It’s time to properly address something that I’m sure everybody and their dog has an opinion on, and that is the #Gamergate controversey – and more importantly, how driving games are affected by it. About a year and a half ago I wrote a widely-circulated piece on this topic, but since starting my own site and being able to see even more crazy stuff happening that’s just right there in front of me, it’s time to update things a little bit and churn out an all-encompassing post so that even idiots can understand that things aren’t right in the media surrounding video games.
For some relevant background, #Gamergate originally had nothing to do with video games. Eron Gjoni had been a victim of domestic violence and leaked the private details of his romantic relationship with indie game developer Zoe Quinn to the general public because this is what some abuse victims do. His excruciatingly long blog post about his former girlfriend, that was properly sourced to back up any defamatory claims he made, clearly indicated he had been involved in an abusive relationship with a woman most likely suffering from borderline personality disorder.
Throughout his blog post, Eron made several not-so-subtle hints that Zoe’s newest game, a text adventure intended to simulate depression that was not well-received by your average gamer, was receiving favorable coverage from mainstream gaming sites due to her sexual relationships with other journalists. While about half of the crowd following this bizarre case immediately began attacking Zoe Quinn for being a shitty girlfriend, the other half of the crowd wondered if this totally insignificant story would lead others to discover a much bigger problem in gaming journalism as a whole – they just had to dig for it.
With Jeff Gerstmann getting fired from Gamespot after giving a low score to a game that was heavily promoted on the site in the weeks leading up to the review, a strange push for feminist ideologies that has seemingly come out of nowhere, and 12+ different articles released on the same day claiming people who play games are misogynistic assholes, #Gamergate picked up traction as a legitimate quest to get all of these weird biases and agendas to stop. Sites that were once trustworthy resources that helped you decide what to spend $60 on are now saying that Grand Theft Auto V, a game where you can brutally murder large quantities of police officers and light dogs on fire with ISIS-like terrorist attacks, is offensive because a female character is referred to as a slut in one scene.
We here at PretendRaceCars.net cover driving games, a genre that sites like IGN, Gamespot, and Kotaku struggle with. When one of these sites put out a review for the Codemasters F1 games, we simply ignore it because you can tell the writers have no idea what the hell they’re doing behind the wheel. Driving games aren’t intended for the Call of Duty audience – driving games take several months (and in some cases, years) of practice to get good at and understand all the nuances of auto racing. As a result, several sites dedicated to only driving games have popped up in the past decade so people who know what they’re doing can take a proper look at each new game, from forums like RaceSimCentral and Blackhole Motorsports, online publications like VirtualR and TeamVVV, to YouTube talk shows like TheSimPit and InsideSimRacing.
And like Gamespot, IGN, and Kotaku, these small sites are affected by the exact same bias and manipulation as well. The stuff the #Gamergate crowd complains about doesn’t just rear its ugly head when Patricia Hernandez uses Kotaku as her personal soapbox to complain that she got trolled in GTA Online; it’s also more than prevalent when you’re trying to read or post about driving games as well.
Before starting PretendRaceCars.net with my buddy, I wrote every now and then for RaceDepartment.com. The site functions as both a news outlet, message board, as well as a place to organize online races among serious driving game enthusiasts, which they do an incredibly good job of. In early 2013 I was tasked with reviving the Reviews section, which wasn’t too difficult as boredom and an influx of both new and old games made pumping out articles relatively simple and time consuming.
The first new game I reviewed would be iRacing. Mainstream gaming sites refused to cover iRacing at all, given the game’s expensive price range, hardcore physics, and steep learning curve. As someone who had won two championships in the game’s equivalent to a K&N Pro Series car, I felt I had more than enough skill to fairly and objectively review the current version of the racing simulation.
I praised the game’s formidable online component, car roster, track selection, and graphics, but tore the game to shreds when it came to the physics model which even now is still largely work-in-progress, dubbed NTMv5, soon to be NTMv6. As you can see above, I complained that the traditional circuit racing cars seemed almost broken, and I would later learn through word of mouth that GT1 driver Xavier Maasen, who’s own car was available in iRacing, echoed my complaints about the physics. While the comments section exploded into the inevitable war between iRacing fanboys, and former iRacing subscribers who had left the sim out of disappointment, we received an interesting email from iRacing president Tony Gardner.
At the time, RaceDepartment was about to begin the SimTeamsChallenge series with the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 car. To broadcast the races, as is the norm with several other high-profile leagues, they requested a few broadcast accounts so they could cover the race with multiple users working the cameras for a truly world class stream of each race. 99% of the time, iRacing gladly accepts these requests as they realize it’s basically free promotion for their game.
Not this time:
Voicing concerns about unfinished physics, concerns that were backed up by a professional race car driver, was considered a “personal vendetta” and “a crusade to discredit [iRacing]” – and until I was kicked off the staff, they wouldn’t help them out.
I guess Dale Earnhardt Jr also has a personal vendetta against iRacing?
I didn’t get kicked off the staff.
We turned our sights to the upcoming Codemasters release, Grid 2. In the weeks leading up to the release of Grid 2, I went back and reviewed the original game, and clearly outlined what I was expecting from the sequel, so that nobody could misinterpret me or claim I was a snob who scoffed at everything that wasn’t a hardcore racing simulation.
I got my hands on Grid 2 two weeks prior to the game’s release, and was shocked at how bad it was. The physics were a slight improvement and the cars had a bit more weight and character to them, but cockpit view was removed and blamed on the players, the previous game’s fantastic career mode was totally scrapped in favor of a cringeworthy YouTube-based storyline that should have never been approved, online was incredibly unbalanced, and the abundance of DLC announced even before the game launched was really disappointing. And my review reflected that.
We were contacted by a rep from Codemasters shortly thereafter. A guy had found my Steam account, gone through my list of achievements, and found that I didn’t completely finish the game’s boring, uninspired career mode. The rep begged us to state in the review that I didn’t actually finish the single player mode, as if it would make some huge difference in how I perceived the game, stating: “he didn’t get the full Grid 2 Experience (TM)!” In their defense, they used mainstream reviews to justify their point of view. Obviously, you can see the user review score closely aligns with how I scored the game.
Any individual who did not posses a thick skin would easily crack under this kind of pressure and change what they’ve written to prevent the conflict from escalating, OR simply not write anything that would cause a confrontation in the first place.
The icing on the cake? A year later they announced Grid Autosport in a really peculiar way:
What do you mean you hadn’t achieved everything you set out to do? Your game got 80’s from all the mainstream sites! What’s there to worry about? Maybe all those other people complaining didn’t complete career mode and get the full Grid 2 Experience (TM)?
Fast forward a couple years later and we still find ourselves on RaceDepartment, discussing the release of Project CARS and the array of glitches and bugs the game shipped with. At some point in the thread, head of Slightly Mad Studios Ian Bell, the genius behind Project CARS, jumped in and subtly implied that Bram Hengeveld, the owner of RaceDepartment, should be silencing criticism over Project CARS, as their website was gifted ten free copies of the game. Bram has to open his Steam purchase history and prove that he did not accept the bribes from Slightly Mad Studios.
VirtualR.net has been around since 2007 or 2008, and has exclusively covered racing simulations in a blog-like format that has made sites like Kotaku and Deadspin incredibly popular. Originally, the site was a home for rFactor mod announcements, patch announcements, and a way to cross-promote different racing sim publications to bring a bunch of fantastic content to a wider audience.
In September of 2011, owner Rob Prange announced he had been hired by Slightly Mad Studios.
At the time, crowd-funded racer Project CARS had just began development, so nobody was quite sure what this would mean for the state of VirtualR, which by September of 2011 had turned into quite the resource for driving game enthusiasts.
Nobody knew it would look like this:
Someone opening a box is now considered sim racing news as long as it’s a box for Project CARS. Last time I checked, this is a type of video typically reserved for narcissistic teenage girls. The celebratory posts about fictional sales figures is also beyond ridiculous for a site that was once a highly trustworthy resource for driving game news.
However, nothing tops what happens when you use the site’s own search function to look up “Project CARS Nordschleife“, which reveals 50 identical articles – all of which feature slightly different videos where one dude makes a lap of the Nordschleife.
Better yet, this third-party ad campaign reached Kotaku, where the exact same article hyping the graphics in Project CARS was written over twelve times – sixteen to be exact.
TeamVVV, another once-profound site that did a fantastic job of covering as many different driving games as they could squeeze into their day, revealed that he’d once spent a sixteen hour day recording nothing but Project CARS videos, followed by a private video linked to Project CARS investors straight up asking them for money:
We have covered the cult-like atmosphere surrounding Project CARS in a separate article, but at this point, I think what I’ve been trying to present has been made very clear – shills are real, and this is what they’re shilling for:
From around 2008 to mid 2013, InsideSimRacing was a weekly YouTube show hosted by longtime friends Darin Gangi, Shaun Cole, and some girl they may or may not have found on a sugar daddy site. While the show originally covered a multitude of racing sims in a way previously not seen before, gradually the show progressed to become heavily affiliated with iRacing.
At first, I enjoyed Darin and Shaun’s extremely deep reviews on the various driving games on the market – their review for Supercar Challenge on the PS3 was exceptionally well done and was exactly what driving games needed – people who knew what they were talking about to break down a game in the ways Gamespot and IGN couldn’t.
However, their affiliation with iRacing couldn’t be masked. Eventually, ads for iRacing, including promo offers, special events, and updates were hard-coded into the videos, breaking up the action with awkward we’re totally not sponsored by iRacing at all segments.
The iRacing.com polo shirts, tutorials, and seminar coverage didn’t help, either:
Unfortunately for them, we got to see their friendship, and the show, go down in a blaze of glory – the majority of which was broadcasted in a mess of forum drama that people seemed to eat up despite being so publicly against:
I actually listened to a YouTuber from my area talk about this during one of her streams on YouNow.
Websites and YouTube videos aren’t profitable on their own. The actual profit a YouTuber makes when they’re partnered with a decent company who pays them for simple views on their YouTube video, is anywhere from $1 – $3 per 1,000 views. A video with 60,000 views will net you around $60 – so in the land of pretend race cars, a video with a lot of hits will basically make you enough so you can buy a new racing sim to make videos about. As for websites, we don’t make anything with PretendRaceCars.net. Well, aside from that lonely Fanatec ad on the top right of the page, but we don’t even know how much that pays out, because nobody has ever clicked on it.
Shilling is a way to get stuff for free and pocket the money you actually do make. In the case of the YouTuber, she primarily does skincare & makeup reviews. Instead of having to spend the money she makes from views on products so she has new stuff to make videos on, she instead shills for stuff, essentially getting stuff she was going to buy anyway for free, and that allows her to pocket the $30 – $60 she makes off each video and expand her horizons – at the moment she’s branched out to podcasts and has several different content-specific channels. Given that she has a routine of uploading several videos per week, saving this money over a period of time has her sitting pretty comfortably, and I’d imagine once she graduates uni and gets herself a proper job, the additional cash from making YouTube videos will help her out in the long run.
And the same goes for video games. Websites aren’t profitable and you need products to cover somehow. Shilling for a game or a piece of hardware offsets the cost of buying it for the site, and you can pocket the miniscule amount of money the media outlet makes – which obviously pools over time.
And daring to shit on a game means this gravy train where you get a bunch of cool stuff for free comes to an abrupt stop, because as you can see above, most companies can’t take criticism and go through great lengths to attempt to silence you.
Too bad it makes things a total mess for the reader, and that’s how #Gamergate was born.