When we take a look at how modern video games have evolved over time, starting with the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 era of titles, a trend rearing its ugly head is the tendency for higher ups to treat video games not as interactive pieces of art, but a game of numbers to maximize profits. Forza’s monthly car packs, Rock Band’s constant bombardment of additional songs, and Call of Duty’s Season Passes awkwardly grabbed at our wallets in a not-so-subtle quest by publishers towards the almighty dollar, a tactic which gamers loudly voiced their displeasure for. Born out of this new wave of doing business, selling customers a game and then selling back snippets cut from the final product as bonus post-release content, was an entirely new tactic of maximizing profits – Building a game entirely on micro-transactions.
And it’s an extremely simple process:
- Give out the base game for free.
- Charge $5 here, and $10 there for pieces of content, letting the customer build their own experience within the world you’ve created.
- Before you know it, the customer has spent $70 out of curiosity, on a title that would normally retail for $30, doubling your profit.
While it may work in Counter-Strike, and cause gambling addictions in titles like Game of War and any EA Sports game featuring Ultimate Team, traditionally PC racing games have been a strictly old-school affair: after dropping $250 on a half-decent toy steering wheel designed with serious simulations in mind, you spent another $40 on a game, and off to the races you went.
And this is because the core audience of racing simulations are older gentlemen who have been around the block a few times; ones who are a bit more wise when it comes to financial decisions. They are going to see right through a pricing model intended to fuck with the customer, and simply look elsewhere for their entertainment. They are no longer giddy children who have been given a large Xbox Live gift card for their birthday to be blown on Halo Map Packs, but savvy veterans of researching a product they’re interested in to see if they’ll be getting the best bang for their buck.
A bad idea from the very beginning, the Free to Play pricing model used in Sector 3’s RaceRoom Racing Experience has destroyed any hope of the title becoming a serious contender in the PC sim racing scene. People just aren’t buying it.
And it’s a shame, because Sector 3 have put something phenomenal together. I started messing around with the game all the way back in January of 2013, as the version of Bathurst Sector 3 had put out was unbelievable; one that has only gotten better as the shader model and motion blur effects have been refined over the years. Originally, the game was strictly a hotlap simulator with a huge emphasis on Leaderboard competitions, but over the years the team formerly known as SimBin began inserting elements from Race 07 into the title; effectively turning the game into a fully featured sequel that could easily be called Race 15. Still retaining the WTCC license, the much more popular ADAC GT Masters and Modern DTM cars now take center stage, among a massive supporting cast.
Earlier this year, we here at PRC.net were gifted with press access to R3E in order to cover the game properly on our site. Most other news outlets briefly glanced over the game, and given the insane pricing structure, there was barely anybody actually playing it to form any sort of community consensus. While I loved having the full library of cars, series, and tracks at my disposal as a gift for what I’d done with my site, I was lucky if I could get in a multiplayer session and race with other people.
Eventually, the title did catch on enough to get a few races under my belt, but the game failed to attain the online activity of GTR 2 from a decade ago.
For the longest time, the game drove very much like a modern Race 07, which was what originally got me sucked into turning more laps and running the occasional leaderboard challenge. The GT2, GT3, and DTM cars had extreme amounts of downforce, drilling home the point that GT3 spec race cars are designed with amateur millionaires in mind, and could be driven in a way that would only feed your ego if you could string a few quick laps together. I’m not saying what you could do with the cars was unrealistic, but in some corners you indeed felt as if you were on railway arcade. Given my on-track talent, it was hard to determine if the game was too easy to drive, or if I was just that good.
I eventually got an answer to that. Throughout 2015, Sector 3 spent many months working with both Canadian DTM driver Bruno Spengler and South African GT3 driver Kelvin Van der Linde in an effort to nail the physics of the two most popular classes of cars on R3E.
The end result was out of this world, as the most recent update totally changed how you approached the sim. Not only are the DTM and GT3 cars in R3E extremely convincing to drive, they also teach fantastic fundamentals. You need to brake in a straight line. You need to make smooth, precise steering inputs to keep the car balanced. You need to make quick use of the brake pedal, and manage your throttle carefully on corner exit while centering the steering wheel in unison. You need to run a realistic car setup. Get any one of those aspects wrong, and the game had no problem throwing you into the gravel trap.
It was like this weird, futuristic of Grand Prix Legends, where it was every bit as difficult as GPL, but you weren’t driving on ice or fighting strange ancient Papyrus physics. When you got all the fundamental techniques of driving a race car right, the game magically became easier. To display what I mean, on the weekend I set the GT3 lap record at Bathurst, and at no point during the lap am I exploiting any bullshit game mechanics like I had been the previous build. If anything, this is basically a tutorial on how to drive Mount Panorama.
And the three online races I’d taken part in over the weekend really drilled home how much people had been relying on the previous set of physics as a crutch. I’d gotten lucky and jumped online while the server browser was active (and by active, I mean there were two rooms I could join with a fair bit of people) into two GT3 sessions, and one DTM 2015 session. It was extremely interesting to see some of the quicker guys from the R3E leaderboards struggling to be consistent; the cars slipping out from under them in some of the corners, guys blowing their braking points, or failing to keep the car balanced with jerky inputs. Pretty much all of the stuff I learned about pedal input rhythm in the real world paid off, and it was insane how much I could reel people in just by making sure my fundamentals were solid.
But even though the car selection is fantastic, the tracks are all extremely high quality and cover every major racing facility in the world (with the Nordschleife set to arrive soon), the engine sounds are number one with a bullet, and the graphics with everything cranked up are comparable with a PS4 game (motion blur doesn’t show up in screenshots), there’s almost nobody playing it.
I get that Project CARS had an immense amount of marketing hype behind it. I get that people bought into Assetto Corsa and DiRT Rally for the whole Early Access
bullshit experience. I get that F1 2013 is a modern cult classic, and Grid 2 was the sequel to a game from 2007, so there are legitimate reasons for those all-time numbers being so high.
But DiRT 3 Complete Edition was given out in early 2015 as a free gift to all who owned DiRT 3 from 2011 and suffered through the horrid Games for Windows Live functionality. This was a five year old game people played for a week purely for nostalgia purposes, and it doubled the all-time peak player count for R3E. As did F1 2015, which more than tripled the count, even though the game scored a 39 on Metacritic. Last but not least, even Race 07, a game from when Steam was just getting off the ground in 2007, has a higher peak player count.
Why could this be, after all the nice things I’ve said about R3E above?
RaceRoom Racing Experience is a Free To Play racing sim, one which lists the Multiplayer mode as being in an Alpha state, and has $120 worth of expansion packs alone, three years after it first launched. The rest of the content I haven’t mentioned, such as the 1970’s Group 5 Touring Cars, 2014 Daytona Prototypes, and various non-ADAC GT cars, can all be bought via more intrusive microtransactions, bringing the total cost of the game to around $220. The same number of different racing series and tracks in Stock Car Extreme goes for $33, and snatching the complete Race 07 bundle is $28.
You can’t just triple the cost of what these games normally go for, and then hide $100 more worth of content inside the game itself so it doesn’t show up on the Steam page. R3E simply isn’t a good deal, and the average sim racer is old enough and smart enough to avoid taking the plunge in the first place – the free content isn’t very good or even real, encouraging you to spend money almost immediately.
Locked Multiplayer servers, some of which run the Amateur physics model, and the few selections open to the general public are ghost towns. Unless you specifically wake up on Saturday morning with the lone goal of playing R3E online, you will rarely get into a sizeable multiplayer server, and of course there’s no guarantee you’ll be among good drivers.
Leaderboard Challenges are your next logical stop for human competition, but the dwindling amount of racers submitting lap times is extremely disappointing. It was pretty big news across the Sim Racing world when Sector 3 launched their 2015 DTM Expansion Pack for R3E, as it came bundled with a whole host of updates to the GT3 cars in the game – cars that people unanimously can’t get enough of across multiple sims.
22 people submitted a lap time at Spa, a track added to the game last month. GT3 cars at Spa-Francorchamps is a combination on that pollutes the online server browser on Assetto Corsa, and yet in R3E, the amount of people in total on the Hotlap Leaderboard wouldn’t even fill a public room.
A complete revitalization of the most popular cars in the game, and 22 people tried them. Wow.
At third place is the Street Circuit in Macau with seventeen entrants, primarily due to Georg Ortner’s hotlap challenge on Reddit from a few days ago. Otherwise, this number would be much lower due to Macau’s tendency to eat cars.Yes, you can race against the AI offline, and Sector 3 has even given you the ability to create your own custom championships, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to win people over. Currently, there are 123 people running R3E on their PC’s, an extremely pathetic number for anyone who’s paid for the game and want to do more than race the AI – which they’d be able to do for a fraction of the cost in Race 07 or Stock Car Extreme.
In an effort to get people on R3E more often, Sector 3 do put forward the effort to create a weekly rotation of themed Leaderboard Competitions, rewarding people with in-game currency to purchase more cars without opening their physical wallets, but currency rewards are given out randomly to participants. This doesn’t encourage anyone to get better at a game based around the skill of driving a race car.
So how do you fix this mess? How the hell do you take a pretty phenomenal game and get people to actually play the damn thing instead of scaring them off with a retarded pricing format that old sim racing dudes can spot from a mile away?
Man, it’s really simple:
- Stop with the R3E shit. No, it doesn’t need to boot through R3E. It’s an entirely new entity. The splash screen doesn’t need to bombard me with “please buy the WTCC 2014 pack, please!” No. Stop that.
- Take all of the GT1, GT2, and GT3 cars from RaceRoom Racing Experience, and mix them into one class. Neuter the quicker cars so they’re on pace with the GT3 cars. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, people really like GT3 cars. Want proof? Go boot up Assetto Corsa. GT3/GT2 cars at Spa. Every fucking server. Should probably capitalize on this, hey?
- Cram in as many tracks from R3E into the new game as you can afford. Ask the community for input if money’s tight and you have to make one or the other decisions. I’m sure nobody will cry if the Moto GP layout from Indianapolis isn’t included.
- Don’t call the Multiplayer mode Multiplayer Alpha anymore. It’s sorta been three years since R3E came out. We can stop this now. Y’all have broadcast overlays built-in. It ain’t alpha anymore…
- Call the game RaceRoom Endurance Mast3rs.
- Add support for custom car liveries so the hardcore Photoshop wizards have something to do.
- Send VirtualR.net a bunch of screenshots and tell them it’s an unofficial sequel to GTR2. Announce the game will be sold for $33, or whatever Stock Car Extreme sells for.
- Push the stacks of Pre-Order money off the desk and make a call asking for more dedicated server slots so people don’t freak out that online sucks on launch day.
Maybe I’m just entitled, but I’m also not cool with telling my bros “yeah man, this game’s awesome, you should totally spend like $150 on a game that’s really worth $40 so we can race in an empty lobby online.”