An article of this magnitude surely won’t live up to the insurmountable expectations of all those who are eagerly anticipating it. I can only try my best to deliver the information, and hope that I have managed to convey everything in a manner that ensures this is PRC’s Magnum Opus – the lone article acting as both a mission statement, and pristine example of what we do best.
The Internet Safety category here on PRC.net wasn’t built with CEO’s in mind. Intended to showcase the depths of which rabid fanboys would sink to in defense of their favorite racing simulator, I never imagined we’d be featuring the head of a prominent development studio in such a fashion. We’ve profiled iRacing commentators turned rapists – much to the delight of his victim, there have been articles breaking down the flurry of false DMCA claims thrown about the NASCAR Racing 2003 Season community to supress high quality mods, a fellow attending Buffalo University blaming his failure to complete University thanks to his obsession with collecting rFactor mods was one of my personal favorite pieces, and lastly, the two gentlemen on a mission to proclaim Assetto Corsa has no simulation value were given their fifteen minutes of fame – drawing attention to an ugly viral marketing problem that has plagued modern sim racing.
Developers indeed have their own section on here – entitled Developer Meltdowns, but at the end of the day, the trilogy of articles under this category are merely forum arguments where a prominent figure from one of three separate studios can be seen struggling to deal with genuine criticism. Yes, watching Stefano from Kunos ring in the New Year by flinging shit at other sim racers on RaceDepartment is a bit disappointing, but none of these instances ever crossed the line into the absurd – it was merely an asshole developer being, well, an asshole developer. As a consumer, it sucks to see the people working on these products we all love so much be a downright asshole to the fanbase – it’s the equivalent of a Stone Temple Pilots fan meeting Scott Weiland backstage – but after a week or so, everybody more or less forgets about it, and moves on.
The champion of sim racing… let’s call them what they are… autists… was always supposed to be a community member, and not a developer. Whether it’s Associat0r from the land of rFactor 2, Spork-Juct from Facepunch, or hijinxtattoo from SimRacingDesign, folks like these were individuals who sim racers were intended to use as an example of what happens when you literally don’t leave your basement for years on end. Developers were supposed to carefully keep these rogue members in a corner, where they could do as little damage to the community environment as possible. Developers most certainly weren’t supposed to become one of them. Yet today, I am both incredibly proud and utterly disgusted to introduce The Undisputed World Champion of Sim Racing Mongoloids: The CEO of Slightly Mad Studios.
But before we crown our victor, it’s important we set the scene, and explain how we got to this point.
Provided you’ve had an active internet connection within the past two years, and display even a remote interest in auto racing video games, you’ve most likely heard of a title by the name of Project CARS. Released for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Steam distribution platform in May 0f 2015, the hardcore auto racing simulator was intended to fill a much needed gap on next generation consoles thanks to a distinct lack of Gran Turismo, and a woeful Turn 10 Studios release in Forza Motorsport 5. Brought to life by the UK-based Slightly Mad Studios crew, and powered by their Madness engine – an offshoot of the trusty isiMotor powerplant behind most PC racing simulators – the game was essentially a cross between Need for Speed Shift and GTR Evolution; it looked like a next generation console game should and was properly fleshed out with loads of modes and features, but drove like the PC racing simulators most console owners didn’t immediately have access to. On paper, it sounded sweet – the best of both worlds.
The title was built through a unique crowdfunding system not using the Steam Early Access Platform, allowing users to donate upwards of hundreds or even thousands of their own income to aid in the development of the game – receiving special forum privileges or forum access to provide feedback for the title and truly shape the game into being something every racing fan wanted. However, when over 30,000 individuals bought into the program, Slightly Mad Studios realized they straight up could not listen to every goddamn person, and instead pushed many active contributors into being viral marketers. You could not visit a single sim racing forum without some brainwashed group of idiots proclaiming that Project CARS would wipe the floor with the competition upon release. As a backer at one of the lowest levels, I was able to see a message board thread in which Project CARS supporters were actively search for links or discussions being skeptical of the game, or critical of preview builds, and instructing members to attack or discredit the author. As if that wasn’t enough, VirtualR, the biggest and traditionally the most reputable sim racing news site, was bought out by Slightly Mad Studios, and promptly began pushing Project CARS propaganda at a nauseating rate.
After three delays throughout the initial months of 2015, and stories of financial backers getting the boot from the program for merely questioning the quality of the game so close to release, Project CARS fell flat onto it’s face when launch day arrived. I’ve sat down and reviewed this game on three separate occasions for PretendRaceCars.net, so I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the title and can provide insight about the product on multiple levels.
First and foremost, I’m an American Stock Car guy, and when I gave the Chevrolet Lumina a proper shakedown prior to launch, its performance was highly inaccurate compared to the real thing. Considering this is a racing simulator, getting even the most basic aspects flat-out wrong is a big deal for a game supposedly taking input from 30,000 hardcore auto racing enthusiasts. Next, I penned a piece which discussed the history of the project, before evaluating reviews and initial reports from a massive amount of various sources. Those who had bought Project CARS and didn’t write for mainstream gaming media outlets spoke of a game with such horrendous shovelware-tier bugs, many had already requested refunds, returned the game, or shelved it in anticipation of a future patch. Finally, when I sat down to review the Game of the Year Edition – a bundle featuring all available downloadable content, as well as the Xbox One version my buddy had acquired for $20, I struggled to see how anyone could take this game seriously. Unless you were playing the game in a casual manner – so intentionally configuring races without pit stops, tire wear, long races, difficult AI, or multi-session events – you would be subjected to an abundance of glitches, physics flaws, and irregularities that basically made you want to boot up an older PC racing sim such as GTR Evolution.
However, after the game’s launch and subsequent colossal list of issues, I found myself covering more stories regarding the antics of Slightly Mad Studios themselves. Rather than accept that Project CARS shipped with virtually no Quality Assurance testing, and the multi-platform racing simulator was loaded with a plethora of technical issues that were outright unacceptable for a major release in 2015, CEO Ian Bell and other individuals affiliated with Slightly Mad Studios proceeded to attack virtually anyone who dared to ask what the fuck they had just been sold. It is difficult to summarize Bell’s behavior, along with that of his associates, in a colorful and descriptive paragraph, so I will list off a few titles of articles we published during the summer of 2015 to drill home how utterly bizarre things had gotten. Slightly Mad Studios, and Head of Studio Ian Bell himself, were 100% delusional about their product.
- Head of Slightly Mad Studios childishly argues with forum users unhappy with the quality of Project CARS
- Project CARS Moderators Stop at Nothing to Silence Criticism
- The Complete Coverage of Ian Bell’s Canada Day Meltdown
- Financial Backers Hard At Work Defending Project CARS Despite Array of Issues
In short, the whole post-release clusterfuck surrounding Project CARS had less to do with the game itself – which was horribly broken – and more to do with how Ian Bell and Slightly Mad Studios had came down with a sudden case of emotional hemophilia. They simply could not fathom the fact that the final product did not reflect the financial resources and manpower dumped into it over a period of four years, and the active userbase graphs on SteamCharts reflected the community’s overall opinion.
We now fast forward to May of 2016. The popularity of Project CARS is at an all-time low. Ian Bell’s well-documented antics by frustrated Project CARS owners, and complete lack of respect for his audience, have both done irreversible damage on the overall reputation of Slightly Mad Studios. Project CARS 2 was officially announced immediately after the release of the original, though excitement was practically non-existent. World of Speed, a Free to Play title intended to be made public at some point in 2014, still had yet to materialize. Biker Bash, a game previewed within the internal World of Mass Development forums, just sort of disappeared. A Red Bull Air Racing game was announced, but many mocked it and fantasized of elaborate ways Slightly Mad Studios would manage to screw up airplane racing. Here on PRC.net, we continued to receive word of Project CARS being neglected, ignored, and left to rot in a state less than optimal, frustrating those who had bought into the lengthy and time-consuming development process. On many sim racing forums, Project CARS became the punch line of many jokes – a failed experiment doomed from the start due to an incompetent leader.
At some point near the end of the month, I received word from a loyal supporter of PRC and sim racing industry insider – someone who has been with us practically since the start – that Ian Bell had moved to Singapore, leaving behind both his home and Slightly Mad Studios Headquarters in the United Kingdom. Despite being around nine months late to the news – as evidenced by this public forum post someone kindly linked to us after the article went live – there was a very real and tangible reason I chose to run the story; one which will come to light at some point in the future. The simple act of a developer fleeing to the other side of the world, away from his home and place of work, is just a portion of a much bigger story that we plan to stay silent on for the time being.
Anyways, we get predictably mocked for this “non-story”, and late in the evening, the man himself – Slightly Mad Studios CEO Ian Bell – shows up in our comments section to leave the 29,000th comment on our site. After an initial amicable exchange, Ian claims his sudden move to Singapore is a carefully calculated decision – one which would benefit the “Asian Push” of Project CARS, though admittedly not essential.
There’s just one small problem: Project CARS had an international release date of May 8th, 2015. Maybe I’m just a lowly plebeian who doesn’t understand how this strange world of video game development works, but unlike first-party Nintendo 64 titles, Project CARS came out at the same time for everybody, everywhere, and was available through digital distribution platforms. Those who wanted it, have already purchased it, and judging by the Steam graphs above, most have already put it down and moved on. How do you make a specific Asian push for a game which saw an international release? Yes, there’s this random “Perfect Edition” featuring Japanese localization, but it’s not like the Japanese couldn’t obtain this game at all beginning on May 8th, 2015 – PlayAsia can back me up on that.
More dialogue continues back and forth between myself and Ian Bell, and eventually I ask what happened to World of Speed, considering a fair bit of people have been completely left in the dark on this Free to Play title.
I am left utterly perplexed by his responses. Slightly Mad Studios built World of Speed, and this is evidenced everywhere from media releases, to YouTube trailers, to the game’s Wikipedia page. Originally set for a release in 2014, as of May 2016, head of Slightly Mad Studios Ian Bell has “no clue” what has happened with a game his own team allegedly built. He claims the project was contract work, and the game was sent to the owner for “polishing and publishing”, but everywhere I look, the ones listed who would responsible for polishing and publishing appear to be Slightly Mad Studios themselves. I’m totally lost, but predictably, I am told I do not understand video game development, even as other PRC readers chime in with essentially the same basic questions I’m asking.
Instead, Ian asks me to call him. And add him on Facebook.
These comments began appearing in my WordPress notifications app around 10:00PM local time, on a Tuesday night to close out May 2016. Now for some background information, I’m based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and I work a shift where I have to be up at five in the morning because old people are my spirit animals. At this exact moment, as these comments start rolling into PRC, I am literally sitting in my jammies on Teamspeak with a few of my mates, in zero mood to have any sort of professional conversation with the head of a Triple-A Game Development Studio. I have no recording equipment set up for an audio interview, nor do I have a word document containing a list of specific questions to ask the CEO of Slightly Mad Studios. I literally had just finished up a few games of the EA Sports classic NFL Street, and was planning to head to bed after bidding farewell to my internet homies.
Ian demands I fuck myself over at work in the morning, drop absolutely everything, and place a long distance call to his cell-phone in Singapore, at 10:30PM on a Tuesday night. Nah, not happening. Yet before I really get a chance to digest how truly absurd this situation is, Ian begins to call us all cowards for not conducting a spontaneous interview. I repeat, this is the CEO of a video game company who’s biggest release last year sold over one million copies.
And then he discovers my email address.
What follows has been documented in the picture above; Ian Bell promptly channels his inner crazy ex-girlfriend and spends the better part of ninety minutes periodically begging me to call his cell phone in Singapore. Had I done a quick mock-up in photoshop and replaced a picture of a drunk Ian Bell at a St. Patrick’s Day parade with a generic piece of jailbait, giving him the upper-class suburban name of Ashley, Brittney, or Courtney, his messages are indistinguishable from those of a girl with severe daddy issues.
Wondering if I can actually get anywhere from conversing with him, I chose to reply by asking Ian to provide a unique picture to confirm his identity – after all, there was a chance this was just some kid from 4Chan playing an elaborate and admittedly fucking hilarious prank. Ian provides me with a picture of his family instead – then asking me to add him on Facebook because, and I quote: “I think we’re friends now.”
This did not help things. Again, I receive a diverse platter of short messages over another ninety minute span, encouraging me to conduct a spontaneous interview with Slightly Mad Studios CEO Ian Bell when everyone else in the house is asleep. I’m clearly not interested, and made an effort to explain the concept of time zones, but instead, Ian continues to call me a coward, ask me to add him on Facebook, and call him. When he sees me shitposting in the comments section of PRC, ignoring his messages altogether, he becomes increasingly agitated.
By my own calculations, I passed out around thirty minutes after the clock struck midnight, but this did not deter the CEO of Slightly Mad Studios in the slightest. His tirades eventually grew longer, arriving in my inbox long after I had lost consciousness. He tries to argue that VirtualR remained unbiased towards Project CARS, that no viral marketing for Project CARS took place, Slightly Mad Studios staff members never attacked customers, and that the multi-platform racing simulator met all promises made in the initial pitch, but I’m not exactly awake to argue. I don’t need to be. This dude is straight-up not living in the same reality as we are, his ramblings indicated a genuine problem could be the sign of a Cluster B personality disorder. I can only call it like I see it.
So I wake up for work around five in the morning – sorry to disappoint you all, but PRC isn’t my full time job – and once I stumble around a bit in search of my phone, I see that Ian’s meltdown lasted a full six hours. I was still receiving Emails from this guy at three in the morning local time; the onslaught beginning just after ten at night. His final message, arriving at 3:31am, compliments me on a selfie I had taken in my old bathroom almost three years ago. Of all the crazy shit that’s happened in 2016 so far, I think the CEO of a video game company calling a dated selfie of mine “cute” at three in the morning is near the top. For the record, first place goes to my car owner trying to intentionally wreck me during the first race of the season as a rite of passage.
This is what happens when you speak your mind in the world of sim racing. Merely drawing attention to the fact that the CEO of the largest sim racing development team – a developer who’s credentials include partnerships with Red Bull, Electronic Arts, and Namco Bandai – randomly moved to the other side of the planet, apparently warrants six hours of obsessive emails typically composed by clingy teenagers. Had I received any of these exact emails from a girl I’d previously slept with, speed limits would be mere suggestions during my journey to the nearest police station.
Yet even after this article goes live, rabid fanboys, viral marketers, and mentally unstable apologists will somehow act as if this is totally okay – that the head of a Triple-A development studio is perfectly within reason to spend six hours requesting a spontaneous interview, and then proceeding to go on angry tirades well after you’ve fallen asleep – all because you wrote an article informing your readers of something that had been made public in the game’s official forums nine months ago.
This is sim racing in 2016. Some people aren’t here to race. We should probably make a collective effort to change this before it gets out of hand.
How do I feel about Slightly Mad Studios as a developer, after all of this?
Tom Thacker is the ultimate definition of a liberal cuck, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening to Gob. Kurt Warner desperately needs to cut back on the bible-thumping, but he will always be my favorite NFL quarterback. Top level NASCAR is rigged to all hell, but you can’t deny some races this season have been incredibly fucking awesome. And I’m going to take the same stance with Slightly Mad Studios. For the CEO of their company to act in the manner that’s been documented above is nothing short of appalling, but if the Red Bull game comes out within my life time, and it’s a lot of fun, I’ll be the first to tell you how awesome it is. However, judging by initial feedback in the closed beta forum, things aren’t looking too hot.