This Hot Topic began as a review of a game that our crew just can’t get enough of, and it ends with the latest in wireless IFE. While it is not a stream of conciseness Hot Topic, it just morphed as we wrote. First, the game Bookworm.

Bookworm is one of those “find the words” casual games that we stumbled upon at a computer games show 5+ years ago. The problem is, it is an addictive solution for boredom in crowded, nervous environments (like flying) that requires no manual dexterity or game controllers. It is a modern day variation of a crossword puzzle. And you know crossword puzzles they have been around since 1873 – they have 140 years of staying power. While Bookworm will probably not garner that much time on the word game list, you probably should try it if you enjoy word games in English. We contacted the company and they said; ” Readers can go to PopCap.com and download the game for free, trial it for an hour at no cost, then decide if they want to purchase it. They can also play the free online edition, found here, for as long as they like; however, that online version won’t save their scores or be full screen or be playable offline or have lots of other bells and whistles that the deluxe, downloadable edition includes. Also, we don’t believe Bookworm is available for any languages beyond English.” We might also note that you can get a copy for $3 at Big Fish Games if you are a new customer.

We got curious about the inflight issues with games and OS differences so we contacted DTI’s Patrick Larocque, Sales VP and he told IFExpress: “We are in the process of bringing all our existing games, brands included, in Android format. This includes branded titles such as Bookworm, Bejeweled and Battleship and many others. We are able to do this because our tools used to build / adapt games allow an easy port to Android with minimal work – we only need to refresh the design and the game interface. Since we have the source code on most of our current games, we can do it easily and quickly. In addition to our current catalogue moving to Android, we have also acquired a number of studio native Android titles coming from the consumer market, and are ready to deploy them on Android based IFE systems. For example, we have a great collection of Sega Classic and new Android s games as well as games from other studios such as Big Fish.”

Patrick went on to say, “It is also important to point out that we have already sold games packages for Android systems to a few airlines, and that list is growing. Some packages sold by DTI contain over 70 of our most popular titles and new brands. These packages have already been delivered to the hardware vendors for these specific airlines, but at this time we can’t divulge which airline picked what until they announce the entry in service of their new Android systems themselves. The only thing I can say is that announcements should be made pretty soon. In addition, we are also finalizing package deals with other airlines that are still in the midst of selecting their hardware vendors for new Android IFE systems. These airlines are looking at entry in service mid to late 2014.”

“Although Android opens up new possibilities for airlines, all is not perfect. At this stage and for a foreseeable future, Android running IFE systems will still carry some of the limitations found on the “traditional” Linux or Windows IFE platforms:

1. Most Android native games and applications found in the consumer market are only available with a touch-only interface, and are not handset ready. This is an issue for aircraft with multiple seating classes: if an economy class IFE screen is within the reach of passengers, this is not the case for business or first class seats, where the screen could be as far as 1 meter from the passenger. This means the latest and greatest games could fly in economy, but are a no go in business or first class. An airline going straight to a studio to get games will have to find a fix to that hurdle, and the economics for any of the majors to do a fix for one airline are not enticing. Airlines would have to pay a huge sum of money for the fix and maintenance. This explains why aggregators such as DTI are an essential part of the process: we can spread that cost on many customers and on many years.

2. The current technology being deployed is already a few years old when compared to the current class of hardware shown in the consumer market: this means that whatever is popular today may not run on the current hardware – only older, discontinued versions would work, and would need to be supported. Things such as frame rates, graphic acceleration etc. limit what can run well.

3. The IFE market economics, game wise, are such that it does not make business sense for major studios to invest in that market. This is the reason why companies, such as ours, are needed to acquire IFE rights, adapt the product and support it for the duration of the system’s life (something the studio do not even do: nobody support old games that are only working on the iPhone 3. The market forces the consumer to upgrade its devices in order to play with the new stuff).”

The concept of game playing on aircraft naturally led to a discussion and the question of additional fee’s for doing so. To date, we have not heard of a tacked-on IFE fee, although some airlines charge for movies that help return some revenue to offset costs for entertainment offerings. Internationally, those fee’s don’t seem to exist except on a few low cost carriers.

Finally, we wondered if there were any new paradigms in the content world. More specifically, we wondered if there was a lower cost IFE system (probably wireless) that had figured out how to leverage all the free content available and offer it as part of the system. We did a story on Thompson last year but it was time to check out the market. We wanted to get an idea of what was going down in the Wi-Fi IFE world so we contacted Web Barth, CEO of StoreBox Inflight, an inflight start-up that has a novel approach to wireless IFE – free, or almost free, content. If the name sounds familiar, Web was one of the principals of digEplayer, the first onboard, airlines owned IFE (The product is still being manufactured today, we might add), He told IFExpress, “We think we have the lightest, least expensive, wireless IFE solution today,” he told IFExpress. After a complete rundown of the system’s capability, we asked him for one chart extolling the feature and benefits of their wireless solution so our readers can get a better idea of their offering. You be the judge:

  • LOW INSTALLED COST: 1/5 the cost of embedded IFE
  • LITTLE OR NO OPERATING COST: Promotional partners to offset content costs
  • NO AIRCRAFT “OUT OF SERVICE”: System installed at ramp in one night
  • 40+ HOURS OF FREE ENTERTAINMENT FOR PASSENGERS:
    • 14 Movies, 20 TV, 20 Music Albums, 10 Magazines, 10  Daily Newspapers, 6  Books, 10 Games, 10 Documentaries, 12 Shopping Catalogues, 1 Destination Video and Destination Site: Special coupons, offers and bookings
  • CONTENT AUTOMATICALLY UPDATED DAILY: 10 daily newspapers, daily news show
  • NO CREW INVOLVEMENT: Server pre-loaded with content, daily content up-dated automatically by cell phone connection at ramp
  • MINIMAL FUEL BURN IMPACT: Entire system weighs less than 50 pounds
  • SMALL ENOUGH FOR QUALITY IFE ON ANY AIRCRAFT: i.e. Commuter planes: 2 MCU
  • AFFORDABLE IFE UPGRADE FOR END-OF-LIFE-CYCLE AIRCRAFT: MD-80’s, Aging Wide Bodies
  • PROCESSES CREDIT CARDS: For Inflight Entertainment and Merchandise Purchases
  • SERVES UP DESTINATION BASED ADVERTISING & PROMOTIONS: Automatically
  • DATA CONSTANTLY IMPROVES OFFERING: Monitors and reports passenger preferences

You can contact Web at StoreBox Inflight or call the company at 425 462-4054 in Bellevue Washington, USA. And yes, they will be at APEX!

So, as you can see, this industry is changing fast. Please take you portable devices on your next flight, who knows, you might be in a wireless IFE environment after all.

Don’t forget THE US event for IFEC, APEX/IFSA in Anaheim CA, September 9 – 12, 2013.