. I may continue flying from my destination to a second destination, but from that point on, I must return home, either nonstop or through the first destination. (I may also make a very long flight with one refueling stop, but in that case, I cannot fly to a second destination.) I have 4 million US dollars of startup capital. My first plane will join my fleet immediately, but all other airplanes will require two weeks of preparation (if used) or a lengthy wait in the production queue (if new). I have customization options, including staffing levels, advertising, aircraft seating configuration, fare levels, and more. There is even a message board system where I can discuss strategies with fellow players, issue "press releases" regarding my airline, and more.

I joined a bit late - May 6th, 1993. I had wanted to set up my airline in Hong Kong, but due to a strong competitor there already, settled for Seoul Incheon, home to a cut-rate airline. (Incheon didn't even exist until 2001, but for some reason, this game has Incheon available in 1992.) My airline was named Mercy Airlines in English, and its name in Chinese script translates to "Kwan Shih Yin Airlines." Yes, I decided to take my transgender matron saint right into the game. I started with an 8-year-old Boeing 737-300 seating 118 passengers, and after gathering a small fleet of mostly junk airplanes and establishing some key routes, immediately started upgrading my fleet. At that point, my best plane was a 20-year-old Boeing 727, whose annual check would've been expensive enough to drive me to bankruptcy! By 1995, I had a fairly newish 35-aircraft fleet, killed off my high-maintenance competitor, and started flying some cash-cow routes, including a one-stop service to Orlando. In 1996, I even got to acquire 17 Boeing 777s, the newest and greatest airplane available at the time.

Now, it's late 1999. I now operate a fleet of 143 aircraft, owning at least 10 of them outright to cut costs. I own a further 8 aircraft which are leased out to other airlines. I have dozens of new planes on order, and will be the first to fly the Boeing 767-400 (in 2000) and the Embraer 170 (in 2004). My planes are spreading the spirit of Kwan Yin to countless destinations on every continent except Antarctica. My service ratings are top-notch, thanks to my young fleet (average age of just over 3 years), on-time performance, and most importantly, generous pay and benefits for my employees. I practically let my unions write their own paychecks via an automatic setting - and that has kept my labor costs high, but my staff motivated at 100% morale. Competing against airlines of lesser ratings, I can charge higher fares, still steal customers via my superior reputation, and eventually drive the competitors (whose older planes cost more to run) out. I was even invited into an alliance (I got the invitation back when I only had 12 junk planes), so I get to share tips and strategies with alliance partners, all of whom are at least as well-run as I am.

Up until recently, I've run Mercy Airlines as a strict virtual business, concentrating on profit margins. I took the mercy and compassion of Kwan Yin into all aspects of my operations, which trimmed my profit margins at first but eventually paid off in better reputation and higher profitability. But now, I am starting to change this - and I am starting to turn Mercy into a bit of a political statement (though I am not using any labels, such as "liberal" or "conservative," much less political party names, and I am certainly never using any real person's names, except for a single minor reference to President Bill Clinton).

Chasing profits, I even fly to some real hellholes, including Tehran and Kabul, and make good money in those places. I won't touch those flights for now, even though flying into Kabul in 1999 is probably sucking up to the Taliban. But I will make my beliefs known in other places:
  • First, I launched small-scale services to San Francisco, even though I have an alliance partner based there who already oversupplies the route. I did that partly to come up with an excuse for banning discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation at Mercy Airlines - which I did, via a "press release," in 1997, and would've been an unprecedented first for a South Korean corporation.
  • Second, also through "press releases," I've been stepping up my criticism of the South Korean government for giving preferential treatment to my foreign competitors, who indeed use predatory tactics at my hub that are allowed in the game but never allowed in real life. Such tactics include scheduling 8 flights to depart to the same destination at the exact same time daily. And yes, South Korea's government, be it run by 2MB, Roh Moo-hyun, or anyone else of any political persuasion, tends to stiff its own subjects in favor of foreign powers, and I want that to be known (while painting myself and the staff of Mercy Airlines as the allies of the Korean people). I painted the right-wing Kim Young-sam government as a puppet of the Moonies and the US Republicans, and just to be fair, I am painting leftist Kim Dae-jung (the President in 1999) as a puppet of the Chinese Communists. When Roh Moo-hyun comes in in 2003, I'll certainly blast his political vendettas and anti-business policies. Too bad I don't get to play past 2005, and blast 2MB and his treasonous behavior come 2008.
  • Third, I am actually starting to redraw my route map. To fight back against predatory Chinese airlines, I am running flights from Beijing and Hong Kong to London, and the 747s that will get it done will join my fleet in a few more hours of real life. But more importantly, I am fed up with the theocracy in Los Angeles in real life, so I will pull out my profitable Los Angeles flights. Sure, it's not 2000 yet, so Proposition 22 is cleared for the ballot - but hasn't been voted on yet. But I won't wait until March 2000, and its passage, to pull my flights out of Los Angeles. I have nine weekly flights to Los Angeles, but the planes can just as well serve Seattle and Vancouver, where I already run lots of flights but still have room to grow. I won't touch San Francisco, as dumping more flights there only hurts my partner, and San Francisco is part of the problem too. I'll also have some choice comments on the Korean-Americans, their support of Proposition 22 (and the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the George W. Bush presidential ticket), and my decision to discontinue my service to them. Once the Los Angeles pullout is done, I could probably free my Kabul and Tehran flights to serve saner markets too. These moves will hurt my profits, but I do need to make my statements even at significant cost.
  • Fourth, I run a sizable operation to Latin America. Mexico City is nonstop, while Lima is served with a refueling stop in Ontario in Southern California, and Caracas is served with an Anchorage refueling stop. As part of my Los Angeles pullout, Lima refueling stop will be transferred to Oakland. I'll certainly never serve the likes of Guatemala City, San Salvador, and Managua - they probably don't have enough demand to support my service anyway. Similarly, I'm staying out of the most problematic places on other continents, even though they can generate money for me. Forget about ever seeing Mercy planes in Warsaw, Harare, Kingston, or Riyadh. Sure, Caracas could be considered "problematic" too, but as it's only 1999 for now, I'll take a "wait-and-see" attitude toward Hugo Chavez, and will maintain my Caracas presence through the end of the game.
I'm loving the fact that I can transfer my economic philosophy into this simulation, and see results against other approaches by other players. And while at it, I learn enough about the airline industry to help out with my novel, and even get to make a few thinly veiled political statements.

Now, I need to go back to my game, so that I can pull out of Southern California and other theocracies. I also have three A320s and three 767s coming in anytime now, which must be assigned schedules. I need to not only add new destinations, but fight back against the predatory Chinese competitors, whose phenomenal growth is fueled by huge demands within the Chinese domestic market, an advantage I'll never enjoy in Seoul.

UPDATE After another day in real time, I've gone through my intentions. I am no longer flying to Los Angeles and Kabul, though I am hanging on to Tehran, to let President Khatami get a chance to fix things. I decided to launch a new service to Boston in the meantime. In the meantime, rising fuel prices are starting to choke me, so I've grounded some inefficient planes and routed others into super-lucrative Japanese domestic runs (even though I lose money getting my planes into Japan in the first place, revenue within Japan more than makes up for it). And speaking of Los Angeles, the route was picked up by a competitor based in Amsterdam - very apt, because Amsterdam, just like Los Angeles, is a mess thanks to reactionary immigrants (and the white liberal political correctness).