Is sim racing a difficult, frustrating, and unwelcoming hobby to get into? That’s the question of today’s Reader Submission from Drako I., who outlines some of the challenges outsiders may face when deciding to dive head-first into a genre that can be as ruthless and frightening as it is enjoyable. While there are many elements he brings up that I don’t personally agree with, it’s an interesting discussion to hold here on PRC.net – a place where internet points and strict moderators do not dictate who’s opinion is deemed to be correct. Partially related to our last article, while still branching off into its own subject, Drako has fed us a question that I encourage all of you to chime in on.
Why is sim racing so hard to get into? That’s a question that’s been bugging me ever since the release of… well, I’ll say this much. It’s not a racing sim that spurred my question, but rather reading about the man who decided for some reason to construct an entire chassis, and then throw an Oculus Rift in there, to experience his simulator of choice. That got me going off on a tangent and pondering why our beloved hobby is so difficult to enter in the first place.
Actually, let’s take a step back. We’ve all been there at some point in time, advising new players to rush out and purchase an expensive toy steering wheel – but has anyone ever really stopped to consider a tough question; am I scaring off a potential opponent or friend?
Nobody seems to stop and think about that. Instead, they recommend expensive wheels and pedal sets, caught up in a mindset that you must have a particular brand of wheel to get your feet wet in the hobby. Why? What’s the point at the end of the day? Not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a steering wheel, and if they do, they may not have the time to get good at it for whatever reason. Work, school, and relationships can get in the way.
Yet sim racers don’t care. There’s a stereotype of a gamer as somebody who never leaves the basement, and has no tangible social life. This also applies to sim racers to a point, and like all stereotypes it’s based loosely on truths that are difficult to swallow. There are indeed those in our community who never get out, but recent studies have shown more and more people are playing games as a whole, and of that statistical analysis, many are found be be fully grown adults.
Adults who have steady employment records and don’t have countless hours to sink into a simulator, night after night, and may not have the disposable income necessary to rush out and buy expensive plastic toys for their desks.
Yet again, the sim racers sneer at anyone using a keyboard, gamepad, or a lesser brand of wheel. Get a Logitech G27, they say, ignoring the fact that it costs a lot of money, and not everyone has space for a comprehensive wheel setup, let alone the time to get good with one. Get the fuck off this sim if you’re using a pad, they scream in message boards, ignoring the fact that a pad is just as valid of an input method as any other.
And that scares away people from sim racing. It’s a shame, because sim racing is a tiny, tiny niche genre in a genre that’s already suffering a bit on the popularity side. Compare the amount of players across the four biggest racing sims, and then look at the numbers games like FIFA or Counter Strike pull in. If that’s too much of a stretch for you, look at Euro Truck Simulator 2, which has a phenomenal userbase – and I know for a fact there are people out there rocking joysticks, mice, even keyboards, and they’re all having the same amount of fun. And nobody bitches about an input method on the forums or demands somebody to get a refund or stop playing the game because they don’t use a top of the line wheel and pedal setup.
So why is sim racing so hostile to new players?
I believe it to be fear.
Fear of new people coming in and showing up the old-timers. Fear of being shown up in front of their online friends by somebody with a cheap wheel; fear of finding out their precious $700 metal/plastic fusion isn’t as good as a $20 eBay impulse purchase. So they lash out and scream at people, basically because of what’s called tribalism.
Do you remember the bitching when iRacing allowed non-traditional controller options besides steering wheels? People were losing their shit; claiming iRacing had gone casual. It hadn’t, in fact. What it had done was smart. It allowed more players, and more potential revenue. From a business standpoint, it was a phenomenal call. Yet the hardcore sim racers continue to scream that you need an expensive wheel like the Logitech G27 or G29.
Lastly, it’s also fueled by anger. The anger of knowing that not everybody gets to be an astronaut in the end, or in this case, a race car driver. Anger at a chosen sim for being a stand-in replacement for a real racing career, anger at the new people for wanting to take their shiny toy away. It’s the same basic principle. Sim racers that are firmly entrenched in a community for a sim, do not want other people to show up and steal their thunder, so they lash out and demand others to play the exact same way as them, and throw a hissy fit when they see people playing it differently.
So what can be done? Can sim racing ever become mainstream?
No, or at least not yet. It will take a massive change in the culture for it to crack into the mainstream audience in the way Euro Truck Simulator 2 has, or even Flight Simulators.
As for the vocal hardcore people in their sandboxes hurling sand at everyone who stops to look at them playing and throwing a hissy fit about what controller somebody uses, it’s quite frankly, ridiculous. They can spout the complaint of “but you drive a REAL car with a steering wheel and pedals” argument all they like, but I for one have a counter argument for that. Alex Zanardi, one of the greatest drivers in the history of auto racing, has driven with hand controls since 2001 – and he wins races. Yet, the sim racing community as a whole plug their ears and carry on insisting people using alternative control inputs like Zanardi don’t race.
Until that changes, until sim racing becomes more tolerant of other input methods, of different people in their sandbox, sim racing will always be a tough sell to people who aren’t massively into cars.
There’s a lot you’re wrong about. Sorry fam, but I’ll try and deconstruct everything you’ve mentioned as best as I can. I caution you that others won’t be so kind, effectively proving your point about how hostile this community can be at times, so I’ll do my best to explain where this hostility is rooted in.
You’re right in the fact that you don’t need a wheel to play a racing simulator; there are guys who rock the Xbox 360 controller with mild success; others have dialed in keyboard settings almost perfectly, and I know a dude from 4Chan who’d bust out this obscure Namco neGcon – as the twisting portion in the center made for what he felt to be a perfect miniature analog steering wheel. I’ve kicked peoples asses in DiRT 2 with an Xbox controller, won online races in Monster Truck Madness 2 with the basic arrow key layout, and even ran in a NASCAR Racing 2003 Season league back in the day using an Interact Hammerhead. So I know that it’s doable.
But as an accomplished sim racer who’s won in basically every of class of car to win in – including a Baja 500 victory earlier today – here is the honest to God truth: you’re much faster and infinitely more consistent with a wheel. This does not mean you’re not allowed play simulators with an Xbox 360 pad; in fact, some guys willingly give away their controller settings in various forums to make this a feasible option if a wheel just isn’t in the budget. Go dig into Project CARS and run laps to your hearts’ content – nobody is stopping you.
However, when you jump online into something like iRacing, or any kind of organized league racing in a rival simulator, there’s a base level of respect your competitors expect from you. You’re expected to pilot your car in a manner that isn’t detrimental to the experience of other drivers. If you’re showing up with an Xbox 360 pad, mouse steering, or some kind of alternative input device, there is a large chance you will be all over the goddamn race track and a rolling hazard for everybody else. That’s not to say there aren’t people out there who haul ass with a keyboard or an Xbox controller, but they are so few and far between they become statistical anomalies. Your average online race in something like iRacing outside of rookie classes, most people are putting up a genuinely competitive pace, and a gap of even a few tenths of a second between you in an Xbox controller, versus your opponents with a standard Logitech G27, is going to cause serious problems in traffic. They will run you over, because a wheel provides that much more precision, and therefore more speed. You know how driver training teaches you that someone driving under the speed limit is just as dangerous as someone driving over the speed limit? This is what they’re talking about. With a controller, you are effectively becoming the grandma doing 45 in a 60 zone, occasionally crossing over into the other lane and giving your comrades miniature heart attacks. It’s not fair to subject others to this, and then turn around and question why sim racers get so angry when they find out you’re not using a wheel.
Now as to why sim racers “angrily scream” to go purchase expensive steering wheels, that’s because these games are actually built primarily for those who do own steering wheels. You have to understand, developers like Sector 3, Studio 397, and iRacing (to an extent), have essentially taken aim at a fraction of a fraction of a very broad genre and said “we’re making a game just for you guys.” These games are built to be race car simulators for race car nerds, and most race car nerds own toy steering wheels because that’s how cars are driven. This isn’t Euro Truck Sim 2, where you’re idling on an expressway behind some minivan; you’re dancing on the edge of a racing slick for an extra tenth of a second. Keyboard buttons and Xbox 360 pads don’t allow you to execute the advanced car control maneuvers required in this environment with routine precision.
Think of it like the Guitar Hero series. Yes, you can technically play those games with a standard Dualshock controller; I think it maps the green note to A or X (depending on the console), and the rest of the notes to the shoulder buttons. And yeah, you can plug through the campaign mode with a Dualshock just fine. But to actually play the game where it’s enjoyable and you’re getting something out of it, it’s built for the plastic miniature Gibson Xplorer. And it’s the same with sim racing. Yes, you can go out and run ten seconds off pace in an Xbox controller, maybe getting to the point where you can post a time that’s two seconds behind the leader on a simple track. But when you’re physically in an iRacing server and the green flag drops or the lights go out, more likely than not you’ll be a legitimate hazard because a controller or keyboard doesn’t grant the kind of consistency required to not be a nuisance. Again, you’re not cruising like in Euro Truck Simulator 2, you’re racing. And people don’t want to spend their free time dodging someone who’s not adequately prepared to race. You’re right that most people just sort of get angry and can’t articulate it like this, but that’s why they’re getting upset.
Willingly becoming the aforementioned Grandma doing 45 in a 60 zone because “buying a wheel is too expensive” is disrespectful to your competitors who have joined an event alongside you and were hoping to pull off a clean race. It’s not very fun for the others if there is always that one car who’s getting in the way and becoming a nuisance by his own choice.
Now you bring up Alex Zanardi’s hand controls as proof that you can be successful with something other than a Logitech G27, right? I hope you’re aware of what these hand controls actually look like. It’s still a steering wheel; essentially the same setup as the Thrustmaster T2 from the 1990’s, where the throttle was on the wheel itself, in place of the shifter paddles.
And there’s actually a drift car out in my neck of the woods that rocks the more traditional set of hand controls seen in passenger cars.
I’m really hoping I’m missing something, because your point about disabled drivers using hand controls is essentially moot – they’re also using steering wheels, just the way they apply pedal inputs is modified. At work we have a few units like these, and they’re quite enjoyable to wheel around – really easy to pick up, logical to drive, and you can see how it’s not much of a change to adapt to.
Back to the original point, as I’ve said before, what you may possibly be failing to realize is that racing simulators don’t fall under the same umbrella as Euro Truck Simulator 2. Trucking games are more or less leisure applications that combine traditional motorway driving with light role-playing elements, bundled in an admittedly well-rounded package. Throughout most of the game, you are idling in a straight line at a set speed limit, where the truck simply can’t get away from you, and only minor corrections to the steering, throttle, and brakes are needed. Purpose built race cars, on the other hand, can sometimes be one degree of steering input away from sending you into the wall at 230 km/h. I don’t know why you would willingly want to pilot a machine like that with an arrow key on the keyboard, or your thumb on a gamepad, because it’s objectively not precise enough. And unless you’re an absolute wizard on the Keyboard or Xbox 360 controller, it’s going to be a mess if you enter any sort of organized race.
So on the control input front, it has nothing to do with elitism. People use steering wheels, and advise others to buy steering wheels, because it’s the right tool for the job. Nothing to do with fear of being shown up by new kids on the block; it’s simply not practical to try and race with anything other than a steering wheel. Unless you’re a freak of nature who’s busting out incredible times right off the bat, what ends up happening 99% of the time is that you’ll get run over, cause a bunch of accidents because you can’t keep the car under you, and people will get mad because you’re wrecking more than everyone else – the kid at the go-kart track who just can’t figure out what it takes to go fast.
You do have a point in that sim racers don’t need to push high end wheels on the average community member. Look, most of the people that buy these wheels are what some call “sim dads” – older gentlemen who throw copious amounts of money at their hobby because that’s what they feel like doing. Most of these guys aren’t very fast drivers to begin with, and so the misconception of a wheel improving their driving ability spawns from their online discussions, leading to an abundance of misinformation floating around. You can’t always tell how fast people are from message board posts, so what happens is that many of the discussions from people claiming to have gotten faster after buying a Direct Drive wheel are actually guys who sucked to begin with. That’s just something you learn from experience, however.
We’re getting to the controversial part of the article now, and that is the sim rig which inspired you to send in this submission. Look, it’s very important to make this clear – this project came about largely in part due to the overall intelligence level of iRacing’s community. With how much iRacing’s marketing team like to talk about real drivers using their software, a lot of individuals have wrongly interpreted this as believing some sort of NASCAR driver will “discover them” on iRacing and put them in a real car sight unseen – as if iRacing is a legitimate substitute for having some kind of amateur auto racing career.
I wish I was kidding about that, but because no professional driver has actually taken the time to outright dispel this myth, you have quarter-truths floating around as fact, perpetuated by entire groups of people who either aren’t old enough to understand that this isn’t how things work in the world of auto racing, or haven’t been exposed to people who can snap them back to reality with the other three quarters of the story.
This sim rig isn’t proof that the sim community aggressively pushed him into building something so preposterous with money he didn’t have just to play iRacing, but rather displays an online environment where so much misinformation had been floating around, several people who could have told him he was being ridiculous, didn’t, because they also believed in those quarter-truths.
No, absolutely not.
With games like Euro Truck Simulator 2, at their core they are very simple experiences that don’t require much knowledge of absolutely anything related to the trucking industry to get a fair bit of enjoyment out of it. When it comes to traditional racing simulators, however, the basic act depicted in the software is not idling in traffic, but rather driving a high performance race car – a skill that you don’t just pick up overnight. I’m not sure why you’d ever believe people would just suddenly figure out the art of performance driving as easily as they’d pick up Guitar Hero or Halo. Up here, people can’t even drive the speed limit when it snows without a spontaneous date with the nearest ditch; what makes you think the average Joe will flock to this when forced to approach the same situation at three times the speed?
League of Legends is popular because everyone and their computer illiterate friend can pick it up for free, click around, and possibly win a few matches once they understand the core concept of the game. But in race car simulators, unless you go into it knowing full well what’s expected of you when behind the wheel of a purpose built race car on a closed circuit, you’re going to crash, and the game really doesn’t give a shit. There aren’t ways to make this easier for outsider users curious about the subject matter, because physics engines quite frankly don’t give a fuck if you aren’t using a wheel or are unsure of what the proper braking technique is. And they shouldn’t have to – sim developers know what their target audience is, and that’s who they build their games for.
Can the community be less retarded? Absolutely, though the examples and reasoning you’ve provided have been admittedly quite poor, though I’ll let our readers chime in on this one.