Tony Stewart’s return to NASCAR Sprint Cup competition this week after a nasty preseason injury made headlines for all the wrong reasons, as Stewart was immediately fined upwards of $35,000 for drawing attention to a potential safety hazard. NASCAR has not required teams to ensure all five lug nuts are installed prior to the vehicle leaving pit lane; a scenario which Stewart rightfully claims could injure competitors in a spectacular fashion. With NASCAR’s push for a safe racing environment dating all the way back to the events of the 2001 Daytona 500, a push that has seen everything from the HANS Device to Safer Barriers become mainstream technology, it’s highly hypocritical of the Florida-based sanctioning body to allow drivers to leave pit lane without the goddamn wheels properly attached to the car. Rather than take a serious look at the concerns brought up by a respected driver, NASCAR opted to instead penalize a three time champion.
Those who have taken the time to explore the virtual world and subsequent community message boards offered by Slightly Mad Studios for their newest racing simulator, Project CARS, are all too familiar with this situation. Desperate to cover up the numerous technical issues with their title, the team from the United Kingdom have spent the past year silencing criticism of their game – even allowing the head of their entire operation to liberally run around the forums and call their own customers idiots. What was once a title that promised to revolutionize the entire genre of sim racing, is now little more than an example in how to successfully breed an army of viral marketers.
Eleven months after release, and with a Game of the Year Edition approaching, you’d think the team at Slightly Mad Studios would have began to understand that this buffoonish approach to customer relations was doing them no favors; however, the same fascist community environment still exists. You can’t point out issues on the official Project CARS forums without getting banned.
In a thread from April 18th, 2016, discussion began regarding the game’s text chat feature literally not working unless you’re physically out on the track running laps – essentially meaning you have to park your ass on the side of the road just to talk to people. Project CARS forum member Default mentions that text chat was previously possible at all times when inside an online lobby, but a recent official patch from Slightly Mad Studios broke the feature – and it still hasn’t been fixed. Super Moderator Remco Van Dijk visited the thread not to inform users that the team was working on fixing the issue, but to instead claim the staff’s feelings were hurt and instruct Default not to insult the developer. Of course, he thinks that’s an absurd response, so he lips off the moderator and receives a ban for his efforts.
Users discussing the banning of Default on Reddit quickly come to the OP’s defense, claiming the Project CARS forums were a “cult-like echo chamber”, and “history will not be forgotten when they try to market & sell the sequel.” These comments are not pulled from an unbiased subreddit with a wholly-negative view of Project CARS, but rather the official subreddit dedicated to fans of the game. If your own customers and supporters are aware that there is a tangible push to silence criticism, and are forced to explore the alternative options just to discuss the game online, you’ve probably been doing something very wrong as a developer. These kinds of rants are typically reserved for Derek Smart-like figures, whose sole intentions are to bring down a rival piece of software. None of this should be uttered by your own fans, who otherwise enjoy the game for what it is.
Default also goes on to claim his own personal experience with the game has been less than satisfactory, and keep in mind this is after nine major patches to the title. Another user chimes in to say some of the bugs listed were present in the launch-day version of the game, which was ripe full of technical issues.
User GT3Racer links to a 23 minute odyssey created by YouTube personality Stella Stig after the game’s depressing launch last may, who spends the entire duration of the footage browsing through the official Project CARS forums himself – commenting on the unprofessional approach taken by Slightly Mad Studios when conversing with their customers. Some of these customers have been on-board with the project for years, and instead they are treated like hostile enemies for questioning how the end product was less than satisfactory given the time invested into it.
When your own fans are aware that there is a mass censorship campaign underway on the game’s official forums, it’s probably time to re-think your approach to customer relations to ensure your long-term reputation isn’t affected. I get that no message board wants a billion different wishlist threads because some customers thought career mode was a bit under-developed, or they’re sad that their favorite car wasn’t included, but what’s being displayed above is an entirely different situation. We’re looking at a consumer product that shipped with demonstrable technical issues, and Slightly Mad Studios have opted to stick their fingers in their ears and label literally anyone who finds even a minor problem within their product as a “troll” with nothing better to do. It feels as if I’m watching an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, but on this occasion, there isn’t a Gordon Ramsay-like figure to lose his marbles on Ian Bell.