Another YouTube video analysis to start off the weekend? Sure, why not?
So I took a trip to the Forza Motorsport subreddit last night, and discovered this absolute gem of a video which has been making the rounds across sim racing communities far and wide by the looks of it. Built into the online component of Forza Motorsport 6 by default is a simplified organized online racing option dubbed “Leagues”, and this mode of play is intended to sort-of-but-n0t-really replicate the kind of competitive format seen in iRacing. Someone may have to correct me on this, as I’m not too big into Forza and haven’t properly tested this out for myself at my bro’s place, but the format essentially combines long-ish races with semi-scheduled start times and a strict race format – sometimes it’s old-school Grand Prix cars, other times, as you can see in the video above, it’s the brand new Mazda Miata Playboy Cup entry.
The idea was to give the hardcore Forza players a place to race competitively without dealing with the numerous shit disturbers found in public lobbies, and so far the inclusion of the mode has been fairly well received. There are a lot of guys who love what Forza Motorsport offers on the Xbox One, and being able to treat it like a pseudo-PC sim among like-minded individuals is a welcome change of pace from the three lap affairs and emphasis on car collecting. Say what you’d like about the Forza franchise, but at least Turn 10 is bothering to explore this route at all.
However, the video above, uploaded by a user named Seven Motorsport, indicates that the mode fares much better on paper than it does in execution. Even the Elite Level Drivers – Forza enthusiasts supposedly well-beyond the skill range of casual players, struggle to partake in an online experience that vaguely resembles realistic auto racing. The Mazda Miata is not a difficult car to drive – it’s actually quite slow – and some of the tracks allow for six wide racing, but that doesn’t stop almost the entire field from destroying itself time and time again. Upon analyzing why some of the wrecks occur by watching the video two or even three times to discover why certain crashes develop, none of these are standard racing incidents that are the product of too many cars occupying a confined space. Some of these guys are seriously fucking awful, blowing even the most obvious of braking points or outright ignoring other cars, and none of this can be fixed by just buying a fancy racing wheel. It all has me concerned for the future of sim racing, but you’ll have to hear me out as to why poor drivers could help shape the genre – and not in a good way.
Gran Turismo will be evolving into a product resembling iRacing, albeit for Sony’s PlayStation 4. The next iteration of Forza Motorsport will most likely have some sort of organized racing element; a step up from the Leagues functionality already built into Forza 6. And regardless of how you feel about their constantly evolving tire model, the commercial success and overall positive rapport of iRacing has made it crystal clear to all other developers that this is the way to go when it comes to building a modern racing simulator. I’d say beginning in 2017, the whole concept of offline racing simulators might be on their way out; games built on isiMotor technology like Automobilista and rFactor 2, who exist solely to provide a smorgasbord of auto racing endeavors to sim racing enthusiasts, are generating abysmal numbers that are quite frankly embarrassing for the teams involved, while iRacing and Gran Turismo Sport continue to reel in new members attracted to just how sketchy a virtual racing session can be when you’re penalized for fucking up. I, for one, welcome this new approach to driving games. Being able to drive at maximum attack in a competitive environment is a lot more exhilarating when you’re rewarded for finishing well, and punished when you fuck up.
But across any piece of software that chooses to progress in this direction of hyper-competitive and meticulously structured environment, the experience is only as good as the drivers you’re banging doors with – or in this case, the drivers who are slamming into your rear bumper at mach three. Gran Turismo Sport might be a lot of fun on paper, but wading through a minefield of damaged race cars from the opening corner explosion is going to get old in a hurry. As you can see from the Forza video linked at the beginning of the article, these races aren’t a lot of fun to participate it. Sure, the field may feature a gaggle of talented drivers who have gotten enough fluke wins to make it into the Elite division, but none of this matters if even the best drivers can’t fucking drive.
So my fear is that these structured mainstream racing simulators are going to become immensely popular for a short period – maybe a year or so – and then the fad will die out. Yes, I’m aware there are quite good drivers on iRacing, and routinely you can participate in races that are every bit as exciting as the real deal you can see at the physical track each weekend. I’m not denying that. However, the people on iRacing are a special bunch. Many of them spent years playing other console games or even rival racing simulators before growing tired of the public lobby environment and converting to iRacing. The crowd you see on iRacing right now, they are the best of the best – save for the groups of people who just aren’t convinced by the physics and continue to stick with ISI stuff.
This means that the people on Forza, Gran Turismo, Assetto Corsa, and even Project CARS… the talent pool isn’t quite there, because the talent part of the talent pool has migrated to iRacing. So we fast forward to 2017 or 2018, when all of these franchises have bought into the organized racing concept – each with their own spin on the classic structure – and the quality of action on the virtual track is absolutely nothing to write home about. In fact, it’s terrible. And this is because of the simple fact that auto racing is actually quite difficult; it’s why we sat down and wrote an entire guide on it. Not everyone possesses the skills to navigate through traffic and survive the full length of a simulated online race.
As a result, the organized racing fad will quickly die out. People will become extremely frustrated, because the game is simply asking too much of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Forza is doing with their Leagues stuff, and it would be cool to try this among a more hardcore crowd when Forza Motorsport 7 hits Windows 10 in the future, but it just doesn’t work for the current crop of Forza players on the Xbox One, nor will it work for PS4 owners with Gran Turismo Sport. They aren’t experienced enough to conduct online races that are genuinely enjoyable to be apart of.
And when they realize things aren’t getting better, and they’re still getting wrecked out of each race, or blown out by the lone alien in the field, they’ll put the game down. Forza Motorsport 7 may interest them, but when a copycat leagues system hits Assetto Corsa 2, they’ll think “oh man, not this shit again, Forza leagues were a wreckfest because nobody can drive.” Interest will slowly be lost, and by 2020, nobody will really bother with racing games as a whole – by then, developers will have all bought into the online event fad in one way or another, and all it will do is give customers painful nightmares of track-blocking wrecks.
The solution to this inevitable demise is actually quite simple. Released in 2006 by The Artist Formerly Known As SimBin, GTR 2 featured an extremely in-depth driving school that served to bring all novice sim racers up to speed on the finer elements of race craft. Unlike the frustrating license tests found in the Gran Turismo franchise, GTR 2’s driving school provided participants with the maximum track time possible while teaching them essential driving skills that they would absolutely need when racing among a pack of over 30 FIA GT entries that could reach 170 mph with ease. Some sim racers still credit this mode for helping them understand the science behind driving a race car, but for some strange reason, no other developer has bothered to include this in a modern title. Forza, Gran Turismo, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa just sort of throw a whole bunch of driving assists at you, hoping you’ll figure it out on your own, and this results in hundreds of guys barrelling into turn one without a fucking clue as to what they’re doing. This won’t be fun to deal with in Gran Turismo Sport or Forza Motorsport 7, and as you can see in the footage, it still exists in the highest level of competition.
It’s like all of these developers have bought you your first bicycle and told you how to install the fancy training wheels if you fall and skin your knee, but left it completely up to each individual user to become competent on the race track. If auto racing was really that easy, why the fuck do hundreds of dedicated performance driving & racing schools exist across the world? Hell, why does Madden have this mammoth tutorial mode teaching you how to throw patterns and read defenses, but when it comes to ultra-sophisticated racing simulators, you’re just sort of placed on track and told not to hurt yourself?
Developers, I’m all for the new wave of racing simulators, where everything revolves around organized races, stat tracking, safety ratings, and skill level tiers. I think it adds that little bit of extra fear that is otherwise non-existent due to the fact that you’re not sitting in a physical race car with all the potential in the world to send you to the hospital if you fuck things up. However, a whole lot of people absolutely suck at driving virtual race cars, because this shit isn’t exactly easy, and the experience will be completely ruined if 90% of the rooms are populated by guys who would literally be deemed a hazard on a real race track. If you want to start including this organized element in your modern racing simulators en masse, some sort of advanced training mode is a necessity in every game. Failure to do so will lead to a situation where the genre explodes in popularity for a short time, only for the majority of users to leave out of frustration because the experience is equivalent to bumper cars at their local fairgrounds. Take a good hard look at that Miata video, and ask what you can do as a developer to ensure your customers aren’t embarrassing themselves just trying to complete a lap in traffic.