We Are The 1%

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Editors Note: I’m boosting this back to the front page because it got pushed aside in favor of a long-winded Kotaku hit piece and rFactor 2 drama. As a result, not many people saw it.

Due to iRacing taking such an aggressive stance against myself and Sev, I have been forced to consult Race2Play for all of my competitive online racing needs. Based around the same concept as the mighty iRacing, using a similar ranking system and organizational format, the site is essentially your one-stop-shop for online racing in a variety of isiMotor games. The service Race2Play offers works exceptionally well, with no major outages, and the ability to race isiMotor content online is much appreciated, as objectively the Image Space Incorporated team have created an engine that is far superior to iRacing’s when it comes to traditional European road racing.

But as I’ve explored what Race2Play has to offer, bouncing around everything from 2015 DTM entries, to Historic Brazilian Stock Cars, modern GTE participants, V8 Supercars, and the highly controversial Flat 6 mod for rFactor 2, one thing never changes: I’m racing against the same fifteen motherfuckers in every session. Wilbur Walsh, Matt Kirby, Maciej Bekas, Nico Barclay, Felipe Anzolin, and Milan Stefanovic are in basically every race, along with guys I don’t traditionally fight for position with, such as Isaac Gonzales, Alison Valassa, Fahn Thomas, and April Dillon. And on the various message boards, it’s the same cast of characters no matter where you go. Hash is everywhere. MsportDan is everywhere. SeriousSpy is everywhere. Bakkster is everywhere. You begin to wonder how many people are actually invested into these games, as you’re essentially arguing with the same 35 people in each thread across multiple websites.

While some will be quick to point out that iRacing has its own massive community and doesn’t suffer from this problem, upon watching a few recent broadcasts, guys I’ve raced with all the way back in 2012 are still every bit as prominent in the iRacing community as they were four years ago. This picture below was taken in November of 2012 during a highly publicized one-off event introducing Rockingham to the iRacing.com service. My black and pink Impala can be seen sharing the race track with Tyler Hudson, Alan Elwood, Ray Alfalla, and EJ O’Rourke. That’s pretty insane that after four years of revitalized marketing tactics, several core updates, an abundance of new content, and an increased social media presence, the core group of drivers remains virtually unchanged. You’d think a whole host of new guys would have come along in four fucking years, but I guess not.

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What I’m getting at, is this community – regardless of the title we’re talking about – isn’t very big. For how much money is being poured into the research and development of these sims, we’re looking at a reality where the entire sim racing community is eclipsed by the number of people attending one indoor soccer center for beer league pickup games over the course of a week. And RaceDepartment’s owner Bram Hengeveld has kindly supplied the data to support this theory. Less than one percent of individuals who purchase a racing simulator actively play it.

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Readers of PRC.net, visitors of RaceDepartment, users of Race2Play… We are nothing more than a statistic. The vast majority of customers who purchase a racing simulator promptly leave the title to collect dust.

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I’ll offer three reasons as to why this might be the case. You’re free to agree, disagree, or add your own reasons below in the comment box.

  • The games typically don’t have a lot to do in them. PC racing simulators traditionally ship with little to no game modes; the emphasis instead being placed on the sheer driving experience. This may be fine for the hardcore competitors among us, but the lack of any tangible “game element” means for every person like myself who are happy just to run test laps in preparation for a league race, 50 to 100 others are immediately dropping the game because there’s no career mode to keep them engaged. The best example of this I can give is Assetto Corsa, where you boot up the game and your four options are Single Race, Themed Race (Career),  Drive By Yourself (Time Trial/Practice), and Online. Unless you’re some ultra-nerd who lives to fuck with car setups for hours on end – which the vast majority of people aren’t – the game is going to get dropped in a hurry because there isn’t much of a reason to keep playing. In 30 minutes, provided you’ve set all your options up correctly and are hell-bent on hitting the track, you can see everything Assetto Corsa has to offer. And this carries over to Stock Car Extreme, or even rFactor 2.
  • The developers are little more than established mod teams with money. Reiza Studios, Sector 3, and Image Space Incorporated themselves are essentially developers who specialize in creating/modifying game engines and adding pieces of content to them. Unlike the “simcade” Codemasters titles, or the established console franchises such as Forza and Gran Turismo, nobody on the team is in charge of piecing everything together into a single cohesive experience – a game designer. Sure, there are talented physics gurus, 3D modelers, and sound technicians on teams like Reiza and Sector 3, but there’s no guy sitting there saying “I have an idea for career mode.” The end result is a whole bunch of teams working with a proper budget to create highly detailed pieces of content for the ISI engine… And that’s the extent of the entire project. Instead of being fleshed out into a full cohesive game, like Project CARS or NASCAR 09, the thing is just sort of awkwardly pushed out onto Steam not once, but several times in a row.
  • People can’t drive. Because your average person will never travel more than 10 mph above public road speeds, or have only driven fairground go-karts intended to stay well below the limit of the tires, most people are in for a rude awakening when they find out rubber tires don’t have infinite grip under racing conditions. Those who either fall for the marketing hype OR genuinely want to challenge themselves with a hardcore racing simulator end up spectacularly crashing into a wall, and are left completely unsure how to brave the ridiculously high learning curve. Had I not grown up in a racing family and been introduced to these types of games at an extremely young age – essentially growing up with the genre – I’d be complete dogshit if I picked up Project CARS or Assetto Corsa out of curiosity. There’s simply too much to learn for just one game. These aren’t mainstream sports titles, where you can fluke yourself to a couple victories by merely passing the ball to Messi and taking random shots on goal – you basically have to know what you’re doing on every square foot of the track to be successful. 99% of people who purchase these games don’t have that knowledge.

How does it feel to be a statistic? I’m not sure. I love these games. I’ll probably continue to play these games, even if I’m racing against the same fifteen guys in each lobby, and arguing with the same thirty five guys on four different forums. And I’ll probably continue to write about these games, even if the daily view count never goes above a certain number unless Formula One Management do something to piss off a whole bunch of people. If anything, I’ll just keep in mind how few people are playing these games when a developer boasts about the size of their audience.

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40 thoughts on “We Are The 1%

  1. Good article James. Maybe the folks who post so much crap about how their game is better than yours will realise that this community is just too small to squabble among itself. Though I doubt it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I noticed this already.
    And these people stubborn as fuck. You can’t say anything other than the hivemind’s truth or otherwise they witch hunt you everywhere.
    Also the developers are stubborn too. They constantly silence you everywhere.
    And even racedepartment staff do this all the time.
    You can’t form a fucking opinion on their forums because instantly ban threat.
    These developers aren’t professional. They are the true manchildren in these community.

    I hate this.
    I form an opinion and I get 20 you are stupid comment. But not a single argument that you are wrong and this is why are you wrong.

    No facts just the same arguments over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

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  3. Great article. Hardly anyone who owns sims actually plays them, and hardly any of the people who play them are actually competent drivers. I’m continually amazed at how uncompetitive simracers are also, by which I don’t really mean slow, but rather that they are genuinely not interested in or motivated by competition even though that is the entire thrill and nature of RACING.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good analysis here. I think you’re on the right track in your reasons for why no one plays these games. The games themselves have just kind of stagnated and there’s nothing really new or compelling on offer, just one bland, empty, half-finished sim after another. You’re right in that we are in dire need of something which actually presents a cohesive vision; PCARS is the closest we have to that, though it has many other issues. But that kind of polished presentation is needed to attract new players, and I don’t understand why many sim racers don’t seem to care about that kind of thing. In addition, the games are very difficult and most people would find them inaccessible. That, and the community is populated by a lot of odd people and seems hellbent on eating itself alive over petty arguments. It’s a small world, this sim racing thing, and neither the developers nor the players are doing much to expand it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you need to define ‘polish’. It’s functionally deficient. Why would you be surprised that sim racers aren’t impressed by that?

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  5. Im as active as can be on MP, having a NZ time zone is a MAJOR disadvantage though, only iracing ,which I stubbornly resubscribed the other day, has the numbers, and 24\7,its a love hate relationship I have with that one, but yeah agree with article, in OZ\NZ timezone its a even smaller core group of racers, in this timezone youd be lucky to get 3-4 drivers in evenings, outside the odd league meet.

    I think it boils down to people either dont care when online, and end up just fucking about, or ppl stress out too much over it, it can be a intimidating experience, no matter how good you (think) are, ppl need to just get in there, regardless of speed, as long as you can get around track without too much carnage, go for it, ppl want to win all the time, mainstream games condition them to it, so they give up if a back marker, but you cant learn that way, you’ll learn more as a backmarker in a group of experienced sim racers, than winning against custom set AI.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “People can’t drive. Because your average person will never travel more than 10 mph above public road speeds, or have only driven fairground go-karts intended to stay well below the limit of the tires, most people are in for a rude awakening when they find out rubber tires don’t have infinite grip under racing conditions. Those who either fall for the marketing hype OR genuinely want to challenge themselves with a hardcore racing simulator end up spectacularly crashing into a wall, and are left completely unsure how to brave the ridiculously high learning curve”~

    I think this is the biggest problem with sims. Most people don’t know how to drive any car at the limit of the tire’s grip on the street or track and much less a race car on the track. Also, take the fact that it is much more difficult to drive a car in a sim due to the lack of g-forces(seat of the pants feel) and a 2d computer screen that users set the FOV entirely too wide because they want the sense of speed and they want to see more of the pretty dashboard so this pinches the view of the 3d world and stretches the track to where it makes it impossible to properly judge depth perception and they wonder why they are sliding into walls at all the turns so they wrongly believe the cars don’t have enough grip.

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  7. I have to disagree. I got into the sim-thing around September 2014 by buying a Dirt 3 XBox 360 version for 10 Euros. Now i´m sitting in my 5k rig and be competitive enough for podium or at least Top 5 with good racers.

    The thing is, MP-racing is maybe 90% iRacing. In pCars i can´t find any races which are not complete bullshit like 8 hours qualifying and driving one lap race. In Raceroom there´s maybe one or two (european) servers for choice and AC was long time very horrible with wreckers. AC is better know, because of the amount of minorating-servers closed for wreckers. They run some sort of backround-saftey-rating like iRacing: http://www.minorating.com/Grades

    I think that´s the good method to keep public servers more clean and get more people to drive online. AI in Raceroom and pCars is the best (much better than rF2) and people stay with that because the MP-experience to often sucks.

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    1. Man we know about minorating. It does work in principal. Problem is, I was on a minorating server yesterday and was still having to dodge around fools every single lap and for some reason people would go off and attempt to re-join the track right at the apex.

      It’s still a bit too easy to be penalized simply for staying on the track consistently. Not a problem with the system, it’s a problem with the average sim racer’s lack of situational awareness.

      You can get top 5 easily in the average race just by being somewhat consistent.

      Like

  8. The 1% thing is a little pessimistic, that’s the most players that are online at one single minute of the day when Steamcharts checks. If the average simracer plays for 3 hours a day then you can work out roughly how many are online per day by adding up the hourly numbers and dividing by 3 (since each user would be counted 3 times).

    For example, RF2’s peak is 187, but over the last 24 hours, ~974 players have been on. That makes it about 7.2% of owners.

    The specific ordering (AMS, RF2, AC, PCARS) not so coincidentally reflects how long they’ve been available on steam – AMS ~1 month, RF2 4 months, AC 15 months, PCARS 11 months. The longer a game’s around, the more people have hit it and quit it; very few games have more than a month of staying power for the typical gamer.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You haven’t understood the data from RaceDepartment. It shows the number of players at any one time. There are 168 hours in a week. If your average player plays for 1 hr 40 minutes a week then you will get an average of 1% of owners playing at any one time. It does not mean 99% of owners have abandoned the game.

    A better measure is arguably SteamSpy’s number of players over the last two weeks, though I’m sure that many of us take breaks longer than 2 weeks and then return to a sim.

    Using this data
    15% of owners have used AC in the last 2 weeks
    19% of owners have used pCARs in the last 2 weeks

    For comparison
    7% of owners have run Grid Autosport in the last 2 weeks
    19% of owners have run Dirt Rally in the last 2 weeks
    15% of owners have run Euro Truck Sim 2 in the last 2 weeks
    28% of owners have run GTA 5 in the last 2 weeks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. +1
      We are more people playing these sims, but in each moment there’s ~1% of the total users playing at the same time.

      But that percentage is simply the difference between total users and playing the moment. So it doesn’t mean that much for the people actually playing in that moment (in-game, without differentiating between multiplayer and single player). Because more in-game means more people using the game and more chances you’ll find people to race online. But is mostly valid for public racing, as in scheduled racing, a certain amount of people will concentrate around a specific time.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Good post. While I think the overall point of the article and the reasons for why simracing is such a niche and kinda sad genre are still valid, the numbers used are silly and making some ridiculous assumptions.

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      1. “4 out of every 5 owners have shelved the game”

        I own AC and I don’t play it every 2 weeks. I have apparently shelved the game.

        I don’t understand this attitude. Apparently if people don’t play a game like they’re squeakers who just discovered Counterstrike for the first time then the game is in trouble?

        I think you’re overestimating how many players of any game are at any one time playing on a regular basis, nevermind a niche sim.

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  10. Raceroom numbers are misleading given it is free to play and I’d guess many people have it in their libraries and have never downloaded it. Across all sims there are many of us with private accounts which also adds errors to the numbers too.

    J-F in his interview with ISR said there are 10K active North American players. The sim is most popular in Germany and that’s where the marketing is aimed too.

    There is no doubt active sim racing numbers for PC are minuscule compared to console who have a walled garden and limited choice.

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  11. Coming from a competitive shooter like CS 1.6 back in 2005/6 helped me have the right mindset to become better. The first time I turned laps in GTR2 with my brand new red Logitech Formula Force, I thought it was impossible. Even going through the driving school didn’t really help me improve all that much.

    But there was this league over at nogrip and I really wanted to compete with those guys online. I would practice offline every car/track they would run that weekend and compare my laptimes and when I finally knew I was fast enough I jumped in.
    I would get in top 10 almost every race. I was usually better in qualifying than the actual races. Had a few disagreement with the admins over some questionable moves but looking back it was fun.

    Then it came. The last race of the “season”. A 8/10 lapper around the Ring. Picked the 575 and went to work. I did have the track memorized from GT4 but this was on a whole different level. Kept my nose clean, ran around 4th/5th, jumped a few spots during pitstops. Last lap just focused on finishing and saw the gap to 2nd place closing fast in the last 3rd of the lap. Started pushing hard and before the last turn before the straight caught up to a splitter-less Corvette. Overtook him and finished 2nd in the hardest race in the league.

    I was 14 years old at the time 🙂 Wish I still had that replay, lost it when a HDD died.

    Like

    1. I see where you’re coming from, I haven’t been playing for as long as you, but I started (by started I mean started being active and put a lot of hours in) with simraceway and mouse steering :). I got good enough with it that people didn’t even know I used mouse steering (I even have some videos of it on my youtube.com/D1visor). After I saw the game isn’t gaining much users and it wasn’t changing I started looking for a different sim and so AC came around. I logged about a 1000h (no idea how much was actual driving as I was modding a fair bit so the game was running in the bg a lot) and got myself a G27, I’m currently more hooked by modding (skins, tracks) than actually driving but I still find it fun. Waiting for 1.5 atm though. Excellent article James!

      Like

    2. Lucky you didn’t start with GTR1, as it’s a lot harder, people accused GTR2 of dumbing down the handling, but it was a more accurate representation of how the cars drove! It’s the same issue that makes some people think that unless a game is GPL hard then it’s not realistic, when the card weren’t actually THAT hard to drive in real life. Although I haven’t tried it, I’d assume the Lotus 49 in iRacing is easier to drive than the one in GPL?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Really good article James. And eventhough your numbers for racing game owners vs actual users can be disputed then your point that the difference between the 2 numbers need explanation is pretty valid.
    My own explanation is that it has much to do with peoples self esteem and generel overestimation of own driving skills.
    Because when they become confronted with others skills(online) or others laptimes(offline) then the majority of drivers rather bury the racing game than be forced to change their estimation of own skills (=downgrade).
    Thats also the reason most peoples response when this subject turns up is to tell stories about how many wins or near wins they have instead of telling how many more good midfield (or rearfields:-)) fights they have had.

    Like

    1. Maybe that is valid for those sims based too much on competition. For Assetto Corsa, which has competition too, but it also has another group who just wants to enjoy the cars and the tracks. For sure we also get frustrated when we can’t achieve those competitive lap times, but we keep trying and we also keep driving the cars and tracks, either the official ones or from mods. With more we drive, slowly we get better at it, although perfect training plays a role in how good you can become.

      Like

  13. I really miss single-player modes. GTR 2 had a lot of championships to go through, F1 World Grand Prix had a lot of fun scenario modes, Richard Burns had the rally school and then the whole calendar. Before then, the Grand Prix games had fun manuals with the basics, even F1 Challenge ’99-02 had 4 seasons to pick from – although not a progressive career – and a fun manual.

    All of our current titles are missing in aspects, usually on the single-player experience side, progressing much in the same way we’ve seen the general games progress in the past 8 years. Core parts are now missing and referred to as “features,” and the players are left to find their enjoyment online, having to rely on others to setup something they like. Being in leagues isn’t too helpful either due to many aspects, especially the missing part of ‘pick-up and play’ fun. Only Assetto Corsa has those Special Events, which provides a little bit to do for a few minutes, but there aren’t many updates to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m currently in the middle of a retirement from racing myself. I’m not sure if or when I’ll be back. My biggest problem is a lack of free time. These simulators demand a lot of practice time on the track in order to succeed, and I’m not the type who enjoys running at the back. I won’t race just to race if it means I’m going to embarrass myself. I love the competition, I just don’t have the time to stay competitive.

    Like

    1. In 1 hour of practice you should get a decently balanced setup and figure out the best strategy. You won’t set the World on fire but you’ll be competitive. Surely you have 1 hour per week…

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      1. Not only that. He’d become competitive by simply keep racing and putting together that one hour of practice in a week.
        But I guess he is the kind of person that practice 500 laps before every race and get mad when finish 2nd and probably flame if someone just think about touching his car in a race lol worst kind of sim racer

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      2. I’m not that good, sorry. 😛 Last race I ran was a GT style event at R2P. I had most of the morning to practice and felt pretty good. Race time comes and I find I’m 4 seconds off the pace. I ran middle of the pack just by being conservative for about 2/3 of the race, then made one mistake and destroyed the car.

        The majority of my sim experience is with stock cars. I can show up to a stock car race in most any sim and be comfortable in an hour or less.

        It’s the other stuff that gets me. I had some success in prototypes running in endurance leagues in rF1. GT cars, so-so. Open wheel, I’m hopeless.

        So you’re right, if I had the time I probably could, if I decided to stick with stock cars. I’ve been doing those since NASCAR Racing 2. Eventually it gets old.

        Like

  15. Just like if you decide to regularly invest some of your spare time in a physical sport this is nothing different.
    Its just a question of priorities.

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  16. I agree with 99% of the article. Only thing that I don’t see as valid is the point about iRacing. The names you mentioned are mainstays in the community and are considered the best of the best oval side (for the most part). There are an extreme amount of oval guys with pro licenses that I didn’t know existed. Just because the same mainstay players are still there doesn’t mean the competition is stale. Take for example the GT3 series on iRacing. On a weekday night you will get 100+ drivers in a random night race with 3-4 splits. The weekend SOF races now get 200+ drivers with 7-8 splits. On the SOF races, of course you will get your same top 5 guys going for the win but anytime you join one of these races about 70% of the field you don’t recognize. I know you hate it but I got to say, if you are serious about sim racing, iRacing is really the only alternative for multiplayer.

    Like

    1. LOL, i was about to say the same thing. Uses the fact that he was once in a race with a few of the most dedicated guys in the service as the basis for an argument that there are no new players.

      There are plenty of new players, the turnover at the top is just small, the best will always be the best, its rare someone new comes up to supplant the top guys. Just look at Huttu, he’s been the best for years and years. That in no way shape or form means there are no new people, just shows how damn good he is.

      Like

  17. People can’t drive… what a sore point and true. It’s not like simple track driving instructions come bundled in current sims. 99% of people can’t drive a real car on real roads on a sedate pace and virtual racers, some of who are not of legal driving age are expected to be up there with the 1% as you say without any coaching, or a goddamn tutorial a’la GTR2/RBR? Who explains concepts like weight transfer or heating cycles or practice until your nose bleeds?
    Where is it explained what an apex is? Or why after negotiating a corner and you suddenly fly off track that likely means you clipped the grass with a tire without even noticing? Things like this are common sense for someone in the business for 5 years or more but someone coming into simracing currently has a hard time easing into it. And they usually end up in the T1 wreck fest along with all the trolls who enjoy fucking up the days of strangers over an internet connection.
    This whole people can’t drive things is the single most infuriating thing even topping “the sim i play right now is the best sim” fanboys.

    Like

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