Negativity. Hostility. Immaturity. Three condescending adjectives which can apply to every sim racing message board and community residing on the world wide web. Several have previously attempted to pinpoint the direct cause of fanboys rushing across the land to spread the gospel of their favorite racing sim, yet all have failed to nail the root cause of this problem for one reason or another.
Blind nerd rage? Maybe. Spectrum disorders? Maybe. The lack of any purpose in one’s life? Maybe. Speculation warrants an infinite amount of possible explanations, but never a definitive answer. As the self-reflection among the sim community continues, threads on Reddit pop up directly addressing the hostile environment. Threads discussing a completely unrelated topic double in size as apologists attempt to downplay the flaws of their favorite game. Yet again, another forum post has become “My Sim is Better Than Your Sim.” We are at the point where even a simple YouTube highlight video of an online race is downvoted into oblivion, solely because a group of anonymous sim racers don’t like the event organizer’s website.
No longer racing, competing, or even participating, analysis of online traffic clearly displays that sim racers prefer to spend their days bitching, moaning, and complaining.
Why? The lengthy answer can be summarized into two major elements:
- First, Viral Marketing is every bit as real as the paranoia makes it out to be. Genuinely reliable message boards and communities are corrupted by individuals assigned to manufacture additional hype for a racing sim via countless posts praising or showing off the product.
- Second, the investment required to get started in sim racing does not allow for a scenario in which the games are anything but perfect. As the current crop of racing sims leave a lot to be desired, everyone is left to perform their own mental gymnastics in order to justify the massive time and effort invested into playing video games that simply isn’t very good.
Combining the two elements together, it’s no wonder the sim racing community routinely tries to destroy itself.
The year was 2000, and Mel Gibson’s upcoming movie The Patriot, a civil war rendition of Braveheart, was not resonating among critics as well as Sony Pictures had hoped. To combat the lukewarm reviews, Sony themselves hired a writer to pen a highly positive review of the film under the fictional name of David Manning, and quoted the bogus review in advertisement campaigns for the film. While Sony was successfully sued for a sizable chunk of cash once the general public discovered this charade, an entirely new realm of advertising possibilities had been accidentally uncovered.
The rising popularity of “user reviews” and online message boards made it incredibly easy for entertainment companies – specifically those producing movies and video games – to flood “fan sites” with overwhelmingly positive feedback. Virtually impossible to detect a genuine user from someone under the orders of a marketing agency, the sheer volume of positive user feedback was more effective in generating hype for a product that any multi-million dollar ad campaign.
However,in the world of sim racing, developers lack the funds to employ an entirely separate marketing firm tasked with praising the game. As a result, the compromise is to instead persuade active community members into becoming what you’ll see referred to as “shills.”
When the Eutechnyx NASCAR titles were in full swing, moderators on the official message board were given a free copy of that years’ game for their troubles. However, their instructions were pretty specific: don’t let anyone talk about the poor quality of the game. Guys like flyer2359, who can be seen playing the vastly superior rFactor stock cars on his YouTube channel, was notorious for dropping the banhammer on anyone who dared to criticize the shovelware effort by Eutechnyx – even though he himself knew the games were trash.
Reddit user and avid sim racer Georg Ortner was eventually given a position at Sector3 Studios, and his entire post history on Reddit happens to be nothing but R3E footage. In-game, he’s given the special developer badge, but it’s not clear what he actually does at the company. While I’m not saying his videos aren’t worth watching; they are essentially designed to be viral advertisements for RaceRoom Racing Experience.
With 8,500 forum posts cementing himself as the most prolific Assetto Corsa community member, Mike Hornbuckle is an Assetto Corsa shill. This is the guy we were getting our secret info from in regards to AC, and slowly leaking it piece by piece in the form of reader submissions. While not under direct orders to spread the gospel of Assetto Corsa, if a developer hands you beta access and all future downloadable content packs for free, you’re obviously not going to publicly shit on them. If you’re predisposed to brown-nosing behavior, free stuff from a game developer will bring that out in a natural manner. Kudos to Kunos for finding the right guy for the job.
But the most blatant form of viral marketing, a method that will most likely be taught in universities shortly, is the one concocted by Ian Bell of Slightly Mad Studios. Labeling customers as “investors” and promising a return on each investment turned sim racers with good intentions into walking, talking Project CARS billboards. Taking things a step further, VirtualR, a once-trustworthy sim racing news site, was purchased by Slightly Mad Studios and promptly flooded with Project CARS propaganda. When glitch compilations outnumbered raw gameplay videos, the dream of Project CARS becoming a household name burst into flames, and the loyal disciples of Ian Bell were laughed off all major sim racing forums.
The increase in paranoia over viral marketing has put all sim racing communities on edge, as the act itself is dishonest and demonstrates a severe lack of confidence in the product. Look, if your game was good, you wouldn’t have to manipulate community members into becoming virtual disciples. I want Billy Mays to yell at me in the morning when I accidentally leave the TV on overnight, not see his advertisements thinly disguised as posts on a sim racing forum, nor do I want to see his marketing babble passed off as “news.”
To an outsider, flight simulators are held in extremely high regard. Virtual commercial aviation enthusiasts have three complete titles to choose from, as Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X, Lockheed-Martin’s Prepar3D, and Laminar’s X-Plane are all equally adequate choices for airplane buffs with beefy personal computers. Those interested in military operations are unanimously pointed to DCS World. All four titles are feature complete, perform relatively well, and feature an abundance of high quality payware mods spanning the entire history of flight. Individuals who invest the time and money into configuring and learning their flight simulator of choice are rewarded with a fantastic experience; one which replicates the joys of aviation from the comfort of their own home.
Yet, those who dive into sim racing are not met with a similar reward.
Building a PC capable of handling most modern racing sims is a little more than the cost of a next generation console, so off the bat you’re looking at an adult Lego project worth about $500. As the newer sims are designed to take advantage of higher quality toy steering wheels, a good combination of wheel and pedals will run you upwards of $350, not to mention the time spent researching which toy wheel to buy in the first place. Those who struggle with the lack of depth a single monitor setup provides will rush out to buy a few more, yanking another $250 out of your pocket for a triple screen setup. We haven’t even hit the track yet, and the mere idea of Sim Racing is already an investment exceeding $1000.
Like Flight Sims, these games are daunting for newcomers. Nobody jumps into a brand new setup in their sim of choice and immediately qualify their GT3 race car on the front row. In fact, most struggle to turn more than a few laps at a time without helplessly plowing into a wall. The sheer euphoria that comes with one’s first handful of clean laps at speed is said by many to be the reward for hours of practice. But unlike Flight Sims, once you’ve mastered the basics of driving a car at speed and are ready to begin your journey through what each sim has to offer, the world available for you to explore doesn’t justify the hours you’ve spent getting to that point.
Project CARS and F1 2015, two of the biggest sim racing releases in the 2015 calendar year, shipped with enough game-breaking bugs and glitches to be seen as colossal embarrassments for the genre. iRacing, and to a lesser extent RaceRoom Racing Experience, both serve to nickel and dime the userbase with an excessive amount of micro-transactions under the guise that you’re somehow “more hardcore” for paying a monthly subscription fee. A tidbit unknown to the common sim racer, both games are built on titles released right in the middle of the PS2 generation; RaceRoom has it’s origins in rFactor – released in 2005 – while 65% of iRacing’s code has been taken directly from a game released in February of 2003. Sims like Assetto Corsa, Stock Car Extreme and rFactor 2 display their primitive origins quite prominently as AI opponents struggle to behave in a realistic manner, and should you desire to race against a few mates online, Assetto Corsa puts restrictions on car selection based on how many people are already driving that car in a session.
Imagine booting up a game of Madden, and being told you can’t play as the New England Patriots because too many people have already played as them. After dropping over $1000 to get started, and running hours of practice laps in isolation, this is the reward sim racers are presented with: unfinished games.
Each customer deals with this monumental let-down in their own special way, and conflicts on message boards arise because of how different each coping mechanism is. Sim Racers who try to simply be happy with what they have fight endlessly with those who believe game x, y, or z is a worthless pile of shit for any number of reasons. Frustration fuels the fire, but fanboy wars are not fueled by the games on the shelf, but rather the coping mechanisims used by each sim racer. Individuals are torn between feeling compassionate towards underfunded developers, and demanding a better product. Some pick side A, others pick side B, and the war begins.
- Those compassionate towards developers believe PRC is slanderous, hurtful, and full of lies. Those demanding better products claim PRC is a much-needed sim racing media outlet.
- Those compassionate towards developers believe Kunos Simulazioni are doing the best they can with Assetto Corsa, their first major commercial release. Those demanding better products laugh at how much has been half-finished or completely left out of Assetto Corsa compared to other, more established racing sims.
- Those compassionate towards developers believe iRacing is right to charge an arm and a leg for cars, tracks and even a monthly subscription as it pays the bills for a fantastic online service. Those demanding better products point out that iRacing is 65% unchanged code from NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, and that
- Those compassionate towards developers believed European developer Eutechnyx simply needed a few years to shape the NASCAR console releases into something fans would enjoy. Those demanding better products pointed out Eutechnyx had a very tangible history of releasing shovelware for the entire existence of the company.
- Those compassionate towards developers believe Slightly Mad Studios do not deserve the outright hate they receive for the Project CARS disaster, as the massive crowdfunding campaign was the first of it’s kind, and bugs were to be expected. Those demanding better products are quick to point out that Slightly Mad Studios have pushed out not one but three poor driving games notorious for the exact same bugs and glitches as seen in Project CARS.
- Those compassionate towards developers believed Ghost Games would revive the Need for Speed franchise into a game worth playing by re-visiting the Underground theme of the successful titles from a decade ago. Those demanding better products promptly rushed to record hour-long reviews ripping on the game for being an awful holiday cash-grab with no style or substance.
Everyone knows these games suck and are nowhere near the level of modern flight simulators. No one in their right mind can honestly sit down in front of a Project CARS glitch compilation and say “this game was worth the $79.99 I paid for the collectors edition.” Nobody in their right mind can say “you know, I’m cool with the fact that I’m sometimes not allowed to drive the McLaren when I race online in Assetto Corsa GT3 rooms.” No consumer is cucked by the developer to that extent.
But after the $1000+ spent on hardware, and the hundreds of hours invested into running laps on an isolated track in an effort to finally achieve a reasonable pace within a few seconds of the aliens dominating each leaderboard, what’s the other option? You’ve already bought the computer, bought the wheel and pedals, bought the monitors, and wasted hundreds of hours hot-lapping by yourself just to familiarize yourself with the basics, it’s a bit too late to say “you know, this game is kind of shit. I mean, I can’t even pick the color of my car online. Fuck this, I’m playing Battlefield with my friends.”
It’s a tough pill to swallow, and everyone develops their own unique set of mental gymnastics to help deal with it. Some believe their favorite developer will release a magic fix for their sim of choice, and it’ll come bundled neatly in the next update. Others, like myself, hold developers accountable for shitty games and hope they’re embarrassed enough by the posts on PRC to work a bit harder on whatever is currently on the horizon. Either way, individuals from both sides congregate on the various sim racing forums because nobody wants to actually play the shitty games they’ve bought, and it results in a lot of computer nerds flinging shit at each other.
But as I’ve said before, these nerds are not fighting over the superiority of Sim X, Y, or Z. Sim Racers need each other, because a race isn’t much of a race without competition. Instead, they are fighting over two sides of the same coin. Nobody can deal with the terrible quality of games pushed on the sim community, and sim racers are split on how we should address this. Do we sympathize with developers for pushing shitty products on us, or do we hold developers accountable and say “it’s 2015, we like you guys, but you can’t seriously believe what you’re selling us is somehow better than titles we purchased over a decade ago.”
PRC.net believes the latter is the answer.