There are many gameplay problems that revamping the slot system would solve. Right now there is an artificial ceiling on slots and anytime you put an artificial ceiling on anything, you create artificial scarcity. In a free market without artificial floors/ceilings, things reach equilibrium using supply/demand. With that being said, coding a hard cap on slots is absurd. Sure there are airports that are slot constrained, but anything is possible for the right price. A prime example is Denver International Airport—the largest airport in the world by area. They have a master plan for additional terminals and runways for future growth. However, they are only going to build out the rest of the airport if there is sufficient demand and money available.
In AWS, there is no amount of money you can spend to increase the number of slots available. Once slots are gone, the price of slots effectively rises to infinity. In the real world, if I walked into KDEN and said I’m willing to pay you $1 billion for the privilege of flying into your airport, they’re going to find a way to build those extra runways/terminals and make room for me.
Therefore, the solution is to eliminate ALL artificial ceilings on slots, which effectively drops the price of slots from infinity to something less than infinity. IRL you’d have to account for not only takeoff slots, but also landing slots, which is eliminated from AWS for simplicity. The same thing would happen for takeoff slots. You can’t tell me that if I said I’d pay $1 billion for a rush hour slot at Heathrow that they wouldn’t find a way to squeeze me in and make it happen. Part of the problem is that having a hard cap on slots reflects the real world versus the fake world we play in. The only reason ATL has a billion slots and STL doesn’t is because there is no airline with a major hub in STL.
So the solution is to eliminate all hard caps and restrict slots based on market factors. At some point, slot prices simply become cost prohibitive instead of impossible to acquire. Since slots are simply expensive to acquire versus infinitely expensive and impossible to obtain, there is no need for a hard limit on the number of players in a game or the number of players based at an airport. Slots will always be available—for a price.
The simplest model would be to charge for takeoff slots at the base and destination airports based on 4 factors: how many slots are used at the airport, used by the airline at the airport, used on the route, and used within +/- 1 hour.
1. Slots used at the airport—since we have a hard limit from real life, we can use this as the benchmark. Currently slots grow from 50% to 150% over time, which is good. Once slots used are >150% the benchmark, they start getting more and more expensive. So if an airport has 100 slots/hour IRL, it starts at 50 and grows to 150 slots/hour over time. When airlines start buying slots #151 or higher the cost starts to rise dramatically.
2. Slots used by the airline—this is based on competition and the real life limit/benchmark. If an airline controls more than 50% of the slots compared to the benchmark and/or total slots used (since we can create infinite slots) at an airport, additional slots start getting real expensive. If an airline goes BK and frees up a bunch of slots to get the total slots used below the benchmark level, slots get cheaper. If they BK and the free slots is above the benchmark, they get cheaper, but not by nearly as much.
3. Slots used on the route—airports like competition because it lowers fare prices and gets more people flying. If the slots are used on a route with no competition, the slots are more expensive. If they are being used to enter a new route for the airline that another airline already flies, they are cheaper.
4. Slots used +/- 1 hour—this is relative to the rest of the day. The first step is using up slots for “cargo airlines” to help our benchmark. Something like 1 slot/hour during the day with a bunch of slots used overnight, such as 5-10 slots/hour from the hours 11pm to 5am. Then, we calculate the average slots used per hour for our benchmark value (total slots used / number of hours open). Then, we calculate how many slots are used +/- 1 hour and compare it to the average slots used. This tells us how “busy” that time period is for the airport and the busier the airport is, the more expensive the slots. This encourages “more equal” distribution of slots so that every airport doesn’t end up with 0 slots used overnight and 200 slots used during the day.
By calculating all 4 of these values, you’ll get 4 coefficients that determine slot costs for the base and destination airports. This solves several gameplay problems:
1. Players will never run out of slots—they will always be available for the right price.
2. Players will never be able to block competition—slots will always be available and if an airline doesn’t fly into the airport yet, the slots will be significantly cheaper than an airline with 1000s of slots there already, encouraging competition.
3. Players will never be blocked from upgrading planes. Slots will always be available for purchase no matter what time they takeoff, which means they can upgrade a prop to a jet with piece of mind knowing they can actually schedule it.
4. Players will be faced with opportunity cost, which is the basis of all business decisions. Airlines will reach a point where it is cost prohibitive to expand by adding planes/routes and will be forced to open a new base and/or use bigger aircraft on existing routes. They will reach the point where it makes more sense to spend $300 million on an A380 or opening a new base than spending $300 million on slots to schedule another A320.
5. Players will BK more often—they will overextend themselves much quicker/easier and the used market will get a nice boost when it happens. Patience and steady growth is key to survival in AWS. Since players cannot block competition anymore, they will be more vulnerable, making it that much more important to build an airline the right way.
6. Players no longer have to worry about slot hogging—neither will admin. Slot hogging is against the rules and “cheating”. This would make this form of cheating impossible.
In addition to this feature, since we have long game worlds it would be prudent to remove the basing restrictions in terms of number and location. By removing the cap on number of bases, airlines can choose to create focus cities by having 10 bases and flying routes between them. This strategy would mean more expensive base costs, but cheaper slot costs.
In terms of basing location, airlines should be able to open bases anywhere they want. US-based carriers such as Delta have international bases at AMS, CDG, and NRT. For long game worlds, restricting airlines to one country doesn’t make sense. The most boring game ever would be basing at Doha, Singapore, or Hong Kong. This further increases competition so that no one is safe. If you are a large US airline and see an opportunity in Europe or Asia, you should be able to exploit it. If you’re in Hong Kong and Shanghai or Taipei has an opportunity, you should be able to jump on it.
All of these ideas would increase competition, eliminate players getting bored, and make the game more challenging. The idea of having uncapped bases and opening focus cities excites me. By doing this, city-based demand will be more realistic as well. Competing airports will have the opportunity to truly compete as Chicago Midway can add slots and be larger than O’Hare. The airports in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Moscow, etc. will be able to compete with each other and airlines won’t be stuck picking the larger airports simply because there are more slots there IRL.
So I think the bottom line, in general, is to stop imposing artificial floors/ceilings and let the market work when it comes to slots, bases, number of players in a game, etc. All of the issues in the game today are due to these artificial constraints, with the exception of limiting calls to the used market (since having aircraft go to the highest bidder require a substantial waiting period).