So, KLM flew me to Amsterdam.
Seriously, from Anchorage, AK, through Seattle to Detroit, then to Amsterdam. I arrived early the day of the event after traveling for 20 hours. About seven hours later, we all met up in the hotel conference room. There were journalists from all over Europe, and a couple of us from the US.
We were ushered into a big bus, then driven about 10 minutes away to the KLM hangar, with a huge blue 747 jet parked there, engines open with blue spotlights trained on their innards. There was a blue carpet, ropes to show us where to go, and a large area with fancy tables, each with a floral centerpiece. A stage had been set up, the KLM logo printed on a large screen behind it, with two large video monitors on either side.
Shortly, a woman stepped up to the stage, a barely visible mic attached to the side of her head. She welcomed us all and then played a teaser video for KLM: Aviation Empire. The video was solidly produced; it could work as a commercial on any television station, showing jet contrails, people playing soccer, vague airline imagery. Yet no gameplay.
The COO of KLM, Pieter Elbers, took the stage to talk about KLM as an airline, and how the company's new game was the logical next step in their quest to connect with their customers. He then introduced Martjin van der Zee, senior Vice President of e-commerce, to talk about well KLM has done in the realm of social media, with 3.9 million likes on Facebook, and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. He spoke to the idea of continuous engagement, sales without sales, and the connection of online and offline worlds being important to KLM customers.
Next up, Michiel Sala, co-owner of devleoper Little Chicken Game Company, and Karlijn Vogel-Meijer, Manager of Social Media for KLM, stepped up to the stage, mics ready. Finally, it was time to see the game.
And you know what? It looks pretty good.
Built in Unity, KLM: Aviation Empire is a full-on airline simulation game. Players start the game in 1919, the first year KLM began operations in Amsterdam, with a connection to London. The game takes place across time, tasking budding airline managers with building new airports, making new connections, buying new planes, and negotiating landing rights.
The game continues right up to the present day, with a few special events and airplanes to earn or buy via in-app purchase. Of course, the beta tester showing off the game to us said, there's absolutely no need to pay real money for anything. Micromanaging customers, who seem perpetually upset for some reason, is a simple matter of tapping on them and giving them gifts and food to keep them calm while they wait for planes.
The game zooms in and out from the globe easily and smoothly, the airplanes fly across the sky in ever more complicated flight patterns, and everything looks slick and intuitive. There's a chance to fly the planes en route in a little mini game that uses tilt or virtual stick to fly through hoops, gaining in-game currency for each hoop flown through.
Visiting airports in real time will also unlock them in-game, in a clever location-based reward mechanic. The team plans to continue their exploration of this in-game/real world connection, perhaps with leaderboards printing out on KLM boarding passes, or in-flight check ins, but they're not giving out specifics
Ultimately, I'm not sure why KLM felt like flying in a US journalist was a useful business move, though I suppose they did get a write up here. In my short time with the on-site tablets running the game, it seemed like a fun diversion, if a bit brand-conscious. Then again, this is the first app I've seen that takes a brand of KLM's stature and builds an actual game around it.
If you find the idea of an airline simulation intriguing, or just like the concept of an airline creating an actual mobile game, give KLM: Aviation Empire a try--it's free, after all, and available right now in the App Store. It should run on iPhone 4 and up, and iPad 2 and up. Who knows, maybe you'll check in to a flight to Amsterdam soon using the game itself.
Stranger things have happened.