This interview was conducted on Friday the 17th of November, 2023, and features a 1 hour and 55 minute conversation between JT from SkyBlueRadio and Robert S. Randazzo of PMDG and Surge from The Pilot Club. We are picking apart the interview and summarising what was spoken about during the show.
PMDG’s Robert S Randazzo’s History
At the age of 12, Robert wanted an Apple computer because all of his friends had one. However, he had also begged his father at the time that he wanted to learn how to code. So when his father went to purchase the Apple he was guided by the shop assistant to purchase an Atari, if his son wanted to learn how to code. Upon receiving the Atari, Robert stated that he was disappointed because, well, he was young and didn’t get what he wanted.
I wonder if the flight sim scene would look any different now if his father had bought an Apple computer instead.
During the year 1986 and 1987, Robert and his college roommate were trying to figure out how to dogfight each other on their computers. They needed to link the computers together and they did so using a non-modem cable and having the computers talk to each other using Falcon 3.0. Although they may not have known it at the time, this was the start of something much bigger and would later become PMDG as we know it today.
It wasn’t until 1997 that PMDG officially launched: Robert launched PMDG because he was running out of money to finish flight training to obtain his ratings, so he started selling some of the items that were originally freeware to help pay for his training. The first product that PMDG sold was the 747-400PS1 User’s Guide, which was released in February of 1998 but this wasn’t without hiccups, “when I was making the 747PS1 users guide, I was selling it through a marketplace, and the marketplace decided to rip me off about three grand.” – Robert. And that is what has led PMDG to almost exclusively sell on their own website ever since.
Since then, they have developed a relationship with Aerosoft, and they were the only other marketplace you could purchase official PMDG base products, until the release of the 737-700 for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, when they began selling through the Microsoft Flight Simulator Marketplace to both Xbox and PC users.
Robert’s dream was to become a pilot, and so he started his career with United Airlines, cleaning lavatories between 10 pm and 2 am. He eventually managed to work his way into an operations role within the airline. Progressing to the management team, he received training in corporate management and negotiating, saying “I had the opportunity to work for some incredibly influential women” and he was able to parlay the skills and information that they had taught him over the years into flying. He started to build hours as quickly as possible.
He was then presented with the opportunity to fly as a copilot in a JetStream 32, Saying “I went from being an operations manager actually making a decent living, I gave that up to become a copilot making less than $17000 a year flying a nasty, dirty, little, noisy turboprop flying through ice and snow in the northeast United States”.
After a while of flying, Robert married his wife who had hit the glass ceiling with the Secret Service, it was at that time that he decided to take a year off of flying to focus on PMDG, and he never went back. Robert has accumulated an impressive amount of ratings under his belt in his time, from war birds to corporate jets, as he describes it “a fist full” of type ratings. Robert even owned his very own DC-3, being recognised by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as being a Golden Age Ambassador.
“My little hobby here [PMDG] that I love, is starting to feel more like a job lately” – Robert
He goes on to state that he enjoys sitting down to write code and making products perform like they are supposed to, but lately, he’s had to focus on more things related to running the company, such as HR, international payroll, setting up companies in different countries to enable them to pay staff within that country. He explained, “All of a sudden, it’s interesting. A lot of meetings all of a sudden, and when your company needs a lot of meetings you’re in trouble.”
When asked about how many people currently work at PMDG Robert replied “Twice as many as there were a year ago. Somewhere more than a sole proprietorship and somewhere less than SpaceX.” Robert also stated that they are very protective over the information they disclose regarding the company operations, he did go on to say, “We’ve got some really really skilled developers”.
Robert talked about times gone by for a lot of us, P3D. Talking about how back then PMDG was sitting “comfortably” at the top of the market, he predicted a 70% market penetration of P3D simmers. Touching on the implementation of the Marketplace feature within MSFS, Robert went on to explain that PMDG may not be at the top anymore, there are some amazing developers within the MSFS community, but if he had one complaint it would be that “within the development community there’s a lot of made-up b***s*** Friction.” “Drama”-JT (SBR) “There really is, there are developers out there that say, ‘We hate PMDG’ and they don’t even know us”.
They discussed the MSFS Marketplace and some of the issues surrounding it. Microsoft takes so long to review updates to products to ensure quality control across all platforms, to ensure that the experience is the same, regardless of if you are simming on Xbox or PC. And of course to ensure that nothing is being uploaded to the marketplace that should be there.
It can take anywhere from two to ten days for this initial quality control process to complete, and only then is PMDG able to start testing the update for themselves via their own beta Xbox systems. Once the PMDG team have “okayed” the version to go for release across all marketplace users, they inform Microsoft, and they start the process of releasing the update across all users. Robert informed us that it can take anywhere from two days to six weeks for this final process. There was a period over the summer when the team at Microsoft took seven weeks to release an update. Robert did not go into detail regarding the reason for the delay in releasing the update.
How Quality Has Changed
PMDG estimate that 50% of their sales on MSFS so far have resulted directly from the inbuilt marketplace, introducing a new generation of simmers to PMDG, and the quality that comes with it. However, “to me the larger problem, if I was a simmer and I pull down on to my PC or my Xbox and I play around with it [MSFS] and I start to like it and I discover, oh hey yeah, there’s marketplace and I’m like, Oh, I really want that plane, so I download it, and it’s a piece of garbage. That’s going to taint that person’s perception of everything else that’s available”.
Universal Flight Tablet (UFT)
The UFT is finally out, it was an “extraordinarily painful gestation period, it aged prematurely” he also went on to state “We’re at a point now that we’re starting to add some of the features that have always been planned for it.” PMDG’s vision for the rest of the development for the UFT is a “three and one cycle” so there will be new features added on the third week and then the week after will be primarily small items, clean-up details, and bug fixes. And then there will be a three-week wait until the next update. (subject to change).
The feature set to be released next for the UFT is on the navigation map display, you can integrate through Sim Brief. However, when your flight route changes, add a fix/arrival/sid, that will be reflected on the map display on the UFT. This is set for release hopefully on the 27th of November, 2023.
“There are a couple of larger developers wanting to integrate directly with the UFT, I would say names, but I don’t want to get burned at the stake if it doesn’t go ahead.” – Robert
FSNews Release regarding the Universal Flight Tablet: PMDG Unveils The Anticipated Flight Tablet
PMDG’s Perception within the Community
PMDG has gained a bit of a reputation from within the community for being very “antagonistic“, and the team there are doing what it can to correct it. Robert used an example; at most airline ticket counters, you’ll be called forward hearing “NEXT“, but at the Ritz, the receptionist will ask you “How can I help you, how is your day, is there anything else I can help you with”, and Robert said “Unfortunately, I think at PMDG because we are so small and the community is so big, at times we are barely hanging on, so we have swung more in the direction of NEXT. Are we trying? yeah, we are.”
He also stated that PMDG is going to be putting him out more, doing things in the public light to help boost brand image and try to help curb the image that PMDG are not approachable.
Mathijs Kok from PMDG provided us with a breakdown of the PMDG Forums of interesting parts of the interview. He also gives an insight into PMDG’s new marketing division. I wonder if they came back…
Robert at PMDG
Robert said, “It’s a good time to be at PMDG, we’re having a lot of fun. I get to sit at the top chair in the pyramid, so I get to be involved in a lot of stuff”. Robert also states that he has been told that he’s a bit of a control freak, he does not agree with that statement. He goes on to explain that he is unsettled with PMDG products now going out of the door that he has not worked on.
Have you got any updates on the 737MAX?
The plan is to still just drop it out of nowhere.
Ever thought about developing an Airbus?
Yes, Robert wants to develop the A350. However, the A350 is a very difficult airliner to get a hold of proper documentation for, and PMDG is very good at creating aircraft when they have the correct documentation. he goes on to state “The A350 is the only good-looking plane that Airbus has ever made“.
People are frustrated because they feel like PMDG is slow, how do you feel about that?
“God don’t I know it, The pace of development is sometimes really slow within PMDG, people get frustrated because I’m not saying anything, but if I repeat myself another group of people get frustrated because I’m repeating myself.” PMDG has recently hired a lot of new talent to help the development processes. However, Robert did also say that things are finally starting to unstick, hence why he is so optimistic.
Do you find it a compliment that you’re being told “Come on come on come on”?
“It can be frustrating, but we know, they are this vocal because they use our products and they like our products. Although they are frustrated and we are frustrated because they are, at the bottom line, we all want the same thing.” There’s nothing worse than being a software developer and having nobody care about your product, but PMDG I don’t think it has that issue on a large scale.
Is the UFT, that’s going to go across all products, the 777, 757, 747, all those?
The interview ended with JT thanking both Robert and Surge for their time.
I think it was a productive interview, we learned a lot about the goings on at PMDG, and it was nice to hear them directly from the chair at the top of the pyramid. or as he is referred to on the PMDG forums, “Our fearless leader”. It does at least give us the opportunity to gauge his voice, and from what I can tell it is one of excitement, so if we hold off just a while longer, I reckon we shall start to see other great products from PMDG in the not-to-distant future.