Though the overall sales numbers imply titles like Project CARS and Assetto Corsa are dominating the sim racing landscape, comparing the data of active users listed on Steamcharts alongside the nightly count posted on the iRacing Member’s site has made one thing extremely clear: competing against people from around the world is what the majority of avid sim racers are interested in doing when they sit down in front of their plastic steering wheel for the night.
Combining scheduled start times with incredibly detailed stat tracking and progression systems, iRacing is in a league of it’s own when it comes to the overall Multiplayer experience, and it’s utterly fascinating that no other sim racing developer has bothered to try and copy their success. Halfway through 2016, it’s shocking that iRacing has established itself as a monolithic entity in our little hobby – completely uncontested, I might add – while simulators such as Automobilista, Assetto Corsa, and Project CARS are stuck using an outdated server browser that would be more at home in Counter-Strike or Battlefield than in a genre where practice and organization is every bit as essential to the virtual rendition as it is for the real thing.
But because iRacing’s driving physics aren’t adored by everyone, even as the multiplayer component has achieved near-universal acclaim from even some of its harshest critics, and the resourceful sim racers among us have opted to try and replicate the magic formula of iRacing within their own favorite set of simulators – a task even the developers of these titles themselves haven’t bothered with. And it was cool to see a project like Race2Play come to fruition back in the day – a website offering an iRacing-like experience for owners of games powered by the ISI Motor engine – but it admittedly hasn’t caught on to the extent of the original inspiration. The site has seen much better days, and current car counts for the modern crop of racing simulators offered are abysmal. SimRacingSystem, an in-game application spawned by diehard Portugese sim racers and primarily intended to boost the competitive online racing scene within Assetto Corsa, barely managed to last a handful of months before they too also began to suffer from extreme car count issues, with only one or two races per day attracting a respectable field of drivers. Obviously, if you don’t live in a very specific time zone, you’re shit out of luck when it comes to these platforms, and both of them will be utterly useless to you.
So regardless of how great these two projects were on paper, as well as in execution, not enough people were using them at the end of the day, and both outlets faded into relative obscurity. In an era where sim racers are literally kicking and screaming for an iRacing competitor or clone for that matter, neither project did enough to reel in a sizeable audience past a simple Reddit post or two, and we’re basically starting from scratch all over again. Sim racers tried twice, failed twice, and still we sit here with no real iRacing competitor that a whole bunch of people have adopted – which in the end makes it worth while.
What’s the solution to this problem? I’ll rattle off a few suggestions that might sound good on paper.
- Bandwagoning. No longer should RaceDepartment be advertising for their club races, it’s time for them to shill for SimRacingSystem, and work with the Portugese guys to hold officially sanctioned RaceDepartment championships through that application. Race2Play needs a massive presence and constant news articles on VirtualR. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say bandwagonning. I don’t care which project we bandwagon, because in my opinion they’re both quite good and don’t suffer from any tangible flaws, but the entire scene – news sites and all – need to pick up the torch and say “we’re all going to use this solution for organized racing.” Absolutely everybody needs to be in on this, completely disregarding any previous financial arrangements. It’ll be worth it when we always have 20 people to race with after work, instead of waiting for Saturday morning to play R3E with the European dudes.
- Acquisition. Word on the street is that Kunos Simulazioni paid a group of community modders something like $400 USD for the Nissan Skyline R34 model, and the Third Party Affiliate program created by Image Space Incorporated has been deemed a success by all twenty people still actively playing rFactor 2. Why stop there? Your average sim racer is not going to spend long hours on Reddit combing through month-old threads to find an obscure online racing app made by some random guys in Portugal. Is $600 to $800 really that much to throw at these guys in order to implement the basic Sim Racing System software into Assetto Corsa under the fancy name of Assetto World? If it’s an option in the menu, people are going to click on it, and dive head-first into this strange new way of playing a hardcore racing simulator. If it’s buried on page 8 of some message board that not everybody reads, of course people will abandon it after a month.
Both options sound pretty reasonable on paper. We’ve either got to bandwagon one of the two current options to the point where everybody knows about them, or a developer needs to come alone and snatch up one of these entities – as one basic financial transaction is a small price to pay to label yourselves as a genuine alternative to iRacing. With the diverse roster of cars and locations available in stuff like Automobilista or RaceRoom Racing Experience, who wouldn’t want an iRacing-like structure to the online format?
Your Sony Walkman hasn’t been in style for seventeen years, and neither are these clunky server browsers which serve no purpose for a highly sophisticated online racing environment. When one game makes a massive dent in the market and only continues to expand, it’s beyond retarded to ignore what made that game so special, and why people are flocking to it. iRacing proves that sim racers love racing against each other rather than artificial intelligence, and iRacing also proves that sim racers love when online races have meaning. It’s insanity to continue pumping out simulators that look, feel, and play no differently as a complete product than they did in 2006.
And it’s also insanity to keep churning out these third party online racing applications, praying that “this time, it will catch on, even if we offer nothing different compared to the application that came before us…”
I’m not even going to do an overview of JustRace. I’m not going to name the creators, or explore the website in any meaningful way. Race2Play is dying. SimRacingSystem did not attract even a fraction of the audience that would make it worthwhile to use. Yet rather than evaluate why people aren’t using either of these two programs, already we’ve been hit with a third. Spoiler: People aren’t using it, either.
Actually, hold the fuck on, now we’ve got four. Please welcome OVRTAKE into the ring, a premium online racing interface built specifically for Assetto Corsa. Whereas the three programs mentioned above are all free, you’ve got to pay for this one – and of course, there aren’t any guarantees that once you pay the entry free, there will be anybody to race with. I guess that’s what the free trial is for.
This is fucking insanity. I want to shake my monitor and yell STOP at these colossal fucking idiots for over-saturating a market that literally doesn’t have an audience to begin with. Look at those servers listed above, just look at the multiple goose eggs in the screenshot I provided. Servers across multiple online racing programs are barren wastelands, save for five cars in a GT3 room, which is simply not enjoyable under any circumstances. We’ve literally got four fucking groups of people all building the same shit, and with sim racing clearly not having the overall community size seen in other genres like first person shooters or online battle arenas, these four groups are dividing by zero when it comes to attracting users to their application. There is literally competition over zero users.
I feel like this is some sort of indie art piece, that’s how obscure the concept of four groups fighting over zero users is to me. Race2Play is dying. SimRacing System fizzled out in ridiculously quick fashion. JustRace is dead on arrival. And now somebody wants me to pay to look at an empty list of servers on Ovrtake? What’s next? Is Assetto Corsa 2 a word document? The pre-order DLC for Project CARS 2 a signed picture of Ian Bell with his family? Will developers make us pay them to market their games?
Un-fucking-real. This is a special kind of hell.