iRacing’s Most Fundamental Problem: The Slow Outlap

Throughout my travels, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about whether iRacing is worth the money. This means temporarily putting personal biases and a general hatred for the sim racing community aside, and delivering a very short and concise summary in person as to whether this high profile software can adequately prepare you for a competition environment, or if it’s just a smoke and mirrors show crafted by an excellent marketing department.

You certainly can’t go very far, at least in the stock car racing world, without seeing an iRacing sticker somewhere or hearing another driver mention it in the pit area, and this only increases tenfold when you tune into a Monster Energy Series broadcast. Almost by osmosis has the popular online-oriented racing simulator established itself as the be-all, end-all form of virtual auto racing; the current narrative now claiming Hendrick Motorsports rookie William Byron “got his start” on the service, so naturally people are starting to ask some very valid questions. Can this game really prepare you for the real deal, or is there a lot of misinformation floating around?

The short answer is no, because iRacing features one very fundamental flaw: tire heating is backwards when compared to real life, therefore teaching rookie drivers a set of improper and borderline dangerous driving habits behind the wheel.

Let’s begin.

Regardless of what specific racing series we’re talking about, rubber tires operate in a very simple manner: heat makes them sticky, and therefore provides your race car with an increase in grip at high speeds, but too much heat reduces the overall adhesion of your tires, and makes your car prone to sliding. Each tire compound will have it’s own unique “sweet spot” when we talk about just how much heat provides the optimal amount of grip (and how long they last), but for beginners, all that’s necessary to understand is that there’s a strategy behind each stint out on the race track.

During their first lap or two, drivers must strategically exhibit force on all four corners of the car to generate heat within the tires for a beneficial increase in traction – hence the need for warm-up laps prior to the race commencing – but then while at speed be careful not to continuously over-stress the tires, as the temperature of the rubber will move further and further away from the sweet spot. The longer a driver is out on the track, the higher a tire’s temperature will naturally rise, forcing drivers to dial back their pace and drive in a more conservative fashion to both prevent the tire from over heating, and preserving it’s lifespan for the moments where pushing is absolutely required. You know, when battling for position and such.

It doesn’t matter if you’re running a stock car out in the Canadian backwoods, or have bought yourself a pricey GT3 ride (please tell us about it, we’d love to hear your story), your race engineer will ask the same of you upon exiting the pit lane for a practice session: slowly increase your pace to naturally work some heat into the tires, make the most out of the few laps in which your tires are operating at their peak performance, and then carefully manage the fall-off period by strategically restraining your pace. If you’re going out for qualifying, he’ll tell you to either light up the tires when exiting pit lane, or intentionally over-drive your out-lap to generate as much heat as possible in the minimum amount of real estate you have before taking the green flag.

In any situation, the core concept remains the same: building heat in your tires is absolutely necessary when driving a race car. This is the automotive equivalent of stretching before football practice. Like muscles in your body, tires need elasticity to function as they’re supposed to at speeds upwards of 160 km/h. Heat provides that much-needed elasticity. This cannot be ignored in a competition setting – pushing as hard as possible immediately upon leaving pit lane will nine times out of ten result in a destroyed race car, or a damaged ego while you sit in the gravel trap. It’s not a process that takes very long – just a few corners, if that – but it’s absolutely necessary.

You can experience this for yourself by going to your local Go Kart complex and observing the standings sheet once the race session with your buddies has concluded. Notice how your first few laps were woefully off pace, and the kart gradually got faster? Congratulations, Einstein, you’ve discovered how race car tires work. Planet Earth doesn’t load an alternative set of physics when you strap yourself into big boy cars.

iRacing’s most fundamental problem is that none of this happens; tire heat of any sort is a bad thing, and users are wrongly taught that cold tires offer peak performance.

A peculiar term any avid sim can search on YouTube is “iRacing Slow Outlap.” This query will net you several pages of uploads in which “no slow outlap” will appear in the video’s description, as if the creator is implying that this is somehow an unfair advantage he’s intentionally neglected to participate in. Videos from both Evan Maillard and Ricardo Castro Ledo, driving two completely different vehicles on circuits an entire ocean apart, both note their solo laps – in Evan’s case, a world record – were completed without making use of a slow outlap.

This was not an oddity that appeared in a build that was live for all of three days before promptly being patched; Evan’s video was released in February of 2012, whereas Ricardo’s came out in September of 2017. It’s been around for a while.

So what exactly is a slow outlap?

Through the use of iRacing’s infamous delta bar, a live-timing element of the user interface first introduced in 2011 that actively monitors your current pace in relation to your all-time fastest lap, avid sim racers have discovered that every single car featured in iRacing posts a blistering speed mere seconds after departing from pit road, to the point where sector times posted on the outlap are actually faster than those scored during the first timed lap a minute or two later. Whereas it is almost impossible in a real car to push at maximum attack immediately upon leaving pit lane, iRacing allows you to pursue in some cases world record pace just moments after firing the car and shifting into gear.

This led many sim racers to make the observation that iRacing’s tires are hyper-sensitive to any kind of heat, even the kind of natural heat that would accumulate when driving at competition speeds, and that cold tires, not warm tires, provided a user with optimal grip levels. As I’ve outlined above, this is backwards when compared to how rubber tires actually work on a race car.

The question among competitive circles then became how to preserve this optimal grip state for a timed lap, as pushing like a bat out of hell from the get-go would quickly generate too much heat by the time a user took the green flag. The answer was fairly simple: crawl around the track at 40 miles per hour, and punch it at the last possible moment before taking the green.

This is not something you will see in any real-world racing series, because this practice has no real-world application. This is a technique that does not work in real life, because this is not how rubber as a material operates. iRacing have objectively got it oh-so-very wrong.

Earlier this year, iRacing introduced Time Attack, a bite-sized feature intended for sim racers running on a tight schedule who still wanted to turn laps, yet couldn’t commit to a full event. It was seen as a generally positive addition to the simulator, as games such as Assetto Corsa, RaceRoom Racing Experience, Automobilista, and Project CARS 2 each have their own sub-section of their respective communities dedicated to leaderboard battles, so it was only natural for iRacing to expand into that territory as well.

However, deep within the iRacing member forums, users can be seen acting extremely disappointed over the implementation of what should have been a welcome addition to the simulator, as iRacing members are openly advising one another to idle around the circuit during the outlap while in pursuit of top times, a process which can take anywhere between five and seven minutes for just ninety seconds of spirited driving.  It’s obviously not something that sat well with the sim racers the mode was intended for.

Suddenly, the YouTube video description of “no slow outlap” paints a very clear picture. There is no tangible way to measure just how many iRacers routinely make use of this massive shortcoming in the physics engine for their own personal benefit. With many of the top iRacing championships both official and private offering extensive cash prizes for placing well, not to mention the increase in one’s personal reputation for simply putting down quick lap times, it’s not difficult to hypothesize a scenario in which basically every iRacing member is taking advantage of this exploit – at least, the competitive ones.

Are slow outlaps cheating? In my personal opinion, no. There is a shortcoming in the game’s physics engine that everyone can take advantage of, without the use of third party software. I would compare it to the modern-day equivalent of shift glitching in either Forza Motorsport or Project Gotham Racing. It’s something the developers simply messed up on, and now the users are reaping the benefits of.

Instead, I believe the existence of the slow outlap exploit falls dangerously close the category of false advertising.

Let me explain why.

Using the search function, mentions of the slow outlap exploit on the official iRacing forums can be found dating back all the way to 2012, when the New Tire Model project was in it’s infancy. The practice of employing this exploit during ranked and unranked session still occurs during present day, nearly five years later.

This is proof that iRacing developers have most likely known about fundamentally unrealistic tire behavior in their simulator for a grand total of twenty major update cycles (four build updates each year, spanning five years), yet failed to rectify the problem. What they have done, is continued to market the software as a highly authentic race car simulator that can also be used as a training tool for amateur and professional drivers alike, when real world techniques taught by professionals are demonstrably counter-productive to your success in the simulator.

What iRacing have also done, is continue to churn out car after car, and track after track, while simultaneously failing to address a fundamental flaw in the game’s car handling physics. I understand that there is a genuine need to keep injecting an aging simulator with new and exciting content to keep people interested. Neglecting a fatal flaw for five years in favor of this content, is absurd. There is no reason a simple heating problem shouldn’t have been fixed in sixty months, especially when it is constantly mentioned within earshot of the developers on the official forums.

So how does this classify as false advertising?

In 2012, an iRacing member by the name of Richie Stanaway left a comment on the thread dedicated to discussing the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, a full-length virtual Formula One race put on as part of iRacing’s World Tour calendar – special events mimicking the real life auto racing schedule. Richie comments “I think I will lose my mind if I have to do another slow outlap + hotlap around here”, in obvious reference to the unrealistic act of idling around a four mile grand prix circuit to prevent the tires from acquiring any sort of heat prior to the scored lap. Richie also attaches a lighthearted table-flipping comic, conveying his frustration at the bizarre technique needed to register a competitive lap time.

As we have already covered, real life drivers do not idle around a professional racing circuit at school-zone speeds to prevent their tires from accumulating heat. Rubber tires, fundamentally, do not work that way.  They have never worked that way, and this is not how you drive a race car. The laws of physics do not provide a benefit for idling around a circuit as you would in iRacing. And as the timestamps have conveyed, iRacing have not fixed this massive flaw in their tire model. This is something iRacers are making use of in abundance, quite possibly while you’re reading this article.

iRacing’s testimonials page features an entry from Aston Martin factory driver Richie Stanaway, in which he writes “iRacing has been a huge part of my preparation as a racing driver. The car and track model accuracy is unprecedented […] I’ve driven various race car simulators but, for me, iRacing is still the best I’ve come across. iRacing has for sure made me a better race driver.”

That same Richie Stanaway can be seen in the above screenshot becoming frustrated at the bizarre technique required to post a competitive lap time in qualifying for a major iRacing online race, a technique he does not employ according to real-world on-board footage you can find on his YouTube channel. Richie is probably a good guy and doesn’t mean any harm so I’m not pointing the finger at him; the onus instead falls on iRacing for having the testicles to post this testimonial in the first place.

The average person interested in iRacing assumes that these testimonials from professional drivers are authentic, and generally represent what one can expect from the software. In thirty seconds, I was able to discover the same driver behind a very positive “testimonial” in which he claimed iRacing had helped prepare him for the real deal, was in fact lauding the use of a bizarre and unrealistic driving technique to post quick lap times that he most certainly doesn’t employ in his real cars, and it’s an exploit iRacing haven’t fixed in five years.

You read that correctly.

Five.

Years.

False advertising by definition is the use of misleading, false, or unproven information to advertise products to consumers. I would say this scenario fits that definition, and it certainly draws into question both the authenticity and the accuracy of other quotes on the testimonials page.

As always, my biggest question revolves around why this has not received more coverage. And I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point for those who have hung around this place for the long haul, but it’s something that must be reiterated right here, right now.

iRacing is by far the most prolific and most reputable racing simulator on the market today, and has held that title for the better part of a decade as other games have come and gone. With so many YouTube personalities and so many specialized sim racing media outlets, you would think that a fundamental flaw in the way tires behave within the biggest simulator on the market would receive much more coverage, especially as this game is now being regarded as a “training tool” for future race car drivers by Fox Sports and NBC.

It seems like outlets such as InsideSimRacing or SimRacingPaddock – though there are several others – are uploading pointless “Test Drive” videos almost every other day, competing for an audience of just a few thousand. You’d think these outlets would be chomping at the bit to be the first one to upload an extensive breakdown of just how much an advantage cold tires provides you with, and how to employ the technique correctly during a qualification period, both for the benefit of sim racers, as well as to encourage iRacing’s developers to fix it.

Yet they haven’t.

This topic has gone uncovered for five straight years.

Why is that?

A few short years ago, TeamVVV discovered a hidden assist that could be activated in Formula One 2014. By switching on the “Override Input Device Type” setting, and then configuring your steering wheel as normal, the game would implement a hidden stability assist to your race car that would go undetected in league play. As a result, drivers could enter private championships and utterly decimate the competition with more speed than any custom setup could possibly warrant. Codemasters received a lot of shit, but the public service announcement was very much appreciated by the F1 gaming community. To this day, this piece remains TeamVVV’s finest work. Controversial, informative, and useful.

iRacing’s tire model has exhibited an even bigger flaw than Override Input Device Type; everything you know about how a race car tire works, goes out the window in favor of idling around a race track while trying to prevent big, sticky racing slicks from acquiring any heat whatsoever.

Silence.

iRacing’s most fundamental problem, is that cold tires produce more grip than warm tires, and has done so for five years.

As a training tool for amateur race car drivers, iRacing cannot be used, period. It teaches the user to run balls out immediately after turning over the ignition – a sure recipe for disaster in a real car – but then drive well under the limit of what their car is capable of in an effort to keep tire temperatures low at all costs, rather than to strategically push and conserve based on the situation at hand – which real racing tires allow. Prolonged use of iRacing as a practice tool for real world events is utterly foolish; the software’s tire model rewards hyper-conservative driving, and punishes any sort of spirited lapping that would otherwise be welcomed in a real car.

In simpler terms, iRacing encourages you to intentionally drive slow.  I find it utterly mind-blowing that iRacing have not made any attempt at rolling out a widespread fix for this since the discovery of the exploit in 2012, especially when (for the most part) every other simulator on the market gets this fundamental part of tire behavior, absolutely correct.

But at least now you know about it.

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The More Things Change…

…the more they stay the same.

A couple months back, I saw a buddy of mine celebrate the completion of his first half-marathon via Facebook. He’d lost a bit of weight and was now living a really active lifestyle, which for anyone in their early 20’s is highly commendable – especially when many in our age group opt to experiment with binge drinking and hard drugs as a form of entertainment. It was hard not to be happy for the guy considering where he was at just a few months prior, and knowing what he’d given up in the pursuit of self-improvement. This friend was not someone I’d known from high school or met at an old job I’d had many years ago; he was instead one of the top iRacers in the world.

We’ve been led to believe by delusional developers that sim racing as an eSport will explode in popularity virtually any minute now, and having an iRating within the top 25 is your one-way ticket to super stardom – the years of slugging it out on the service carving your path straight to the big leagues. Yet right in the thick of it, he left. Just like that.

I didn’t have to ask why. He handed over his account details and told me to poke around.

So I did.

The baseline setup for the Pro Late Model at the Las Vegas Bullring carries the left front tire on corner exit. Asphalt stock cars don’t do this, nor do they let you put your foot to the floor before reaching the apex. iRacing, in their infinite wisdom, believe otherwise. This is the exact car we campaigned this year away from the keyboard, so at the very least we can tell you this isn’t how these cars work unless there are multiple broken components, or parts just flat-out not installed. My first impression of iRacing, after an absence of almost three years from the service, is that NASCAR Heat 2 – a game designed with teenagers as the primary target audience – is a more technically sound stock car experience. iRacing’s Pro Late Model requires almost zero throttle control, and raises the left front like a dirt car.

Seriously, what?

I’m not asking for a leaderboard setup to be supplied off the bat. I’m asking for a setup the keeps all four tires on the ground. iRacing were unable to do that. So I had to make my own, and to the surprise of precisely nobody, the car was extremely boring to turn laps in – but at least it was fast. I know how exciting these cars are to drive in real life. iRacing made me feel like I was playing an arcade game. You should at least be able to spin the tires and get a little bit of a wiggle going on out of the corners. iRacing doesn’t let you. NASCAR Heat 2, on the other hand, does, and does so at a fraction of the cost.

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Pro Late Model costs $11.95 USD and was one of the first cars ever released for iRacing back in 2009. Eight years later, it exhibits problems on par with those of an unfinished rFactor mod. I understand that the team have to split their attention between a lot of cars and a lot of gameplay elements, all of which need varying levels of polish, but charging a premium price compared to other video games should warrant something that resembles a premium product.

Not something that can be outdone by a kid in his bedroom, or a team on a shoe-string budget.

A post on the official iRacing member forums – which you can’t view without first paying the entry fee – reveals that these cars have been basically abandoned by the developers; one user describing them as “obnoxiously terrible.” It’s strange that these kinds of comments only appear behind lock and key, whereas the sim racing community have no problem being quite hostile to other simulators within the genre.

Or is it? A short entry on the WordPress blog The Flipside Announcer – presumably written by someone from the broadcast crew at LSRTV – notes that iRacing have instructed broadcasters to either disable live chat functionality or kill the feed altogether if something appears during a race which may damage iRacing’s reputation. Though it’s not outright confirmation that iRacing will individually hunt down users who leave negative comments about the game on social media, it’s proof that the team are paranoid about sim racers freely discussing how they feel about the software.

With several drivers not being able to maintain connection to the racing servers, the race, and broadcast, were rescheduled, leaving hundreds of angry viewers with an open comments section on the YouTube stream, which descended into pure chaos. Sure enough, iRacing was not happy at all, and asked that the chat be muted for all top tier events on the service going forward. The flame war was simply too much bad PR, and they wanted to step around it.

It’s not hard to imagine there may be hidden repercussions for YouTube personalities or website editors who dare to voice negative remarks about portions of the iRacing software. As a result, paying the entry fee and combing the forums is the only way to learn which iRacing cars are broken or neglected. It turns out there are several, and it makes you wonder what kind of pull iRacing would have on the sim racing market if these sentiments weren’t tucked away, but instead regurgitated by review channels or popular YouTube streamers.

Ouch.

For most of tonight, I turned my attention to the Super Late Model, which is one of the more recent oval racing cars added to the iRacing service, even though as of this writing we’ve had it on the simulator for over three years. Practice rooms were extremely popular, and I was able to crack into a podium spot in a session consisting of more than thirty cars – a nice change of pace from SimRacingSystem’s maximum of twenty.

Like most iRacers, during practice laps I drive with the infamous delta bar activated, so I can see where I’m both gaining and losing speed in real time. I found it quite peculiar that I could routinely set my fastest sector two speed during my outlap, meaning I was on pace with my personal best time just five seconds after leaving pit lane.

This is impossible to do in a real car.

Rubber tires, at least in reality, take a little while to come up to temperature. This is something you don’t need an expensive race car to experience – go to your local go kart complex and purchase a few sessions, you’ll figure it out pretty fast that the kart drives like total ass for your first two or three laps. Upping the scale into a full size race car, the vehicle literally won’t turn when you exit the pits, and during extended practice sessions in real life it’s not uncommon to come up on somebody who is putting around off-pace. No, they’re not scared shitless behind the wheel, what they’re doing is building heat in the tires by progressively increasing their pace.

iRacing doesn’t have this. Your tires are at maximum grip when your car first spawns in the pit box, and then lose grip in a linear fashion as you increase the overall distance driven. I’ve set absurd sector times not achievable during a timed lap, mere seconds after exiting the pits. This is wrong, but even more astonishing is how there isn’t a widespread cry for this to be fixed. It’s just sort of brushed under the rug, waiting to be discovered by the average sim racing rubbing two brain cells together.

I don’t understand how the biggest name in sim racing, with a near unlimited budget and access to an enormous amount of technical data across several auto racing disciplines, failed to comprehend the core concept behind how rubber tires work; heat makes them sticky, and sticky is fast. The opposite is true in iRacing. This is incorrect, and I’m astonished that fundamentally flawed tire behavior is deemed to be a quirky footnote by the community whom refuse to openly discuss it unless within the private confines of the iRacing forums, but will gladly turn around and berate you for playing something like Formula One 2017 – even though it features correct tire behavior.

Disabling force feedback, an act that would be sacrilegious among owners of thousand-dollar direct drive wheels, shaves off an extra tenth of a second on the race track. This may not mean much for the road course guys, but on ovals, this is an entire second over just ten laps of a short track, and two seconds over five laps at a normal speedway. I’m under the belief that the virtual steering column has been modeled in a way that magnifies light wheel movements created by the force feedback rattling your toy steering wheel around. There is a significant increase in cornering speed from being able to hold your steering wheel in a set position without interference from the force feedback effects.

Yes, even the most obscure of North American oval tracks have been faithfully replicated down to millimeter accuracy. Yes, at most reasonable hours of the day, there are always people to practice with or race against. Yes, iRacing will probably run on your outdated piece of shit backup computer, while still somehow managing to look good on modern systems. Yes, there’s a paint booth, yes there’s the ability to organize your own league with friends, and yes there’s a detailed ranking system that rewards you for safe driving.

But why does any of this matter if the driving experience stinks?

Over the span of an evening, I discovered broken default setups, rubber tires that perform worse with heat, and the ability to gain an extra tenth on track by clicking a box in the options menu. I also found the community labeling cars as “obnoxiously broken” behind closed doors, and at least one representative from a streaming crew admitting iRacing previously instructed them to censor public discussion and kill the feed if anything out of ordinary were to happen.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. iRacing is still, at the very least, a gigantic rip-off.

Ferrarigate? (The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back)

There’s a classic scene in the Ron Howard film Rush, in which an aggravated Niki Lauda stops alongside Ferrari representatives and immediately berates the car’s quality following the conclusion of an abysmal test session. Even if you’re not a diehard Formula One fan and only know of the Ferrari brand through toys, television shows, and posters from your childhood, the scene’s underlying theme is brilliant due to it’s simplicity. The carefully crafted marketing machine and passionate following of Italy’s most successful car company are both viciously torn away in one swift motion. Tifosi cannot save them now; Ferrari are at the mercy of their toughest critics – those who actually have to drive the damn car, as it turns out pride and fanfare are no substitute for engineering competence when the going gets tough.

Kunos Simulazioni have now found themselves in a very similar situation; this time, however, there are many Niki Lauda’s.

Assetto Corsa can be described as many different things to many different sim racers, but one thing it is not, at least on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is a game that’s worth the price of admission. During the mainstream review process, at least one editor actively logged onto Reddit with his personal account to ask precisely what PC sim racers were so enamored with, as the console rendition of Assetto Corsa wasn’t much of a package, or even a functional game for that matter. Straddling an awkward line between a quirky indie title and rushed console release, performance issues battled it out with missing features and show-stopping technical gremlins for the dubious honor of being deemed the element which plagued Assetto Corsa the most.

Somehow, things have descended even further into chaos since then; while the PC simulator enjoys a very respectable core following and even has a valid option for competitive online racing, it’s younger brother and sister are the poster children for why small developers should never bite off more than they can chew.

The community asked for Ferrari’s, and Kunos gave them Ferrari’s. Assetto Corsa fans voted on which historic vehicles from the prancing horse line-up would be included within a special Ferrari 70th Anniversary pack, and upon release this turned out to be a lot of Formula One cars and some special roadsters. There are certainly still a lot of vehicles from the iconic brand that deserve the full Kunos treatment, but between their historic Le Mans racer or the stunning 1967 Grand Prix entry, it’s difficult to call this DLC bundle a rip-off. That is, if you’re playing on PC.

The pack went live on September 19th, 2017 for those who own the Steam variant of Assetto Corsa whereas Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners would have to wait a little bit longer, with their launch date pushed to October 31st – nearly a month and a half later.

Yet as the bundle was made available to purchase for console users, shit metaphorically hit the fan. Customers who’d just bought the DLC pack were essentially given the unassuming role of third party quality assurance team. Many unwillingly discovered there is currently a bug with the Ferrari F2004 contained in the pack, one which crashes the game to the dashboard upon attempting to modify the vehicle’s setup on the PS4 version. Other bugs mentioned by frustrated users on the game’s Facebook page discuss sporadic crashing and the inability to select the new DLC cars for online races, though in their anger many have failed to go into specific details so I’m unfortunately left screen-capturing the most elaborate post I could find. Either way, basic functionalities – such as the ability to adjust your car setup – kick you out of the application.

Regardless of one’s allegiance to their simulator of choice, or their willingness to downplay software issues by comparing it to rival games exhibiting their own set of flaws – I’m looking at you, Forza 7 – there is a key difference with what’s happening over in the land of Assetto Corsa versus other driving games. Part of the fanboy wars which occur in this hobby are the result of tire model differences, physics engine nuances, or features which one game covers, but the other does not. Assetto Corsa is unable to even get to this point. Buttons and menu screens crash the game.

And that’s just the supporting act.

The Ferrari 70th Anniversary Pack is not functional on the Xbox One version of Assetto Corsa. You can part ways with your cash and purchase the content from the Microsoft Store, but the cars don’t actually unlock for use in game – retaining the cloud icon as a permanently locked item. Kunos scrambled to release a patch for Xbox One users to ensure this didn’t descend into talks of denying access to the money they’ve spent and some extremely vague legal threats from a crowd already frustrated by the discrepancy in quality between what they’ve purchased, and the superior PC version, but that update failed Microsoft’s certification. As of November 11th, 2017 – today – there is still no word as to when those who’ve purchased this DLC will be able to access said cars. If the act of selling downloadable content that literally does not work – you’ve spent money, but it is not present for you to select in game sounds completely amateurish, that’s because it is.

Forget tire model battles and endless debates over wet-weather racing. We’re at the point where DLC doesn’t appear after you’ve purchased it. The icing on the proverbial cake, is that the package is still available for purchase on the Microsoft Store with no warning whatsoever that this content doesn’t actually function in-game – unsuspecting users who don’t follow the official forums or don’t rigorously check the game’s official Facebook page will find themselves scammed out of a couple dollars if curiosity gets the best of them.

Crude language aside, this is a shit-show only made worse by sim racers screeching “I told you so,” because in this case, they’re proved they were certainly correct in their assertions.

Nobody had been asking for a console version of Assetto Corsa, as many believed Kunos would be well within reason to just keep developing the PC version. There was a justified hostility at the announcement of the console version. There was even more hostility at the launch of the console version when people bought it and realized how difficult it would be for a team this small to maintain three semi-related products across multiple platforms. And now there’s hostility at the launch of mere downloadable content, as Kunos are forced to bust their asses fixing amateurish problems that tarnish their reputation in a variety of ways, while this time could have been better allocated to polishing the PC version.

While all of this has been occurring, modders have created ways to race competitively online, and are just now starting to grasp how to use the game as a proper platform for new cars and tracks which match the quality of the vanilla content. Modders have created their own HUD elements, their own livery sharing applications, and are even looking into procedural rally stage generationthis game wasn’t even designed for rallying!

By comparison, Kunos are pushing out DLC package after DLC package to fragment the userbase into tiny little portions, with no guarantee the content they’re selling will show up in the game! So at what point will someone with a bit of intelligence say enough is enough, and take the next step? I would much rather see them cut support for the console version, get the backlash out of the way, and go back to beefing up the PC version, than to see their resources be split three ways and continue to aggravate two thirds of their userbase.

It’s just not fair to string these people along and act as if they’re getting an experience on par with the PC version, when they’re clearly not, and now it’s spiraled out of control into issues that are outside the realm of what normally happens with buggy games. You have to cut your losses and move on, otherwise there’s a chance you might accidentally open yourself up to some kind of minor class-action lawsuit with this kind of prolonged buffoonery. People are going to start paying attention to what’s going on here, especially because shipping broken DLC is a rarity in this day and age. Like, honestly, when does this happen?

 

An Open Secret: Sim Racers Suck at Sim Racing

It’s a sentiment shared in memes, but never seriously discussed. Sim racers are often happy to mock gigantic opening lap wrecks and pathetic displays of driving ineptitude, but unable to to look inward at the root cause of this embarrassing phenomenon. Make no mistake, sim racing as a hobby can, under ideal circumstances, provide thrills unlike Battlefield or Destiny; a hard-fought race is something you’re left reminiscing about for the rest of the evening compared to the fleeting feeling of a good Kill/Death ratio in Call of Duty, but this scenario is quickly becoming a rarity.

The average sim racer is atrocious at sim racing, and this is a sentiment I’ve expressed in past articles on PRC, but only explored on an anecdotal level. Whereas you can usually boot up a game of Madden and be matched up against someone who at least understands the game of football, the “quality of play” in sim racing is practically non-existent. Despite appearing in video games for over two decades, turn one at Monza is still a mess. NASCAR fans flock to virtual versions of Daytona or Talladega in online lobbies, but often wipe out the field before the cars have completed a full lap – only to do it all over again thanks to hyper sensitive caution flags until only one driver remains. Practice sessions are not dick-waving contests over lap times as they should be, but wastelands of broken cars parked along the side of the racing surface; participants careening about as if their parents took them go-karting for their tenth birthday, and they’ve invited their mates along for the ride.

This makes the process of actually becoming proficient at racing simulators, extremely unrewarding. It’s like the hobby has been pumped full of the same Christmas noobs you’d see in Call of Duty every holiday season; players who awkwardly stumble around maps they’re unfamiliar with, reduced to cannon fodder for the early adopters who have owned the game since launch. This is sim racing in a nutshell; confused hobbyists struggling to learn car after car, and track after track, with not much in the way of success as the one or two freaks utterly decimate them. Cannon fodder is great in Call of Duty because it allows you to rank up quicker and unlock the weapons you’ve been eyeing, but in sim racing this instead actively undermines the point of the genre.

People get into sim racing for the sheer rush of racing, or at least as much of a rush that piloting a fake car from the comfort of your man cave can provide. And as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this scenario isn’t impossible; if you love auto racing, a good race is a good race – it doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite driver on television winning by a bumper, or running inches apart from your buddy on the other side of the world. Blowing out the field by thirty four seconds because half of them are upside down, however, isn’t a rush.

It’s quite boring, and most importantly, doesn’t make the people who otherwise love what sim racing represents, want to keep playing. This is an especially large predicament when two of the biggest games in the genre have been designed specifically for playing with others. Private leagues are said to clean up the driving standards to an extent, as are elaborate matchmaking systems that sort drivers by their on-track etiquette – in theory a fantastic design decision.

But what if I told you that all the innovations in the world can’t fix sheer stupidity on behalf of the community, and I’ve got the data to back it up?

The reality of the situation is that sim racing will never succeed as an eSport or a genre, because the on-track product critical to one’s enjoyment of any given title is too reliant on a community whose collective talent level is so preposterously bad.

Originally developed as a ranking system for competitive Chess matches, Elo calculations first found themselves integrated into the world of sim racing with the release of iRacing all the way back in 2008. Though games on Microsoft’s Xbox Live platform frequently made use of the calculations for matchmaking, iRacing’s entire operation revolved around the Elo concept – which was pretty ingenious on paper. Rooms would be seeded by Elo rank in descending order, creating a situation where the best always raced against the best, mid-pack drivers dueled for promotion, and backmarkers would have a friendly environment to improve their skills without getting annihilated by try-hard sim racers.

The concept of Elo is fairly simple; while iRacing doesn’t publicly display your rank until “graduating” into a new license category, every driver begins with a base Elo rank of 1350. Placing in the top half of the field increases this number, while placing in the bottom half obviously decreases the value. Winning a race outright pays out the most Elo points – somewhere between 70 and 110 – yet as you progress through iRacing’s ecosystem, merely placing well against drivers of a much higher Elo rank is more than enough to travel up the leaderboards. This is partially what allows talented sim racers to register for iRacing sight unseen and instantly find themselves to be a recognizable face within the community; a couple of wins or stout finishes in short succession, and your Elo rank will seed you in races among the best because you’ve obviously demonstrated you can compete on a high level from the get-go.

However, the implementation of Elo in the hobby’s most prolific community has also created an unintended way to gauge the validity of one’s musings. Those who display their Elo rank prominently in their personal forum signature openly broadcasts to the world what kind of driver they are. It is quite comical to see sim racers with drastically low Elo ranks discussing physics or racing techniques, only for a portion of their own post to automatically invalidate anything they’ve contributed to the discussion. iRacing’s greatest achievement is not creating a massive online platform for racing, but rather implementing an automated bullshit detector in a hobby notorious for misinformation. You can learn to avoid someone’s car setup advice, hardware reviews, or opinions on other games just by looking at an innocent number.

Which obviously means there’s a database of these numbers. And in turn, we can analyze said database to further learn about the sim racing community as a whole.

Buckle up. Y’all won’t like this.

There are 42,436 members on the iRacing.com service who have made at least one start on the American oval racing side of the simulator – an act alone that indicates they’re taking the hobby at least somewhat seriously. Of that sample size, which despite focusing solely on ovals is still large enough for us to use, only 18,232 were able to improve upon their Elo rank from the default starting value. This means that a whopping 57%, or close to three out of every five hardcore sim racers, are certified backmarkers unable to outweigh seriously poor performances with borderline acceptable results over multiple races in a structured setting.

These are not stoned teenagers renting NBA 2K from Blockbuster and getting blown out by the AI for trying to shoot threes with Shaq. That’s not the iRacing crowd at all. These are people who are spending hundreds of dollars on computer upgrades and toy steering wheels, yet are unable to finish at least sixth in a twelve car field, or fifteenth in a thirty car field, once or twice out of every four races to maintain a net positive Elo rank.

This kind of abysmal performance from a lone individual is possible by signing up for multiple races in a row, and then just walking away from the computer without even launching the iRacing application. It is highly unlikely that roughly 25,000 hardcore sim racers – nearly 60% of all drivers who have ever made an oval start on iRacing, even if it was just out of curiosity – undertook those same procedures. We are talking about a majority of the service being so statistically incompetent behind the wheel, they have fallen below the default Elo rank provided to them when they register. This is an incomprehensible lack of talent; three out of five sim racers are unable to drive in a circle and finish mid-pack against drivers of a similar skill level.

These people of course then go out and purchase other racing simulators, and then shit up online races in those games as well.

A victory, as mentioned above, can net you anywhere from 70 to 110 Elo points, with placing in the top half offering less and less points as you move closer to the center of the pack. Over the years, certain Elo milestones have become status symbols among the iRacing community; during my time on the service, the number a lot of guys had been shooting for was 5,000, though this has since changed due to an influx of new users making for easy cannon fodder, and the same old personalities remaining on the service to grind for points – therefore dishing out even bigger rewards for those who manage to beat them.

The first semi-superficial milestone to achieve would be the 2,000 Elo rank mark, which for any competent driver can be achieved in just an evening of play on iRacing if we’re going off the numbers listed above. Getting home from work at five in the afternoon, signing up for iRacing, and placing well in one event per hour until bedtime, or just winning a few races back to back, will put you over the 2,000 milestone with relative ease. Those pressed for time may take longer, but the core concept is simple; amassing 2,000 Elo points is something that can be done in a handful of starts. Most of these races, at least on the oval side, last for a paltry eight minutes. It’s not a lot of work.

Of course, that’s the best case scenario, in which you’re coming from other simulators you’ve traditionally done quite well in and generally understand how a simulator is supposed to be driven. As I’ve already noted, you don’t have to be a legend to obtain Elo points; merely finishing in the top half of the field warrants a positive Elo gain, even if that gain may not be as substantial as outright winning races.

Therefore, you can easily attain the 2,000 Elo milestone from the default 1,350 in just three nights of light play by basically turning a qualifying lap without spinning the car, and then maintaining your position. Considering we have already established 57% of the people you’re racing against are incompetent backmarkers who are woefully off-pace, failing to achieve the 2K mark is pretty much impossible unless you are purposely crashing into walls.

Only 16% of hardcore sim racers have completed this goal. By playing iRacing for three nights and making zero effort to do anything aside from turn laps in fourth place, you are already a better driver than 85% of the hardcore simulator community.

But it’s when we get to the score of 3,000 Elo that things start to take a turn for the worse. Attaining this score on paper is the numerical equivalent to winning seventeen races; a bit much to ask for a complete newcomer, but given those on a quest for 3,000 have most likely progressed into more prolific classes and are undoubtedly racing against higher skilled rivals, their net Elo gain from just riding around in fifth and not causing any problems in the company of superior drivers will be almost as much as a race win against inferior opponents.

Given iRacing’s tendencies to chop the length of fixed setup oval races in half from what they were the previous season, an Elo rating of 3,000 shouldn’t take more than a week of light play after work to achieve. We’re talking two or three races per night, a commitment of maybe thirty minutes total, starting on Monday and ending on Friday.

Only 5% of hardcore sim racers have gotten past the 3,000 Elo marker. Understanding how iRacing works, and knowing how easy it is to amass Elo when first starting out on iRacing, we are looking at a situation in which 95% of hardcore sim racers are unable to establish themselves as competent, mid-pack drivers who can bring the car home in one piece.

Wow.

So to recap, here are the three main data points I’ve brought up over the course of this article.

57% of hardcore sim racers are unable to offset numerous poor finishes with acceptable results. What constitutes as a poor result in this very specific data point? It’s pretty simple: placing in the bottom half of the running order, something that usually happens due to crashing out prematurely. In other words, over half of the sim racing community, based upon a sample size of 42,000, is incapable of finishing a race. These are people who supposedly eat, sleep, and breathe auto racing.

85% of hardcore sim racers are unable to maintain a brief upward climb of acceptable results. There is a shocking lack of consistency and progression among the average sim racer, to the point where simply maintaining a string of satisfactory finishes over a period of two or three days is out of reach for the majority of sim racers. In a traditional joypad-based game, let’s take Super Smash Bros. for example, a new player will start out potentially not performing well against the AI, but as their understanding of the game improves, both their mastery of the controls, as well as their win percentage, will steadily improve.

According to the data available to us, the majority of sim racers are unable demonstrate any sustained improvement in their skills. Imagine trying to practice guitar every day, but never getting past an off-tempo version of Smoke on the Water for months, if not years on end? This is what three out of every four sim racers experience when taking up this hobby. They’re simply no better than when they first started.

95% of hardcore sim racers fail to make significant strides behind the wheel. The 3,000 Elo threshold is not an elitist status symbol, but merely a tangible milestone indicating said sim racer is able to demonstrate he has some grasp of what’s needed to drive a virtual race car consistently, and has made at least some sustained progress in building his set of skills.

In other words, an estimated 5% of the sim racing community actually have a clue behind the wheel, the other 95% are no better or worse than the very first day they unpacked their plastic steering wheel.

Using the data extrapolated above, in a field of 20 cars for an online event, it means there are basically two people at most who are a genuine threat to win the race. Roughly eleven drivers will struggle with consistency to the point where they are well off-pace and either crash out or are overtaken by the leaders, whereas seven may demonstrate brief moments of competence and may not be as far back as the others, but are otherwise still inconsequential to the outcome of the race.

Let’s see how close those estimated numbers are compared to a real league race. In this example from last year, we had three drivers retire from accidents, and seventeen that were beyond the consistency required to challenge for the lead.So basically, three people actually enjoyed themselves out on the race track and were able to partake in the thrill of sim racing. The other 85% were most likely bored to tits. The data we could extrapolate from iRacing’s leaderboards aligned almost perfectly with a random race I’ve pulled from the fine gentlemen at Realish Racing (these guys run a great show and I was extremely happy to compete with Mike, Craig, and Lee for a title).

Wow.

But what does this tell us about the sim racing community, and what should developers be taking note of?

Well first off, it means a Driving School mode is almost mandatory at this point for any future racing game under development. Not YouTube videos, an actual interactive school. More than half of hardcore sim racers are unable to either complete a race, or simply walk away satisfied with their performance in their most recent online session where restarts are not an option. Three out of every four sim racers can’t even make any light progress behind the wheel when compared to the day they first started. We are talking almost an entire community in which every single day behind the plastic steering wheel is no better or worse than the day before it.

Is that not a giant red flag to try and help these people? Hello? I don’t give a fuck about your third GT3 physics revision – the people playing your game have no fucking idea how to play your game! There are bigger things to worry about!

Second, it actually explains why simulators as of late aren’t selling. Sim racers are spoiled for options, literally spoiled! Yet games such as Automobilista, RaceRoom, and rFactor 2 boast very little activity compared to giants such as DiRT Rally, Formula One 2017, Assetto Corsa, Project CARS 2, and iRacing. Why? The majority of the community fucking suck at the first or second sim they’ve bought, so they’re really not itching to try the ultra hardcore stuff. Instead, purchases come primarily from the 5% I’ve mentioned above.

Third, we now know there is underlying data to suggest why public lobbies across a multitude of racing games are such a nightmare. If only 5% of the community are able to slow down and brake for corners on a routine basis, no wonder every single opening turn becomes a wasteland of trashed race cars. Competent sim racers who understand the basics of performance driving are a legitimate endangered species.

Fourth, almost everything you read on a message board should be taken with a grain of salt if it isn’t already. How are we to be so sure John Smith has put out an accurate review of a new simulator or substantial physics update, when close to 60% of sim racers are prone to consistently junking their cars or being well off pace? It’s like an entire guitar enthusiast forum flooded with guys who literally just picked up a guitar that day.

Yet the biggest takeaway of them all, is the simplest. The average sim racer isn’t merely average, they’re downright brutal. And that is very strange in a hobby centered around depicting automotive competitions in a virtual environment.

Where Sim Racing *Could* Be

No, I wouldn’t be “better off” sticking with mass-market simcade titles, leaving hardcore simulators to man-children who are impressed with improvements that could be best described as “hair-splitting.”

A few days ago I published an article on here giving a detailed rundown in regards to the three eternal science projects currently at the forefront of the hobby, and this was met with some pretty extreme hostility from anonymous readers who are under the impression I just “don’t get” the world of sim racing. Though I’m too lazy to source exact comments, the general tone from some users implied that the numerous ultra-bland products labelled by the community as “hardcore simulators” are perfectly fine the way they are, and vocalizing the idea that they’re actually unfinished science projects was supposedly due to my own personal tastes. Truth be told, I have spent exponentially more time in DiRT 4 than the elitist sim racers who promptly hit the delete key over a slightly simplified driving model, but there’s still an argument to be made on this topic.

The average racing simulator – and I’m talking everything from Assetto Corsa and Automobilista, to rFactor 2, RaceRoom Racing Experience, and even Project CARS 2 – is an extremely boring affair. Regardless of which simulator you call home, the theme behind all of them is a shared concept: here are some cars, here are some tracks, and here are an enormous number of variables you can tweak before each race. The sim racing community by and large claims that merely refining your driving skills should be your primary incentive to keep loading up the application every afternoon for months on end, but this poses the question of what happens when your driving skill reaches a level where relentless practice is no longer required?

The answer is that there’s no reason to play, because developers fail to provide reasons to keep playing. There are no hidden cars or tracks to unlock – in fact the list of content is so similar between rival simulators, there isn’t much of a need to buy them all. There is no driving school to help you refine your skills or introduce you to new cars that are a bit daunting. In most cases, there is no Career Mode, and when it does exist, I would still label it as something that could have been accomplished in an early PlayStation 2 title. Games such as rFactor 2 don’t even provide you with a proper championship mode; fanboys encouraging you to instead keep track of points by hand on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. There is no in-game paint shop, no rocking soundtrack, no easter eggs to discover, no utterly preposterous challenges set by the developer a la F-Zero GX, and little in the way of creativity.  Online victories never reward you with anything substantial for your accomplishments, and there is no incentive to race cleanly unless you buy the sole game on the market where that’s the entire purpose of it’s existence.

Many will now launch into their trademark angry tirades, proclaiming I should shut down the website and waste my time in the array of non-serious racing games on the market such as Grid: Autosport, while questioning why I even bother with simulators (or running a simulator blog) to begin with.

It’s a very simple answer. I’ve been around this genre for an absurdly long time. There was a point just over a decade ago in which developers realized that their creations needed to not only be robust simulators, but enjoyable games on top of it. I’m simply wondering where that mentality went, and how the same people responsible for such wonderful creations suddenly threw everything to the wayside in favor of absolutely jack shit.

We start with the almighty GTR 2, which by this point should need absolutely no introduction whatsoever. Using the isiMotor engine as a base and featuring the semi-obscure FIA GT Championship, GTR 2 in retrospect is considered by many to be one of the greatest racing simulators ever conceived. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I let my buddy have my old Driving Force GT/G27 pedal setup because he’s been an observer of this sim racing thing for quite some time (we used to tear it up on DiRT 2 back in the day, so by no means is he a shit driver), and to get him started he picked up GTR 2 on Steam for eight dollars – I think most will agree this is a fine starting point.

We’ve turned a lot of laps on this game over the past few weeks.

GTR 2 has existed for over a decade. It does not feature a dynamic racing line like Automobilista does. The tire model wasn’t re-written a billion times over the course of it’s lifespan like iRacing. The transmission and driveline model is pretty simplistic compared to the revisions seen in RaceRoom Racing Experience, which received heavy attention from Sector 3. There wasn’t an earth shattering patch that added downshift protection. There’s no noticeable drivetrain flex – something that came in a major iRacing update. Modern sim developers all advertised these refinements as absolutely integral to the evolution of their games, while some still kept asking why they needed Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to conduct their own offline championships.

GTR 2 by comparison received a single patch in it’s lifespan, going from Version 1.0, to Version 1.1. There was no six-month-long campaign on the part of Blimey! Games to re-write the suspension code or have the car slightly shudder upon changing gears. And yet at the end of the day, my buddy remarked that he’d never driven a game before that felt so much like a real car. He’s not wrong; GTR 2 still drives in a fantastic manner, which begs the question why developers become insistent on splitting hairs over lengthy intangible physics refinements when the average person interested in these games can still be blown away with physics from 2006, sans new tire model 5.0, new surface model, new driveline model, and any other self-masturbatory bullshit?

Wouldn’t the logical progression then be to expand on the “gamey” elements, with physics improvements popping up gradually rather than being the ultimate priority?

Knowing the average person isn’t accustomed to proper competition driving techniques, GTR 2 bundled with it a detailed driving school mode to ease newcomers into the art of racecraft – never forcing them to just sort of hit the track and suck until they started to suck a bit less. The ultra-high default difficulty setting (100%) subtly worked in tandem with the school to give customers a valid reason to sit down and invest time into practicing; rather than allowing users to drop the AI speed to 65% and bomb around like an idiot for their participant badge, they’d have tangible goals to work towards. Once the school was completed, users would then have another mountain to climb in partaking in the game’s numerous championships against rather stout AI to unlock the pieces of hidden content.

You could argue that these elements weren’t much, but what they did was imply Blimey! Games understood that their simulator also had to function as a game. GTR 2 was not a bland sandbox with “some cars and tracks that you can race on,” catering only to hardcore sim racers who are thrilled just to attack a track in isolation with their car of choice. On top of providing a very competent set of driving physics that really didn’t require any major refinements, GTR 2 gave you a set of goals to actually go out and achieve. You didn’t have to be a hardcore auto racing fan to enjoy GTR 2; if you liked cars and weren’t a terrible driver, GTR 2 allowed you to sit down, improve your skills, and chase some dragons while perfecting the skills required for sports car racing in the process. You know, like a game.

This is partially why people were so excited for the inevitable third entry in the series and beyond; what would Blimey! do next? Would we have a career mode in which you could buy, sell, and upgrade cars? Would there be a paint booth, so those without photoshop could still rock a custom livery? Would there be special time trial events set by the developers with ridiculous times to achieve, and rewards like extra cars or tracks for those to complete them? Now that the driving physics had been nailed down, the sky was the limit for the GTR franchise to evolve as a game.

GTR Evolution launched a few years later as a paid expansion pack for an entirely different game. Some cars, some tracks, the end. Several years later, RaceRoom Racing Experience – what you could call a spiritual successor to GTR Evolution – doesn’t have a driving school, wet weather driving, custom liveries, or even tire pressures for the hardcore guys to adjust; press releases and message board rumors instead masturbate over endless physics refinements for what is included.

Disappointment is an understatement considering I still remember buying GTR 2 from Best Buy.

Developers and fanboys alike then turn around and wonder why outspoken personalities such as myself are calling their games “eternal science projects.” I’m sorry that some of us have merely been around long enough to remember when games built in the exact same genre for the exact same target audience also had to function as entertainment.

Shifting gears, EA Sports snatched up the exclusive license to NASCAR in 2003, marking the end of Papyrus dominating the PC sim racing market with their hyper-realistic simulators built on an improved version of the Grand Prix Legends engine. To metaphorically put the nail in the coffin, EA Sports then launched NASCAR Sim Racing in February of 2005, which was intended to replace the Papyrus classic NASCAR Racing 2003 Season by providing sim racers with better physics, a modern set of stock car racing rules, and improved online netcode.

I don’t want to say there was huge support for the title, but a lot of people were curious at the time if EA Sports could genuinely invade a market they weren’t all that familiar with, and provide a valid platform for the hardcore guys to make use of. NASCAR had changed as a sport since the final Papyrus title – a new title sponsor, new cars, a new points system, and some new race procedures – so there was a genuine reason for EA to at least try their hand at the matter.

NASCAR Sim Racing was a brutal game; if you think Project CARS is the pinnacle of sim racing disappointment, you simply haven’t been around long enough. The launch and subsequent post release support from EA was so abysmal, those who did support what EA Sports were trying to do in the oval racing market opted to remain playing the vanilla version of NSR – these were the days of manually downloading and installing a patch executable, none of this automatic stuff from Steam. Though the game did do NASCAR fans a favor by including all three major series – and their respective tracks – in the base package, virtually every other portion of the game was either incomplete, or flat-out inferior to the aging Papyrus title. Just by the lack of third party paint schemes and mods available at the now deceased Blackhole Motorsports, you knew that NSR’s days were numbered from launch.

However, NASCAR Sim Racing still brought with it some excellent ideas.

Traditionally reserved for the EA Sports console releases, the extensive Career mode in which you progress through the three primary NASCAR series while upgrading your car and signing sponsors had now been implemented into the PC game, again implying that EA Sports knew a simulator also had to function as entertainment, and not a generic sandbox for just a few hundred extremely dedicated users. The liveries you could select from weren’t all that aesthetically pleasing, the vehicle models were woefully inaccurate, and there wasn’t much in the name of immersion – just a few additional menus in which you could allocate sponsors or upgrade development time – but the existence of such a mode conveys that the developers of NASCAR Sim Racing saw value in expanding beyond a sandbox.

In fact, this was actually the second time a career mode had been implemented into the PC version of an EA Sports NASCAR title.

The developers responsible were Image Space Incorporated, the same developers who eight years later would entirely omit a single player championship feature in rFactor 2, and whose fanboys would try and convince sim racers to use Microsoft Excel to keep track of championship points in lieu of the feature’s omission.

rFactor 2 doesn’t sting because it fails to match up in terms of features compared to Forza Motorsport 7 – the two titles aren’t even trying to accomplish the same thing. No, rFactor 2 stings because Image Space Incorporated were fully capable of building a game with some kind of rudimentary single player progression system that gave people an incentive to keep racing, and for whatever reason, deemed it no longer to be necessary now that Electronic Arts was out of the picture. Let me break this down for you real quick: Electronic Arts is now the biggest gaming company in the world, while Image Space Incorporated were forced to part ways with rFactor 2 and give the keys to Studio 397 because they had no idea how to make their title relevant.

rFactor 2 would have been an insanely wild ride if ISI opted to include some sort of single player campaign mode that could be modded and re-configured by the game’s users; imagine with simple text editing and image file replacement, a Blancpain Endurance mod in the same fashion of the screenshot above. Picture downloading a mod that not only gave you a fleet of modern GT3 cars to drive at your leisure as you would in a modern simulator, but also converted the game’s default “campaign” mode into a six race schedule, allowed you to purchase a car, upgrade it, and sign a bunch of well known European brands and sponsors?

Suddenly you’ve got a decent reason to play rFactor 2.

Image Space Incorporated refused to continue down this path. “Here are some cars, some tracks, and some incomprehensible babble about new our thermonuclear tire model” they said. “Studio 397 will now be taking over development of rFactor 2,” they said. And I have no sympathy for how the situation played out. Despite the disastrous launch, I watched NASCAR Sim Racing implement some genuinely good ideas into the world of PC sim racing that made me want to mess around a game I’d otherwise have no use for. I then watched this exact same team, eight years later, systematically strip all of these ideas out of their software until nothing was left aside from some cars, and some tracks.

What would a hypothetical NASCAR Sim Racing 2 look like, with an even deeper career mode? What would have happened if ISI recycled the remains of this mode for rFactor 2, but let users modify the shit out of it? Their own schedule, their own cars, their own tracks, and their own sponsors to paste on the cars? Suddenly you’ve got a reason to boot up rFactor 2 again, and again, and again.

We don’t have that. We have a sandbox – some cars, some tracks, and endless physics revisions, even though the average sim racer couldn’t find fault in the original driving model that justified such an extreme pursuit of perfection. The fact that there are still leagues run using the original rFactor, such as the Historic Sim Organization, which pump out brand new mods with each passing year, is a testament to that fact.

Yet in ten years, developers such as Image Space Incorporated couldn’t give us more stuff to do, or improve upon what they had clearly already built. They instead gave us less.

And it’s for these reasons why many within the sim community began to refer to Assetto Corsa as a Chris Harris hotlap Simulator, in reference to the popular automotive journalists who frequently takes out exotic supercars on empty race tracks for his YouTube videos.

Assetto Corsa is not the first game of it’s kind to exist. While in past articles I’ve deemed the Kunos Simulazioni product to be a spiritual successor to the very first Need for Speed, a more adept comparison would be to Enthusia Professional Racing. Developed by Konami for Sony’s PlayStation 2, Enthusia wasn’t so much of a direct shot at the Gran Turismo franchise, but instead an attempt at creating a game centered around highly authentic driving physics. Konami, long before anyone else, had caught on to the fact that Gran Turismo had prioritized car collecting and car culture above a realistic driving model, so the team instead worked to win people over with a much better sensation behind the wheel despite a smaller list of vehicles and locations.

Does this motive sound familiar? That’s because it is; Assetto Corsa is a now multi-platform title after several years spent as a PC exclusive, because Kunos Simulazioni believed a portion of console racers would value high quality driving physics over the meta-game of car collecting. To their credit, they were correct. A lot of people bought Assetto Corsa, whether it be for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

These people then complained that Assetto Corsa had very little to see and do, despite an acceptable array of cars and locations.

Despite being the same game at first glance – both Enthusia and Assetto prioritized driving physics while featuring a hodgepodge of around 200 cars and a variety of locations – Enthusia succeeded and generated a tangible cult following for one simple reason; there was a game built around it.

Enthusia’s career mode was designed as a complex role playing game taking place in a dynamic ecosystem, offering users greater rewards and quicker progression for intentionally punching above their weight class. Whereas Assetto Corsa offered some extremely generic themed events that you’d be none the wiser for completing, Enthusia challenged you to enter races in a vehicle not quite suited for the job, scolded you for bad driving, and gave you several objectives to complete for your own personal benefit – more cars, tracks, and upgrades awaited beyond each locked door.

Both games brought highly authentic driving physics to the console masses, approximately a decade a part. One offered an entire world to explore, points to earn, an incentive to challenge yourself and race cleanly, while the other merely handed you some cars and some tracks.

Kunos had ten years to study a game that was trying to accomplish the exact same goals as their own work. They didn’t, and then complained that the console crowd is “tough to please.”

I was alive and coherent during the time when developers realized simulators also needed to double as pieces of entertainment, or in simpler terms, games. Better yet, I personally remember being excited at the future of the genre, because I thought the features listed as “new” back then would be a sign of things to come.

“What would GTR 3 look like?” – I’d think to myself. GTR 2 already had a driving school, multiple championships, and unlockable content… will they possible experiment with a career mode in GTR 3? No, they wouldn’t. GTR 3 would turn into a bland expansion pack for a completely different game – just some cars and some tracks. The proper sequel to this expansion pack would also omit wet weather driving, tire pressure adjustments, and custom livery support. I would then go on the forums and see people talking about how great this game is, only to be blasted when I brought up all of the fun stuff that had suspiciously vanished over the course of a decade.

“Go play Formula One 2017”, they told me.

“Would Image Space Incorporated get their act together for NASCAR Sim Racing 2? I’d love to blast through career mode, but the original NSR has some problems.” Oh boy teenage James, if only you knew their flagship title eight years later would ship without a season mode, and people on the forums would suggest you to keep track of points from single races in a spreadsheet.

“Konami had a good thing going with Enthusia, I wonder if the next game will be bigger?”  Incorrect; it will come from a small Italian team and not feature any sort of quirky campaign mode that defined the original game and actually made it worth playing in the first place. It will be a random collection of European cars and tracks, with an AI that doesn’t really work and severe performance issues.

Here is the sad reality; sim racing had an extremely bright future as a both a genre and hobby in the mid 2000’s, which is when all of the above games were released. There was nothing wrong with how these games drove from a physics standpoint – at least not to where they required near-infinite physics revisions post-release – and they accomplished this feat while simultaneously dabbling in game-like elements that gave people a reason to keep playing. The hardcore guys were satisfied by the driving experience alone, while those on the outside looking in could at least try one of these titles out of curiosity, and come away with a mostly positive experience.

Sim racing could have been incredible. The door was essentially wide open for developers to keep improving on an already solid foundation. I don’t think anyone really understands the optimism seen around RaceSimCentral in the mid 2000’s. All Blimey needed to do was take GTR 2 and add just a few more bells and whistles than the previous game. It wasn’t difficult.

Then something happened.

The driving schools were eradicated. Then wet-weather driving disappeared for the genre’s most prolific release, what we know as the original rFactor. Career mode was seen as an afterthought and maybe a bit excessive when a basic season mode would be “enough”, but championship support soon followed. The ability to select your paint job for an online race disappeared, as did custom livery support in select games. Suddenly, “fixed setup racing” became a thing, because learning the in’s and out’s of race car mechanical adjustments was “too hard” for alleged enthusiasts. Night racing was lost. Safety cars were lost. Rolling starts were lost. The ability to jump the start? Yep, that too was cut. Brake fade? Cut.

And they weren’t replaced with anything. This is the key takeaway from this article. Myself and others have not been advocating for pieces of software the developers are incapable of producing. We’re merely wondering why they stopped in the first place.

People like myself, who were around for the golden age of sim racing, are now wondering what the fuck happened to the genre. For voicing the observation that the scene is now polluted with eternal science projects, we’re also being told that none of this actually matters, and sim racing isn’t for us. In some instances, the features, modes, and other little additions we’ve request, only to be shot down fanboys on claims they’re “not essential for sim racing” were once implemented without question by these same developers they’re trying to make excuses for!

Hardcore racing simulators will probably never be on the level of Formula One 2017 in terms of being able to receive R&D reports from a walking, talking avatar sporting your team’s appropriate polo shirt. And that’s okay; I think we can all understand Formula One have probably given Codemasters a blank cheque to do whatever is necessary to push out a premium product. But from 2005 to 2006, sim racing was on a path to be well worth the thousands some would inevitably spend on high-end hardware to pilot virtual race cars, and asking for an improved campaign mode or God forbid night racing in an upcoming game certainly didn’t seem like an awfully preposterous demand.

Yet suddenly, it is. And those who assist in defending the complacency of certain developers are partially responsible for this scenario manifesting in the first place.