It’s always interesting to discover what kind of observations you can make when temporarily distancing yourself from an environment you’re familiar with. Ever since hardcore PC racing sims first gained traction with the release of Sierra’s Grand Prix Legends in 1998, the entire group of gamers who list virtual race cars as their ideal pastime have been split directly down the middle when it comes to just how they prefer to tear up the pixelated tarmac. PC sim racers love to fiddle and tinker in a sandbox-like environment, merely happy with a game that lets them drive around a prestigious race track with only the most precise of physics engines powering their experience, while console owners typically want some sort of a meaningful game built around the on-track product – and if that means plastering the world with auction houses, livery editors, and cars to collect for their virtual garages, that’s what they get. Assetto Corsa on the PC just barely skirts what constitutes a “racing simulator” but offers an insanely open-ended modding platform, while Forza Horizon 3 allows casual gamers a bite-sized version of Australia’s Gold Coast to explore – but very little in the way of authenticity. Different strokes for different folks.
And the marketing campaigns plastering each title across social media are vastly different beasts as well. Forza Horizon 3 attacked potential customers with an in-your-face attitude and promised an endless supercar party; loud trailers, rocking music, and neon colors enticing you to either take part in the third fictional Horizon festival with thousands of others across the globe, or simply upgrade to Windows 10 and discover what all the fuss is about. On the contrary, Assetto Corsa took aim at a more mature and reserved crowd. Kunos Simulazioni staff members opted to directly engage dedicated PC sim racers by corresponding with them on the game’s official message boards, building a loyal fanbase through seemingly one-on-one producer/consumer relationships that could occasionally be weaponized for their own benefit. It may not be the most exciting approach – especially from an outsider’s point of view – but it allowed those who had spent the $40 on Assetto Corsa, plus extra for the numerous DLC packs, to genuinely feel as if they were a part of the game’s on-going development. In some instances, this kind of connection with Kunos Simulazioni would allow users to feel less frustrated with a botched patch or unsatisfactory update, as they knew full well that their complaints would be heard not by a generic public relations manager, but by the men who were directly in charge of fixing the game.
These two styles of marketing lead to a scenario where the younger crowd waiting for the next scoop on Horizon 3 would be counting down the days until the next batch of trailers or gameplay footage from popular gaming outlets, whereas the older PC sim crowd would be eagerly anticipating a mere blog post or lengthy forum confession from a Kunos staff member. It’s all part of knowing your target audience. PC sim racers eat up mundane blog entries; the Forza crowd loves a more traditional approach. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Unless you try to use marketing approach A, with target audience B. Then it just makes you look like retards.
I shouldn’t have to remind you of this by now, but the console launch of Assetto Corsa last month didn’t go anywhere near as planned. Massive technical issues and an outright lack of basic features found in other racing simulators release over the past decade frustrated console owners, especially after a truckload of dishonest reviews and weaponized fanboys claiming Assetto Corsa would revolutionize the console racing scene. Owners of Assetto Corsa on the PS4 and Xbox One have been begging for something – anything – that would indicate the numerous problems with the game would be rectified, turning Assetto Corsa into a title that was truly worth their $60. And I’m not just talking about ironing out the technical issues, either – these people were choked that basic time trial leaderboards and custom lobby functionality were nowhere to be found.
Kunos rewarded their persistence in asking about these problems with a pair of self-masturbatory blog posts. In a rather hilarious reply to Dave L. inquiring about the upcoming (now released) updates for the console versions of the game, the Assetto Corsa customer relations guy replies with:
“As soon as we have an update to share regarding the update, we will let you know!”
Console gamers don’t want blog posts; they want a solid product. And as you can tell by the responses captured above, a PC sim marketing approach on people who just want to plug and play obviously falls flat on the majority of console owners. They don’t buy into the process of waiting around on message boards and reading pointless diary entries to feel like they’re internet friends with the developers of a game they just bought. These guys simply want a working game that’s enjoyable to play.
Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing as a sim racer to see the Assetto Corsa guys genuinely try to woo frustrated console customers with a style of marketing that already is a bit iffy in terms of effectiveness on the original target audience. I get that some people really buy into the whole “oh my God the holiest of developers took thirty seconds out of their day to talk to the peasants on the forums” thing, but in the end all it does is create a cult of personality surrounding the developers – one where the weaponized fanboys feel inclined to defend the game to the death, even in the face of impending issues. The problem, as you can see above, is that there isn’t a cult of personality surrounding Kunos within the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 user base, and that only further serves to aggravate an already disappointed set of customers.
Let the angry responses be a lesson to Kunos that even if your apologists think you can do no wrong within the official echo chamber, people on Facebook will call you on your shit for pushing diary entries about a game that currently sits at 6.4 user rating on Metacritic.