It’s not the biggest site, nor is it the most active, but RAVSIM published one hell of an article today, detailing the sometimes toxic and incredibly hostile community surrounding Sim Racing. Titled “My Sim is Bigger Than Your Sim“, the piece pulls no punches and directly points fingers at the exact reasons why multiple community websites surrounding driving games as a whole are unwelcoming environments, full of elitists, fanboys, and forum trolls.
You owe it to yourself to read the article in full. Go to their site, give them hits, and feel good about doing so. You’ll be lost if you don’t, as this entry is a direct response to the writings of spamsac, but I’ll do my best to summarize for the sake of convenience:
- “As an outsider to sim racing communities, I find that most are filled with trolls, fanboys, and hostility upon visiting them.”
- “With so many great racing games available, there is no need for endless infighting”
- “Fanboys believe relentlessly attacking other products, while defending their favorite game, is somehow helping them win an invisible war.”
- “Because of the extremist fanboy behavior, many forums have turned into unwelcoming environments, as fanboys cannot rationally be reasoned with.”
- “I buy every racing sim, regardless of whether I’ll play it or not. Am I wrong for not becoming involved in the community and attempting to clean it up myself with so much time and money spent on these games?”
- “Is it right for the developers of racing sims to be tasked with handling a constant stream of negativity in the forums?”
- “Video game developers have feelings, and criticism of their product makes them feel bad. They are most likely losing patience with the toxic communities surrounding their products.”
- “Please do your part to stop others from being rude to developers, and to each other. The amount of trolling, fanboyism, and infighting is becoming intolerable.”
There are some portions that I agree with, and some portions that I don’t. I’ll do what I can in this response.
Hostile message boards are a product of the entertainment medium itself. The reason you see so many conflicting views and eventually fights on a wide variety of message boards within the greater driving game community is because video games do not discriminate. There is no stereotypical iRacing member, or stereotypical Assetto Corsa owner. If I tell ten people to sketch me a drawing of a typical Metallica fan in the 1980’s, all ten drawings will look roughly the same – a skinny white male with long hair and a Master of Puppets T-Shirt. You can’t do this with Game Stock Car Extreme or rFactor 2.
As a result, the extreme diversity puts successful businessmen, retail store managers, and even legendary EDM artists under the same roof as teenagers getting their first taste of the internet, or guys who simply lack age-appropriate social skills due to a vast array of spectrum disorders. This melting pot of personalities is nothing more than a chemical reaction; one which breeds levels of drama reminiscent of our high school experiences. And given that there isn’t a teacher to individually pull shit disturbers aside and force them to sort out their differences, or understand each other a little more, sometimes it’s just easier to launch a few rockets at others and move forward.
There is no better example of this shit-slinging than the fabled Darin Gangi versus Matt Orr incident, which Matt documented for public consumption on his YouTube channel. Essentially, two YouTube personalities went to war, and we all got to watch.
This was the precise moment where I realized a tabloid-style Sim Racing news site could potentially be successful. Matt’s video calling out the host of InsideSimRacing attracted a much larger amount of views compared to videos he’d uploaded earlier in the week, and nearly every active member of the iRacing.com forums felt the need to voice their opinion on the matter. People were more interested in watching two grown ass men bitch at each other on YouTube, than they were in posting about iRacing’s newest update, released a week earlier.
With conflicting personalities and no teacher-like figure to give a speech in front of the entire class and tell everybody to cut it out, who’s right ends up being more important than being a decent human being, and to avoid the stress of this hostile environment, your options as a bystander are to either leave altogether or embrace it.
The games themselves are the main cause of conflict. RAVSIM points the finger at shitty individuals within the community, but the dark sides of these individuals are only exposed during heated arguments, and these arguments don’t just spawn out of the nowhere.
An ugly truth about video games as a whole, one which will inevitably be studied by our children and grandchildren, is that there was a definite shift in the overall quality of interactive entertainment around eight years ago. In 2007, the mammoth profits generated by Halo 3, Guitar Hero III, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare made nearly everyone within the industry stop and evaluate their own operations from the ground up. Developers were sent into overdrive, desperately searching for every last way to make a fraction of the money that customers began throwing at Call of Duty on a yearly basis.
And turning a medium of entertainment into a game of numbers was an approach that was harmful to the customers. A bombardment of DLC packs for Forza and Need for Speed, ones which included content developed well before the game’s release in an effort to secure a bit more of that precious cash, segregated the community. A new reliance on patches delivered via automatic updates to both consoles and PC’s connected to Steam allowed developers to quickly push out games to meet time constraints, promising to fix issues as the playerbase discovered them – which was pretty damn often. The skyrocketing costs of developing even the most rudimentary game quickly eradicated niche titles from the market, with the Xbox 360 failing to receive a licensed NASCAR title for three straight years, when the Playstation 2 had seen everything from a D1GP Drifting sim, to a hardcore NHRA Drag Racing sim.
The final nail in the coffin for the industry as a whole was the introduction of Steam’s Early Access format, allowing developers to sell an Open Beta of their upcoming product at a discounted price, never requiring them to actually finish the game.
ISI proudly displays a disclaimer for rFactor 2 on their homepage, stating that “rFactor 2 is an evolving product, and as such, we expect to be adding cars, tracks and features for many years to come. We encourage people to purchase rFactor2 based on its current features and content at the time of purchase.” The game first went on sale in 2012, and has effectively been in a work-in-progress state for almost four years. Updates are not described as “patches”, but rather “builds.”
The splash screen for RaceRoom Racing Experience describes the game as an “Open Beta“, and the online component is given the title of Multiplayer Alpha, despite there being almost $90 worth of expansion packs for the title, as well as several micro-transactions buried within the game for individual cars and tracks.
Project CARS was delayed three times, eventually shipping with several game-breaking bugs and glitches that turned the game into a bit of a laughing stock, and a while back released its fifth major patch in as many months. With the average user score described as “Mixed” on Metacritic with a rating of 64, most of the post-release criticism from those within the sim community was directed at specific sites who were confirmed to have been paid by developer Slightly Mad Studios to bombard readers with a flurry of Project CARS articles. While the work-in-progress title was never given to Project CARS upon release, the announcement of a sequel before the first game had even landed on store shelves was enough for us to read between the lines. The game’s launch was met with hundreds of glitch videos showing up on YouTube within a few days, and the head of the studio calling his customers idiots.
And then we start getting into the heavy hitters. After a year spent in Early Access and another year sold for full price on Steam, with two massive premium DLC packs to complement the vanilla content, you still cannot pick the color of your car in Assetto Corsa’s multiplayer component. Features we’d never expect to be left out of a racing sim in 2015, hell, even in racing games available for your SmartPhone, are disregarded by the small team of Italian developers, in favor of lengthy dribble about yet another tire model revision nobody asked for. The popular racing sim has transcended what it means to be a video game, and instead established itself as a science project with no completion date.
Switching things up a bit, we now examine F1 2015, a Codemasters title that aimed to please a broader audience as opposed to diehard racing sim enthusiasts. After rumors that Codemasters were having difficulty developing the game for next generation hardware began to circulate, the game indeed shipped as a buggy mess, and currently has a score of 39 on Metacritic.
Next, we visit Bugbear’s Wreckfest. A title that first raced onto Steam’s Early Access platform in late 2013 based on the FlatOut games from a decade ago, Wreckfest is still stuck in Early Access with only a few months until 2016. The Wikipedia for the entry paints a dire picture, noting that the last update for the game was released in June of 2015, and that Bugbear themselves are unsatisfied with the pace of development.
But no one particular game displays the sad state of affairs within the motorsports genre better than Game Stock Car Extreme by Reiza Studios. Centering around the Stock Car Brasil series in South America, as well as the numerous amateur support classes, the game is a stand-alone payware rFactor mod, to the point where files integral to the much improved force feedback effects can be directly copied over to a vanilla rFactor install. I first bought rFactor back when I was in middle school, and I’ll be 23 in a few short days. If you would have told me I’d still be playing fucking rFactor nearly a decade later because it’s the only place to race competitively without a company taking your money because they can’t handle criticism, I would have learned more than just power chords on my guitar.
This is not a Golden Age of Racing Sims as RAVSIM describes. The lack of any one finished product to get immersed in causes community members who once spent hours in GTR 2, Richard Burns Rally, or NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, to instead lurk the various message boards while killing time waiting for a future update or patch. Instead of discussing great races they’ve participated in, or sharing links to quality mods they’ve found, discussions often spiral out of control into which game is less broken, because they’ve lost interest in their current game of choice, and need something new to play.
During these discussions, the fanboys pop up.
The increased traffic on message boards due to a lack of finished and/or engaging racing games allows developers to form genuine relationships with the average customer buying their game. While in theory this allows a developer unprecedented access to data and feedback straight from the source, without resorting to bullshit customer feedback surveys you see at car dealerships, in execution this generates a relationship that isn’t beneficial to either party.
The aforementioned teenagers just getting their feet wet in the world wide web, individuals with spectrum disorders affecting their social skills, or those who simply have too much time on their hands, see the developers and other various staff members interacting with the community as friends, rather than artists creating a piece of entertainment for a large group of consumers.
Ever had a buddy who played in a band? It’s easy to have a laugh at the opening act together, but telling him to stop playing shows drunk because it’s affecting his rhythm is a bit more difficult. This is the reality of developers forming relationships with their customers.
Ian Bell calls his customers idiots for failing to understand the unnecessarily complicated Force Feedback settings in Project CARS. Those who repeatedly document AI issues within Assetto Corsa are deemed as suffering from psychological problems by Stefano Castillo. iRacing’s Terms of Service and Virtual Rulebook force each customer to watch what they say in public about iRacing, in fear of losing substantial amounts of money for daring to post something negative. Even shovelware companies such as Eutechnyx are no strangers to this behavior; as quickly as NASCAR The Game 2013 opened an entire sub-forum for criticism and suggestions while the game was in the Early Access program, several users were given the boot with no explanation, and it was later revealed that the moderators were simply in it for a free copy of that year’s game upon release.
Often, users are simply removed from the forums after developers deem individuals as problematic; claiming their comments were either defamatory or non-constructive. However the margin for what each developer constitutes as constructive criticism is so goddamn slim, it is no longer possible to play by the house rules. Most people are opting not to jump through the numerous hoops required to report bugs or game-breaking issues “correctly”, as the rules are so complicated, they may as well be a fucking beta tester.
It is extremely hard to feel sorry for developers and “cut them some slack “when each game on the market is unfinished in its own special way, and those refusing to donate time and energy to hunt for bugs after laying down $60 for a video game are written out of the community, an effort best left to the fanboys sticking up for their buddy’s band.
If developers continue to push out buggy, unfinished games, call their own customers idiots, put trusted news resources on the pay roll, and make friends with users prone to taking the relationship a bit too personally, the general mood on all message boards surrounding driving games will be stuck in negativity. Half of the users are too bored and unsatisfied with the current crop of titles that they’re forced to spend more time than usual participating in online discussions, and the other half of users are pissed because you’re talking shit about my buddy’s band!
The problem gets solved with better games.