As the weekend rapidly approaches, it’s time to tackle our 51st Reader Submission. Today’s mail comes from Joel A. all the way over in Portugal, who asks if there’s anything developers can do to make racing sims less terrifying for new users to pick up.
Is the average gamer scared of Racing Sims?
I think so.
But I question myself, why? Is it from the steep difficulty and learning curves generally associated with simulations? Is it from the (almost) mandatory purchase of steering wheels and expensive equipment? Is it from the elitist-natured community of sim racers? Is it the lack of graphics to compete with Forza? In my opinion, the answer to all of this questions is no. All of these aspects have their share of the problem, but none is as crucial as this: Racing Sims are just too unwelcoming for the average gamer. Why? Let’s start with this topics:
- Content Structure and Business models
- User Interface
- Production values
To explain the weight, I present these bullet points. You must understand my background is heavily related to design, branding, and overall design thinking, so I can be very picky and often feel disappointed with the lack of effort racing sim Developers invest in theoff-track experience. Also, I’ll be talking about these features only on the so called “Hardcore Racing Sims”, which seem to be the most affected by the lack of accessibility to outsiders.
Should developers name their games with powerful and inspiring, yet simple and accessible titles like Gran Turismo or Forza? Nope. Let them label their games netKar Pro, ARCA, RaceRoom Racing Experience, Game Stock Car Extreme, rFactor, iRacing, Live for Speed, Sim Raceway or BeamNG Drive for example. I don’t understand what were they thinking when they came up with this awful, boring and bland names that leave gamers wandering what the game is about, sounding unwelcoming at least, from a newcomer’s eyes. It wasn’t always like this though: Grand Prix Legends, GTR, GT Legends, NASCAR Racing are old racing sims with good names. So what happened?
Let’s now talk about another thing in which naming relates to: Branding. There isn’t much to say really, as there isn’t much good stuff coming, apart from the usual console titles and two honorable mentions I’ll talk about later. The branding and overall graphic presentation is as uninviting as difficult to recognize and distinguish from one another. I never understood how can these studios spend year upon year developing such complicated paraphernalia like emulating car, tyre, weather, and AI behavior, while disregarding the off-track experience of the gamer. If there’s so much passion thrown into the racing experience, why can’t there be any outside racing? I have to give two honorable mentions though: Assetto Corsa and Project CARS, while not perfect as games, at least tried to present themselves like a game should have. Their branding is simple yet cool, as are their names. I feel invited to play them.
Contrary to what most people believe, Marketing doesn’t always need to involve massive funding and a huge PR team. In an age where user reviews and indie media have never been so important; where anyone can throw a crowdfunding campaign, where social media is as strong as ever (and free); where Steam and other online stores eliminate the need to invest in physical production, there’s no need to spend money on conventional advertising gatekeepers anymore. I guess everyone remembers how SMS created an army of viral marketers, and it succeeded. Early Access is also a popular marketing move, widely used by racing sims nowadays, which can guarantee early users and earnings while including the audience itself in its developing cycle.
It is a good choice, as long as it’s done correctly, like in Dirt Rally, where the current build was solid and stable. Some games also develop partnership with their real counterparts, like Gran Turismo does with GT Academy, or SimRaceway does with its performance driving centre at Sonoma. All of this creates engagement and make the games transcend themselves into more than just a video game, becoming a whole experience. You also have to know who are you selling your games to, and develop it around it, as you can read in the next topic.
Content Structure and Business Models
Another thing that can scare away new players is the different and sometimes overwhelming business models used by racing sims. Yes, we all know about iRacing and its subscription based pricing. Yes, it can be expensive, but at least what they’ve done right was having a clear vision of the experience they wanted to create, and what target audience they wanted to work for. iRacing is a game, a simulator and also a service. iRacing is not for the average player, and it makes sure that everyone understands that. As for example RaceRoom Racing Experience, rFactor and rFactor2, the story can be different. They offer you base content instead of full packages. This ends up creating one of the most interesting phenomena about the racing sim community: modders. However, it’s one thing to enjoy a good core game and then add mods if you want. It’s another thing being “forced” to use mods and tweaking to have at least a decent experience. For someone who just wants a quality out of the box sim racing experience, this can be frustrating and time consuming. This is what can happen with games like rFactor and Race 07.
The User Interface, Atmosphere and Production Values
This is a good one. I think there must be some kind of agreement between Sim developers stating all of their game’s UI has to be underwhelming, dubious in terms of graphic design, as in user interface and overall navigation. I will merge the production value and atmosphere here, because it all works together to create the off-track experience. Shift 2, Dirt 3, GRID, GT or Forza may not be perceived hardcore racing Sims, but that’s not the point here. I could just fire up those games menus and don’t touch the racing at all to feel satisfied about my experience. There is so much production value and attention to detail put into their navigation that I feel immersed right away in what I’m playing. It invites you to feel a new experience, and gives you thrills even before you touch the asphalt. The sound design and soundtracks also make a lot of difference and should be taken seriously. I’m not a big fan of lounge music, but it’s impossible to forget the jazzy tunes of the Gran Turismo dealerships, or the funky Japanese fusion of the tuning menus. It’s a thing that stacked to the game for generations now, and it became a recognizable part of its brand and world class experience. Another good example is GRID, DIRT2, or even TRD2 where menus and gameplay were merged together, without obvious loadings and transitions. In GRID, the UI was your garage, where you managed all your cars and team before getting the car out to race. In DIRT2 you wandered through your own caravan, selecting cars and events like you were there. Codemasters is well known for this type of work, and they are very good at it. But even in the more Simlike universe, we have good examples that prove that when a Developer puts effort in it, it can do something good. Take GT Legends for instance: It had a very clear graphic vision of the 60’s and 70’s. The menus were drawn accordingly, so has been the music chosen to go along that theme. We can hear classic bluesy rock tunes while tuning our Lotus Cortina for Spa, and although it is a dated game with outdated graphics, it’s still a very immersive experience.
Sim Racing developers, hire Designers to your team. Or fire the ones you have now. You wouldn’t let the construction worker draw your house, or would you?
First of all, thanks for your submission! There are some things that I agree with, and some things that I disagree with, but before I go down the order, I’ll state something up front: In my opinion, there is no way to make the average gamer more likely to play a full-blown racing sim. I’ll answer to what you said first and then chip in with my own opinion on why that may be the case.
In terms of naming, I agree with what you said. To make a game sound attractive for the average gamer, it needs a catchy name. Assetto Corsa does it (sounds a bit like “Forza Ferrari!”, a phrase that everyone, even a teenager, recognizes), as does Project CARS, where even though I don’t like the game, I appreciate the wordplay with their name, because as we all know CARS stands for Community Assisted Racing Simulator. Even iRacing has something catchy to it because it follows the same naming scheme that Apple products do, something that is very popular with young people. However, I think the problem here is that there is only so much that developers can do to make their product sound interesting. After all, it really is “just” a racing simulator, and no matter how catchy its name, nothing will change that.
The same goes for branding and marketing. How would you market a racing simulator? It can’t have explosions like Call of Duty does, and in my opinion it shouldn’t have super duper edgy tuning/scene content like the new Need for Speed, because a simulation needs a certain amount of seriousness. There is only so much you can do to market a racing simulator, and as you already mentioned trying to virally market the game through a horde of obnoxious fanboys definitely works, as Project CARS demonstrated. Sure, you can advertise it by saying it is super realistic, has super awesome physics and what not, but sadly most gamers don’t care about realism. It scares them.
What you say about content structure and and business models makes sense, because I too think that many racing sims have an absolutely retarded pricing structure (hello rFactor2), cost way too much in order to simply get goind with anything (talking to you, iceRacing) or simply lack in content (yep, that’s you Assetto Corsa). What makes games appealing to the masses is if it has progression. This could either be driven by story (like RPGs, Action games etc.) or through a career mode. Project CARS does it, Gran Turismo does it, and in my opinion it is the main reason why these games are so successful compared to their counterparts. I think no one is denying that Assetto Corsa is a better simulator than Project CARS will ever be, but Project CARS gives the player a sense of progression through its career mode. It gives the player a purpose.
The UI, atmosphere and production values are only secondary in my opinion. They don’t even matter when no one is even buying your product. And I can see the reason why there is not much thought put into UIs for racing simulators: It needs to be functional and have functionality. I don’t care about a flashy UI when I am racing wheel to wheel against someone else online. I need the UI to give me precisely the information I need, and not throw flashy lights into my face or distract me in any other way. It simply needs to work.
In my opinion the reason that most people don’t buy racing simulators is a completely different one: They are too hard. Have you ever seen your normie friends play video games? Have you ever seen how fucking terrible they are at them? Do you really expect those casual gamers to put hours and hours into a single game and try and get good? If you aren’t a racing driver or naturally gifted at racing, it will take you a long time to get really good at racing simulators. I know people who’ve been playing racing games and simulators for five or six years and they are still worse than me because they don’t possess the aptitude for racing games. The only reason they keep doing it is because they love cars, and they love racing. Casual gamers who are not particularly into racing only care about lots of action, lots of rewards, and they want it instantly.
What do you think is the reason that games like Call of Duty work so well? It’s fast paced, it provides a lot of action, doesn’t take long to master, doesn’t have a long and steep learning curve and in the multiplayer it rewards you every 5 minutes with another new perk that you just unlocked. Compare this to a racing simulator: You have to spent ages sitting in front of the setup screen in order to get the perfect setup, and if you haven’t put hundreds of hours into racing simulators, there is no way that you will win online races. And casuals hate losing. How do you explain to someone who is used to instant gratification that it will take him or her two hundred hours to reap the first rewards when playing online? If you aren’t a huge fucking autist, you will think that it’s retarded and simply start doing something else, where you will find more success faster and more easily.
In my opinion, it simply lies in the nature of the genre that not many people are into it. And to be quite honest, I am glad about it. I don’t want the dudebros are the Call of Duty or Halo kiddies to come and try racing with me. I’d rather have one raging autist shout at me on Mumble because I punted him out of the way for not making space when lapping him, than a whole bunch of teenagers going Allahu Akbar in the first turn because “lol what are brakes”. Just go to Youtube and take a look at some of the F1 201x by Codemasters games videos that show online multiplayer. It’s horrible, filled with immature kids that think going fast around a race track means you aren’t allowed to use the brakes. It may sound elitist, but I don’t want this people in my sessions. I know this can create drama because it creates tight-knit, circle-jerking communities like SRD that stalk and doxx you for making a better mod than you, but overall I think not having casual gamers in the audience makes for a better gaming experience.
Another reason is, as you mentioned in the very beginning, the entry cost into the genre. If you want to be at the top and the most realistic experience, you will have to buy a wheel. The majority only buys new products, and the cheapest, new racing wheel that’s actually worth its money is the G27. If you happen to find it on sale anywhere you’ll be happy to pick it up at around $200, but other than that you will have to dosh out at least $250-$300 depending on where you live and what the availability of the product is. Considering half the people that consider themselves gamers are teenagers that still live at home and don’t work or don’t make much money, that’s a huge investment. And if your parents don’t understand what simracing is, it’ll be hard to explain or justify to them to give you $300 for a toy wheel.
To conclude I will say that in my opinion the two main reasons that racing sims aren’t more popular are first of all the difficulty of the genre and the inaptitude of the majority of gamers for it, and secondly the considerable amount of money you have to spend initially do actually be able to enjoy the genre.
What do our readers think? Do you agree with Joel, do you agree with me, or do you agree with both of us? What is your opinion, and do you think it should be any different? Let us know in the comments!