The widespread popularity and overall brand recognition the team over in Bedford Massachusetts have achieved with their iRacing.com software has effectively put an end to a major debate within the sim racing community: there is simply no substitute for online racing against live competition. The sheer size of iRacing’s userbase compared to the relatively tiny core audiences of other modern auto racing simulators is a pretty substantial indication that developers must embrace the new era of online motorsports events which iRacing has pioneered – scheduled start times, detailed statistical analysis, and harsh penalties for childish behavior. Unfortunately, developers continue to treat iRacing’s success as an oddity. Titles such as Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, Automobilista, and RaceRoom Racing Experience all ship with generic server browsers that are a relic of yesteryear, and this plays an integral role in the long term success of each title. While the four aforementioned games may feature a more competent and accurate physics engine powering the driving experience, iRacing continues to trump their rivals by offering virtual racers an entire online career to explore.
The only racing sim to come along and give iRacing a run for it’s money in terms of popularity, would be the little racing simulator developed by Vallelunga’s Kunos Simulazioni. Assetto Corsa’s beautiful graphics, clever marketing campaign, and a vast array of third party modding tools stole some of iRacing’s thunder, but many players quickly found themselves without much to do in the online portion of the simulator. With obvious gaps in functionality, and minimal effort to accommodate the needs of serious online racing leagues, Assetto Corsa’s online environment quickly became overrun with casual servers. While there were a bunch of people playing Assetto Corsa, there weren’t many people racing in Assetto Corsa – most online rooms were dedicated to hastily converted rFactor drift mods, or Nordschleife tourist sessions that descended into crash-up derbies.
The small group of avid sim racers over at Sim Racing Portugal have attempted to breathe life into Assetto Corsa, as well as other unstructured racing simulators, by building a program they’ve named Sim Racing System – a tool which essentially provides titles you probably already own with a type of online career mode, equivalent to the experience offered within iRacing. The grassroots marketing campaign executed primarily by early adopters of the program has began to pop up around a few message boards and Facebook groups, excited over the program’s potential, as this more or less gives people a reason to race rather than endlessly run half-assed laps around the Nordschleife in supercars.
I don’t feel the same way. In fact, I’m actually a bit confused. Very confused. Someone’s already made a program that’s objectively superior to what SRP have built with Sim Racing System. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here and be the resident mongoloid, as it obviously took a lot of man hours to get their program to function and these fellows indeed deserve a pat on the back for completing the project, but we have this already. We didn’t exactly need another one. And not only has a program like Sim Racing System already been assembled and it’s free for you to enter, but it’s been polished to near-perfection over a period of several years.
The brainchild of Tim MacArthur, an individual iRacing once brought to court many years ago, Race2Play was literally one guy’s attempt at building something like iRacing, but better. MacArthur took what people liked about iRacing – the scheduled start times, detailed stat tracking, and emphasis on clean driving – and proceeded to go the extra mile in an effort to prove iRacing wasn’t anything special. As someone who’s driven in almost 50 different events within his virtual playground, I can safely say that MacAthur has succeeded with flying colours. Not only does Race2Play mirror the iRacing experience almost completely, he’s managed to improve on what iRacing offers. Each event spits out an automated race recap, and users are welcome to submit their own screenshots. You can give reputation points to individual drivers you enjoyed battling with. Sim racers who stumble upon fantastic third party mods or tracks for any one of the several isiMotor sims featured are allowed to submit these pieces of content to be added into the list of available cars and tracks. Each type of car features its own individual iRating – something longtime iRacers have literally begged for on a yearly basis. Those willing to bust out the credit card for a premium membership can create their own teams and officially ranked series with their own custom schedule, race format, and points system, but merely existing and participating in races on the service is completely free.
The icing on the cake, is that Race2Play is incredibly polished. In my 49 events on the service, there have been basically no technical issues aside from those exhibited by the simulation software itself. Not only is MacArthur’s service objectively more in-depth than iRacing, it also fucks up less, too. And paying for it was optional. On the flip side, Sim Racing System offers none of the above aside from basic scheduled events and leaderboards, with the creators begging for more entrants to help stress test their service. As someone who’s already a regular on Race2Play, I have zero incentive to try this clearly inferior software out. I understand voicing this publicly may make me sound like a dick, but we really only needed one piece of software to interpret post race XML files and put them into a fancy website that keeps track of statistics. There wasn’t really a point to building another one, especially when the software that already exists is as established and polished as Race2Play.
A lot of people jumping on the Sim Racing System bandwagon believe the new software will revolutionize how people play Assetto Corsa in particular, and I’m here to say that’s just not the case. Assetto Corsa is one of several titles which Race2Play fully supports, and the participation level in events taking place within Assetto Corsa has been nothing short of abysmal. The upcoming list of events barely manages to reel in more than five individuals, and with not everyone turning up for the race, the numbers below don’t even represent the field size on the grid when the lights go out.
There are also claims that organized racing software will help improve the overall quality of on-track action, and as someone who’s competed in at least 37 hours of racing in the past few months alone (most races on Race2Play run from 30 to 45 minutes), crunching numbers and spitting out generic safety ratings won’t magically turn the majority of the field into competent drivers. Below is on-board footage from another participant in the aforementioned GT3 race at Sears Point, and it’s really not the image of some otherworldly experience you’ve got in your mind. The guy gets dumped at the start and spends the rest of his race running in his own zip code – as is the norm in any public lobby.
I’ll also include the clusterfuck of a Porsche Carrera Cup race at Oschersleben that’s mentioned in the intro of Black Flag, just for good measure. I don’t expect people to sit here and watch fifteen minutes worth of online racing, but if you get far enough into both videos, you’ll see what I mean about the quality of driving:
Sim racers are definitely a fickle bunch of hardcore gamers. They enjoy crowdfunding titles, but in the end don’t actually play the content they’ve crowdfunded. They spend copious amounts of income on optional sim racing hardware, but very rarely does their level of talent reflect how much they’ve spent on their “rig.” They claim a majority of each title’s userbase primarily spend time in the offline portion of the title, yet iRacing – an online only simulator – remains the most popular hardcore racing title by an extremely large margin. Hell, we’ve even seen people claim iRacing is a bargain at nearly $900 for the complete package of content, and then state $7 is too much for a document that teaches them how to be a more competent online racer. So I guess it’s perfectly in line for the community to outright ignore an already established online racing service that both mimics and surpasses iRacing, only to get excited about an identical service with only a fraction of the features.
This isn’t a battle between rival racing simulators, where each piece of software has a set of pros and cons that will appeal to different tastes. We’re talking about an automated program that hosts races for like-minded drivers, and then interprets an XML results file to spit out data back to the website. We only needed one of these, especially seeing as how Race2Play consistently struggles to fill grid spots on a daily basis despite the quality of the software powering it. Now that we have two programs, an already small group of dedicated drivers will be split in half. Instead of being lucky to share the track with eleven other drivers, we’re now going to have five or six. Grid: Autosport boasts bigger online fields.
It feels as if the boys behind Sim Racing System are the kids back in high school who read the wrong side of the whiteboard before dipping out of the room prematurely, and accidentally completed last night’s homework assignment all over again. As I’ve said earlier, no disrespect is meant towards the team, as their software obviously works and they indeed deserve a cookie for their efforts in building something like this from the ground up, but Race2Play existing for several years and being a fantastic product sort of makes their efforts a bit pointless.