The Good Ol’ Boys Club

NR2003 2014-04-02 22-01-50-64Last week, we here at PRC.net ran an article on iRacing’s lengthy Terms of Service agreement; one that doubles as an official rulebook for the online-only racing simulator boasting over 100,000 subscribing members. We pointed out that on the second page of the massive rulebook, iRacing Rule 2.1.1 states that:

  • It is expected that each member will treat other drivers, iRacing officials, employees and the community with respect and class on and off the race track and will not bring the sport or iRacing into disrepute via their actions including but not limited to those that iRacing.com/F.I.R.S.T official deem prejudice the integrity of fair competition in any series or special events within iRacing.com.
  • “Disrepute” – The state of being held in low esteem by the public

In short, anyone who publicly criticizes iRacing for the standard reasons you’d criticize any video game, or runs afoul of iRacing administration in any way, shape, or form, is subject to an immediate suspension or ban, with no rules governing how long said suspension or ban should last.

Reception to the article was split directly down the middle. Readers on KotakuInAction, a SubReddit devoted to issues in the gaming industry that screw over the customer, felt it was an absolutely ridiculous measure taken by a developer in an effort to somehow legitimize virtual race cars to the extent of the real thing you see on Sundays. Readers on the SimRacing SubReddit claimed iRacing doesn’t randomly ban people for ridiculous reasons, and that PRC.net is “garbage”.

PRC.net readers know exactly how this article is about to play out.


PTA CarsACT I – Meet the Stewards

Papyrus, the team being extremely popular PC racing sims Grand Prix Legends and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, lost the license to develop NASCAR titles to the mammoth corporate entity known as Electronic Arts in early 2003. When the dust had settled and NR2003 was on it’s way to becoming a virtual encyclopedia of Stock Car racing, John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox and an avid online sim racer, put down the cash to resurrect Papyrus and gave them the task of developing the ultimate racing simulator for the PC – one which would be online-only and focused primarily on structured competitive play.

To oversee the competition aspect of iRacing, an environment where users could protest on-track incidents and receive punishments for dangerous driving, Henry needed real people in charge of the game’s numerous online community elements. Obviously, you need forum moderators, and you also need someone to sift through the hundreds of on-track incidents each week and determine who was at fault. Ideally, these are positions for folks who have gone through a bit of post-secondary schooling in a field that directly deals with managing large groups of people, and hopefully out of that group, you’ll find a few that follow auto racing.

The last thing you’d want to do is just give away these positions to random guys you’d met racing NASCAR Racing 2003 Season online who seemed like nice enough people. With that approach, if the game took off as planned, you’d have an amateur hobbyist with no prior training in how to represent a large company tasked with managing a herd of 100,000+ sim racing geeks. Sounds like a bad idea, right?

That’s exactly what happened. Instead of finding the right people to place in what are essentially Community Manager positions, administrators of prestigious NASCAR Racing 2003 Season Online Leagues were recruited to join the iRacing team as a reward for their dedication to older Papyrus sims. Regardless of what racing sim you’re playing, private leagues go hand in hand with favoritism and drama, so not only are the guys placed in meaningful positions inexperienced when given an operation of this size and scale, there’s also a good chance they’re incredibly biased.

Essentially, this was like putting high school football referees on the field for an NFL game, and praying they don’t screw up. We all know how that went down.

As you can see in the picture above, John Henry, Shannon Whitmore, and Nim Cross are all available as drivers in the default Trans-Am mod carset for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season under the FIRST Racing banner – later renamed to iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations.

Over a decade later, Whitmore and Cross are names most iRacing members are very familiar with. Cross has been the guy looking over each protested on-track incident during your standard iRacing sessions, and Whitmore is one of the community managers in charge of keeping the peace both within the highly active message boards and on-track during NASCAR Peak Anti-Freeze Series events.

It’s a good ol’ boys club.


iRacingSim64 2014-01-27 23-04-05-15ACT II – Privacy Protection

Before we get into the stuff you came here for, unfortunately we’re going to come out and say that names have been changed to protect the identities certain individuals involved. Despite Reddit’s claim that people aren’t banned from iRacing for simply voicing their opinion, like it or not, this is what actually happens. A few weeks ago, when iRacing’s new surface model was about to debut and concerns were being expressed over whether the thing would actually work as intended, the person who brought the concerns to the attention of Reddit straight up said he was worried about receiving a ban from iRacing, and that’s why he was using a temporary account. People who aren’t us are operating with the ban hammer in mind when speaking publicly about the game’s shortcomings, and that says a lot.

banNow, why are a lot of people in the know hesitant to stick their necks out and draw attention to this, and why is that idiot who runs PretendRaceCars the only person saying anything about it in the first place?

Simple. To a lot of people, iRacing is a hybrid between Facebook and Xbox Live, built specifically for auto racing fans. This environment allows for online friendships to flourish, and speaking out would jeopardize being able to come home after a shitty day and run laps with your buddies. It’s the equivalent of being in High School and hating every last one of your teachers who constantly find new ways to send you to detention, but at the end of the day, refusing to change schools because all my friends are here. Given how much of a desolate wasteland online lobbies for other racing sims have become, it’s a trade-off that customers shouldn’t be having to make, but they’re forced to.

As a result, some of the crazy happenings going on behind the scenes, such as a potential Drivers Union to combat ridiculous steward rulings that display obvious favoritism, and Breakaway Series from iRacing’s own Peak Anti-Freeze $10,000 Championship, with an equally big prize pool, are only spread by word of mouth.


NR2003 2014-04-02 22-08-22-01ACT III – Talent

While iRacing is intended to be an officially sanctioned and structured world of virtual motorsports, a large draw of iRacing has been the huge list of amateur oval racing cars and locations that can’t be found in any other racing sim on the market. As a result, this attracts a metric ton of teenagers from family-owned race teams looking for some extra practice before the main event on Saturday Night.

His name isn’t Fred Jones, but it will be for this article; a late model driver from the Southern portion of the United States, Fred joined iRacing at an extremely young age as a real world racer with an already long list of accomplishments. Conducting himself in the exact opposite manner as I did at seventeen years of age, Fred was kind to other members on the forums, respectful on track, and fast as fuck. He was the embodiment of what all iRacing members should strive to be.

The year was 2013, and with iRacing’s physics still largely a work-in-progress, the undisputed king of online oval racing was none other than Ray Alfalla. A sponsorship with ProGeekConsultant and a dedicated crew chief put Alfalla at the very top of the iRacing totem pole, running each race with pinpoint accuracy and amassing copious amounts of iRating with each victory.

Basically, if someone consistently beat Ray and other high ranked drivers, they were either cheating, or a real life race car driver.

iRacingSim64 2013-03-09 03-50-20-85Fred, however, figured out how to beat him, and everyone else as well. Fred was part of the next generation of sim racers, ones who were young enough to swap back and forth between reality and video games while fully understand what it took to go fast in both dimensions. It also helped that Fred wasn’t just a scrub riding around at the back of the pack in his dad’s old car. An accomplished Late Model driver in the southern United States, Fred was well on his way to bigger and better things, and iRacing was his way of being a fucking teenager and playing video games.

NR2003 2014-04-02 22-23-11-41Those carefully watching some of the high ranked races noticed this Fred kid had came out of nowhere and was making a mockery of the entire field, to the point where drivers at the top of the metaphorical totem pole were struggling to keep up. Given the relationships the stewards mentioned above had developed with other longtime online racers, the combined group of elder statesmen of Papyrus online racing sims came to the conclusion that this punk kid was blatantly cheating, as it was simply not possible to show up and dethrone a large amount of high ranked drivers in such a short amount of time.

Nobody sat down for five minutes and figured out the kid was phenomenal on iRacing because raced in real life and had the accolades to back it up.

NR2003 2014-04-02 22-28-18-22Every Spring for the past handful of years, iRacing hosts a large seminar in Texas called iRace4Life. Doubling as a press event and charity fundraiser, the event serves as a way to showcase upcoming content to be released for the game in the months ahead, and for fellow sim racers to meet up and have an awesome nerd party together. Fred showed up for what was originally supposed to be an extremely laid back event, ran a few demonstration laps that didn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things, generally enjoyed himself, and upon returning home, was promptly banned from iRacing for cheating based on the testimony of Michael Main alone, one of iRacing’s sponsors.

mainWas there any proof Fred was cheating? No, because iRacing did not have any form of anti-cheat software until earlier this year. There was simply no proof the guy had done anything wrong – only suspicions from other drivers who couldn’t deal with a new guy showing up out of nowhere and giving an already established group of drivers some serious competition. In iRacing’s eyes, Fred simply being an active member was causing them enough problems to warrant a ban, due to the rampant false allegations of cheating other members were making towards him.

FredTo make matters even more bizarre, iRacing admitted they had been monitoring his computer in an effort to determine whether Fred had been cheating in previous iRacing online races. Now I’m not an IT guy so bare with me here, but there are a very limited number of meanings behind the phrase “we will continue to monitor his computer”, and all of them point to a gross invasion of privacy. So not only has this kid been banned for allegations of cheating just for being good at a game that helps him practice for the real thing, now he’s got a random company keeping tabs on his PC activity.

Wait what? That’s not cool…

Fred was given a full refund of all money spent on iRacing, with staff essentially admitting that it was too troublesome to deal with the witch hunt against him to continue to allow him to be a member. This was perfectly within iRacing’s Terms of Service.

fred 2Being a dedicated sim racer, Fred attempted to return to the service several times, sometimes under fake names (which isn’t against the rules, most high ranked drivers have a second account to continue racing without tanking their XP level), in an effort to continue racing and enjoying the thrills of driving against others in a competitive format. Fred always conducted himself with the utmost level of respect towards others, and eventually, iRacing found out that Fred was back. When Fred had quickly progressed up the ranks again and had a shot at competing in the Peak Anti-Freeze Series for $10,000 in his spare time, iRacing steward Shannon Whitmore shot him down.

[Redacted Upon Request]

The joke is on them. iRacing won’t allow Fred to compete for a championship on their virtual circuit, yet away from the confines of the iRacing servers, Fred recently won a Super Late Model track championship at a very prestigious speedway, and there is a chance NASCAR fans will see him competing on Fox Sports 1 within the next few years.

The exact person to represent precisely what iRacing hopes to accomplish when blending the real world with the virtual one, was instead chased away from it in an effort to appeal to a nerd clique.


NR2003 2014-03-29 17-08-11-84ACT IV – Tin Foil Hats

Are there other examples of this ridiculous behavior behind closed doors that iRacing fanboys with 1500 iRating and 20 starts over 2 months will continuously deny? Yes.

I could bring up Australian iRacer and real life K&N Series driver Brodie Kostecki, as well as his buddy John Gorlinsky, who were banned/suspended (someone clarify this for me please lol) for demonstrating to iRacing in private that it was incredibly easy to run a RAM Hack in the background and dramatically change your car’s performance to your benefit. I could bring up Chris Miller, who spurred an equally profound witch hunt among the game’s IndyCar community for aggressive driving, and like Fred above was forced to take a breather by iRacing and return under fictional names to keep the community at bay…

But it’s all futile in the end; changes won’t be made anytime soon because iRacing’s staff is structured in a way that promotes a good ol’ boys environment, and those new to the service, as well as those who haven’t run afoul of those in charge of policing it, will act like this is all just a tin foil hat conspiracy led by someone with an irrational vendetta.

Believe what you want, but to paraphrase something my favorite driver once said, eventually the facts will get a bit too strong.

Advertisements

29 thoughts on “The Good Ol’ Boys Club

  1. Damn. Didn’t know about any of this. Most importantly, If they’re using the client to ‘monitor’ people in unspecified ways, that’s really not acceptable at all.

    A backdoor in the client… I don’t think it would be difficult to set up at all, it’s just not something that should even be considered by honest developers, even if it’s only used in ‘select’ cases.

    Some serious potential implications for iracing here… Perhaps I’m confused, but it seems to me that they could arguably be presented as hackers in a courtroom.

    Like

    1. That’s par for the course in MMO anti-cheat software, you agree to the backdoor behaviour (and sometimes even rootkits) when you sign up. They have to bring something that can hook in lower than the RAM editors and block them from modifying the game, and it’s only secret in the sense that most people don’t have the technical knowledge to recognize what they agreed to in the TOS.

      Typically it’ll report back ‘suspicious’ programs running on the client, what that means depends on the anti-cheat software used. Could just go by all exe names vs. a whitelist, could detect patterns of behaviour.

      Like

      1. Wouldn’t be surprised if the client’s still collecting a good chunk of data about the state of the computer while it runs, primarily so they know their audience (what OS do iRacing users have? how much RAM/VRAM? Useful for business decisions). It’s not anti-cheat software but it can be used to identify cheaters.

        Like

      2. There’s a large difference between collecting data through an ‘automated’ system and a backdoor that allows employees to root around on your system without any clearly defined limits.

        If they disclosed this ‘feature’ in the EULA (‘iracing employees may access your system and data at any time’ or something like that) then it’s a different situation, because we would be agreeing to those terms.

        AFAIK, they do not disclose anything like that.

        Like

      3. I used to work support for Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft) and this is very much the case. All popular MMO games include backdoor processes in their clients as its the only method of identifying common hacks and in many ways it remains far from fool proof. There are still memory injection hacks for games like Team Fortress and Counter Strike despite these games being seven years old and still extremely popular..

        Like

      4. Are their backdoors offering undefined system access to unrelated data while not disclosing this in the EULA?

        This is still a very different potential issue from the normal anti-cheat data collection and game-specific integrity checks, including cache level modification checks.

        It’s illegal to offer software that actively allows access to unrelated data without disclosing it, unless you are part of a government software mole program. iracing is not relevant to such programs, therefor they must either constrain themselves to activities that directly pertain to their software base or clearly disclose otherwise.

        Based on the statement by their employee and their EULA, they are potentially in violation on both counts. Undefined system access and an intentionally incomplete and misleading EULA.

        That’s fairly serious for a company based in the US.

        Like

  2. Some of these allegations, if true, are unsettling.

    Specifically, the issue with Fred raises some troubling questions. Unfortunately, I don’t know the whole story, but I think the “monitoring your computer” is actually a red herring. If Fred really was the victim of a witch hunt instigated by Michael Main, that should be brought to the surface. As it stands, the article doesn’t provide nearly enough information for me to have an opinion. I do find it interesting that iRacing refunded him his money, but as it stands, its very unclear what actually happened. Perhaps Michael Main will see this and offer his side of the story, but I won’t be holding my breath.

    I don’t see the good ol’ boys club as much of an issue. The Pro series have real-time stewards, and I’ve never read of any related controversies.

    Nim Cross does rule on protests, but from what I’ve read, many members feel that, if anything, he’s too conservative. Unfortunately, the Sporting Code prohibits intentional contact, not poor driving, or optimistic overtaking, which is obviously difficult to establish from replays. I imagine the majority of sanctions are foul language related, and uncontroversial.

    Finally, I still haven’t seen any evidence that controversial forum comment related bans. That an unnamed member posts with a second account for fear of being banned is obviously meaningless. I do know of members temporarily losing posting privileges (Ryan Williams comes to mind) for insulting other members, using foul language, and even continually haranguing staff, but I haven’t heard of anyone being banned from the entire service as a result of forum posts.

    Doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, but the article offers no evidence that it has.

    I think a more focused article, addressing the specifics of what happened to Fred and its aftermath, would be worth reading, as would an article discussing whether iRacing takes itself too seriously.

    Like

    1. You seriously haven’t noticed the deleted posts and sarcastic funposting about the huge massive competition ruining bug that has affected two straight pro races that iRacing doesn’t want making news and won’t respond to regular users about?

      Those guys should be and would be beating down the walls with torches and pitchforks.

      Like

    2. the fred story strikes is what especially stikes a chord for me too, which is why the obfuscation is frustrating. we obviously dont have the full story (the vague quote from the iR official about him causing past issues sticks out for me — were really supposed to just believe those issues were as simple as ‘he won a race’?)

      Like

  3. By the way, according to Tony Gardner, iRacing has utilized anti-cheat measures since its inception, but chose not to discuss the specifics to avoid weakening them. Make of that what you will.

    Like

  4. My favourite is the guys that wreck someone every other race and call them a faggot on Facebook every time but get literally welcomed back with open arms cuz dey a gud boy just trying to turn their lifelong asshole behaviour around.

    Oh wait right actually I mean they’re on a broadcasters’ team.

    Like

  5. Monitor his computer. 😀 I love iracing for that 😀 Big money – big honey. In the ass. So its not surprise, that kind of situation everywhere in the world. Thats why i race in iracing. One question i have that why he didnt get to gov judgment system, because he have been banned w/out money out he payed for service.

    Like

  6. “Regardless of what racing sim you’re playing, private leagues go hand in hand with favoritism and drama”

    dear god that is the most true thing anyone has ever said in the history of saying things

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “…is structured in a way that promotes a good ol’ boys environment, and those new to the service, as well as those who haven’t run afoul of those in charge of policing it, will act like this is all just a tin foil hat conspiracy led by someone with an irrational vendetta.”

    sounds all too familiar to the moron-ass nr2003 community.

    Like

  8. I’m shocked. Whitmore must have had somebody edit the email you posted. I got one from him one time and it was full of spelling and grammatical errors. It was practically unreadable. By the way, the reason Whitmore was emailing me is because one of his New England good ol’ boys reported me for something I didn’t do. My word against his. Who do you think Nim and Shannon believed?

    Like

  9. I raced against Chris Miller and he was an absolute dick headed piece of shit that would intentionally wreck me, rather than pass me clean. This was especially true before the DW12 when he and I had numerous run-ins and I could never trust him not using me up when he passed. Luckily, I got the better of those run-ins most of the time. He definitely needed a reality check that you can’t drive like a fucking moron every god damn race putting people in the fence and excessively blocking and get away with it.

    There’s a line between aggressive driving and driving like a pissed of Kyle Busch. The Kyle Busch I’m referring to is the one who wrecked Horniday under yellow and was told to park it for the weekend. And look at that, Chris got parked for good.

    Like

The comment box is not a toy.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s