It feels like every other week I’m publishing an article on this topic, but for whatever reason, the situation just keeps going downhill, leaving me to keep reporting on it.
We’ve only got a few days left in November. It’s cold. The roads suck. If you’re in Canada, a certain portion of the United States, or pretty much anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere of our planet, this is the time of year people tend to stay the fuck inside and bask in the glow of their computer monitors. With the spring, summer, and fall seasons firmly behind us, we’re now at the point in our calendar year where it’s almost socially acceptable to spend the night playing video games because, well, there isn’t much else to do.
Coupled with Black Friday, this weekend should have seen a huge increase in activity among sim racing forums. Basically, the deals this year were so good across the sim racing landscape, if there was a game somebody was interested in, they went ahead and bought it yesterday.
So where the hell is everybody?
Previously when I’ve covered the lackluster online numbers for Sim Racing, many sim racers have pointed out that I’m looking for activity in all the wrong places. I’m the kind of guy who likes to just pop onto the server browser and jump in a room. There isn’t a car I’m not at least somewhat familiar with, so there isn’t much of a need to take the time out of my day and practice for a scheduled event. To me, jumping into an online lobby in a game like R3E or Stock Car Extreme feels no different than lobby hopping in a console game like DiRT 3.
According to our readers, this isn’t how most people play racing sims. The big grids and noteworthy activity instead take place on a set schedule. Sites like RaceDepartment and Race2Play offer themed events on a set start time, allowing people to practice up for a lengthy session with a group of like-minded folks.
Today on RaceDepartment, I signed up for an hour-long VLN event in Assetto Corsa, mixing the game’s default GT3 entries with the BMW 235i found in the first Dream Pack premium DLC package on the Endurance layout of the Nurburgring Nordschleife. The whole process in regards to joining and participating in the event was painless. Nobody even cared that I as a Canadian signed up for a European time slot race, because in some instances the differing pings don’t get along all that well.
You simply can’t make the argument that it’s too difficult to sign up for an event via these types of websites.
But despite how amazing the battle for the lead was, with myself and eventual GT3 class winner Stephen Sekhon separated by just over a second after eight laps at the the Nurburgring, the field size left a lot to be desired. By the end of the race, each participant was running in their own zip code, and there were only a total of fifteen entries taking the green flag among two classes. This is absolutely shocking to me, as the laser-scanned Nurburgring is the centerpiece of Assetto Corsa’s rather unexciting track roster, and the popularity of the Blancpain Endurance Series should have in theory flooded this event with entrants. Instead, we struggled to fill a single 24 car grid with Assetto Corsa’s most popular combination on a cold, dark Saturday in November.
And this was the most popular event on RaceDepartment this weekend – the same event in the North American time slot saw a pathetic four cars on the sign-up sheet. A Friday night V8 Supercars event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park failed to attract a single entry, even though people willingly gave Reiza $100,000 to bring the Holden (and other cars) into Stock Car Extreme, and another $2,000 for a full V8 Supercars mod. Yet someone actually puts an event together with this car on a cold winter night where there isn’t anything else to do, and it’s like the entire community disappeared.
But that’s just one website, so let’s head to Race2Play, which is essentially RaceDepartment with stat tracking. Upon signing my ass up, just to have the option to write my Team Name as PretendRaceCars.net, the site wanted to charge me something like $170 a year for “Premium Access,” because features such as basic profile editing were restricted to PRO and PRO PLUS members. I ain’t been on the site more than five minutes, and already it wants my credit card number. If this isn’t a sign that more developers should begin implementing iRacing-like organization & stat tracking features inside the base game itself, I don’t know what is.
I stick with the free membership because I’m a smart consumer and head to the event list, as I did a bit of research and realized that even with a basic membership I wasn’t restricted from entering events I was interested in. Now, were there an abundance of events to enter? Of course. The problem is that the field sizes were so small, there was no guarantee you’d actually find yourself in a worthwhile race. As you can see in the RaceDepartment VLN results above, basically everybody ran in their own zip code aside from the two GT3 leaders. The same situation threatened to play out on R2P.
In the Circuit of the America’s multi-class race at the top of the screenshot, the 18 entrants are spread among four classes: P2, GT1, GT2, and GTC. What sounds like a somewhat big grid on the outset turns into a mighty pointless race if you sign up as a GTC or P2 driver, as you’ll have less than five people to compete against for position. Not much of a race.
Obviously, the other pictured events don’t fare well either. The Mount Panorama event is actually part of a league, meaning access is restricted to the general public for the trademark event on the real life V8 Supercars schedule. On the other side of the globe, the trademark touring car event – hatchbacks at Brands Hatch, has a lowly 13 entries. rFactor 2’s brand new 2015 Sprint Cup Stock Cars, an addition some had waited over a year for, will most likely roll off pit lane Tuesday night with less than ten entrants at Joesville – not even half the size of a real life Saturday Night Late Model grid.
I actually signed up for the Slovakia Ring event in R3E, as 16 like-minded GT3 drivers in a 40 minute race isn’t too terrible given the 24 car server limit.
We then move from the disappointing competitive online numbers on RaceDepartment and Race2Play to check out rFactor 2’s Steam data to see if ISI’s attempt at reaching a larger customer base has paid off. Several PC racing sims have moved to Valve’s popular distribution platform in an effort to boost both sales and overall activity, and rFactor 2 is the third title this year to do so after both iRacing as well as Stock Car Extreme made the jump.
What you see above isn’t good. rFactor 2 is dead on arrival; the activity this week approximately half of what was seen on launch day.
So if nobody is racing in public servers, very few drivers are using the two tools available to them to sign up for organized races, and the newest racing sim addition to Steam is well, dead, where the hell is everybody? There are 11,178 people subscribed to the Sim Racing subreddit, and God knows how many people signed up on RaceDepartment, Race2Play, and the Assetto Corsa forums… But trying to play these games with other people or monitor the hard data of people with the executable running on their PC’s… There’s like… Nothing…