When it comes to the Viral Marketing efforts of Slightly Mad Studios, it appears nothing is off-limits. After essentially buying out the largest sim racing news outlet back in the fall of 2011, and turning it into a home away from home for the highly controversial Project CARS through an excessive amount of suspiciously celebratory articles for an unbiased news outlet, the team based out of London have now taken things a step further. It simply wasn’t enough for them to have a say in how news outlets such as VirtualR and TeamVVV cover the world of sim racing; Slightly Mad Studios have now taken aim at sim racing YouTube personalities with only a few thousand views per video. The genre itself is barely popular enough on its own for significant-sized communities to thrive in all but a handful of products, and yet the folks behind Project CARS are completely focused on turning as many sim racers as they can into used car salesmen for the sequel to a simulator that wasn’t all that great to begin with.
As you can probably guess by the video linked at the top of the article, sim racing YouTube personality Yorkie065 posted a very personal message to his followers at the beginning of July outlining some of the major changes his YouTube channel would be undertaking during the final half of the 2016 calendar year. For those that need to be brought up to speed on who this guy is, and why this is being discussed on PRC.net, Yorkie is one of many sim racing YouTubers who commentate the online races they participate in out of their sheer love of the game. Admittedly, there is nothing special about Yorkie in particular – he offers videos no different than what Jeff Favignano, Stella Stig, or Gamer Muscle put out on a regular basis – but with how easy it is to put on a headset and run FRAPS in the background while bullshitting to your audience during your average online league race, the sim racing community have been blessed with an array of virtual Jeremy Clarksons, and a lot of people tend to like this sort of thing. Not everyone is a fantastic sim racer out of the box, and many aspiring virtual drivers learn how to handle themselves on track by watching and listening to an experience competitor. Though they don’t do much for myself personally, these videos are a valuable asset to the sim racing community. We have no less than twenty people in the community trying to be a virtual Chris Harris or Richard Hammond, and while things can get a bit over-saturated at times, there’s no denying that tons of people eat this stuff up.
After amassing over one million total views, and playing every modern simulator on the market – from Assetto Corsa to RaceRoom Racing Experience – Yorkie makes the surprise announcement in the above video that he’s been hired by Slightly Mad Studios, and they will no longer allow him to upload content on his personal sim racing YouTube channel unless he is playing a game created by Slightly Mad Studios. Yorkie goes on to say that he will be involved in the development of Project CARS 2 as one of the individuals tasked with creating design documentation, and uses careful language to imply that the team at Slightly Mad Studios will be using his YouTube channel as an extension of their already ridiculous viral marketing campaign.
Now I don’t want to rain on this guy’s parade entirely. Yorkie indeed possesses the required credentials to attain a full-time job working for Slightly Mad Studios – this wasn’t some kid with a YouTube channel they approached in the way that Electronic Arts courted Black Panthaa back in 2015 for the release of Need for Speed. Yorkie will be actively contributing to the development of Project CARS 2 behind the scenes, rather than getting flown out to the team’s headquarters for exclusive gameplay footage and other perks that would easily sway a young adult to mindlessly praise a product. So I guess Yorkie deserves a sincere congratulations for finally making it into the industry, and having his education pay off.
However, on the other hand, I’m not cool with how Slightly Mad Studios have increased their viral marketing presence from what we saw with the original Project CARS – which was already intrusive on it’s own. As a sim racer, it sucked to visit VirtualR for months on end, and a pointless Project CARS article was always featured prominently at the top of the page – overshadowing the objectively more important pieces of news. And as much as I enjoy TeamVVV’s content thanks to Alan’s radio-friendly voice and willingness to cover the simcade titles most turn up their noses at, seeing him admit to spending sixteen hours filming Project CARS footage within the WMD member forums was just frustrating. As a Canadian who has followed the current American Presidential Election quite closely, I’m already tired of seeing major news outlets who are known financial contributors to Hillary Clinton’s campaign efforts push out article after article slamming Donald Trump. Many of us use sim racing as an escape from whatever we deal with in the real world, and it’s disappointing to see that the corruption and bias of mainstream media outlets has seeped into a niche video game genre such as sim racing.
I think a company like Slightly Mad Studios approaching an individual such as Yorkie and asking him to radically change his stream of content to appeal to their own needs is taking things way too far. I can at least respect the strategic element of essentially purchasing the genre’s biggest news outlet, because there are immediate benefits to being able to control the narrative about your own product. However, tracking down individual users with small YouTube channels and demanding them to give up their personal creativity in favor of blindly pushing your next product is just straight up anally retentive. I mean, it’s great for PRC.net, because it shows our readers that companies like Slightly Mad Studios indeed employ guerilla marketing tactics quite regularly, but for Bobby Backmarker clicking around on YouTube, this is a shitty environment to partake in. Sim Racing as a genre is already small – it’s hard to find a game to play with any sort of following, demanding to actually sit down and get good at driving a virtual race car, difficult to find an active community that doesn’t rip you apart in the forums, and incredibly challenging to find online resources you can trust. Forcing people to wade through layers upon layers of users who serve no purpose other than to sit on message boards and act as used car salesmen for the various games is just dishonest.
Thankfully, the use of viral marketing in the first place already throws up some very ominous red flags that most informed customers will adhere to without question. If you’re a company selling a product, and you need to pay people to say nice things about your product, chances are that your product isn’t all that great to begin with. The fact that we haven’t even seen Project CARS 2 in action, and already Slightly Mad Studios are recruiting random YouTubers to push the gospel of their upcoming racing simulator on a ground level says everything about what we can expect from Project CARS 2.