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.
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.
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.
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.