You know, usually when I make posts like these, I have everything all planned out in advance within a notepad document, but today I’m a bit off my game. The other guys here at PRC thought all this info was worth putting into an article, a few friends were eagerly anticipating what I’d have to say about it in full, and after the boys over on Reddit were given a brief glimpse of my findings, they were left wanting more, but unfortunately I’m not firing on all cylinders here. So my most sincere apologies go out to any of our readers who feel a bit underwhelmed by this piece.
Let me start off by saying that I’m a supporter of the #Gamergate movement. No, I don’t align myself with the few rogue man-children who made shitty fake Twitter accounts and emailed bogus bomb threats that perpetual victims such as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian took seriously for reasons only God understands (it’s the internet, very few death threats are even the least bit genuine), but there’s no point in ignoring the elephant in the room: actual video game journalism has turned into third party marketing, and it really sucks. I’ve made enough smart decisions in life where the act of purchasing a new video game at my leisure really isn’t a big deal, but to many people on this planet, $80 is a lot of money to part with, and they rely on both mainstream and independent outlets to guide them in the right direction. I feel it’s wrong to fuck with those people, and blatantly lie about the product they’ll receive after busting open their respective wallets. And as a gamer, I enjoy reading about video games while taking a dump or chilling in bed – not sitting through extended length commercials thinly disguised as video game reviews.
Yet as mainstream outlets ignored the legitimate concerns raised by the GamerGate movement, and instead claimed it was some coordinated harassment campaign by a bunch of angry nerds, part of why I started PRC was to prove that even in a genre dominated by men – where women were removed from the community almost entirely – the values GamerGate campaigned for were still every bit as relevant; which would in-theory totally decimate the whole“GamerGate is just anally devastated virgins mad at women on the internet” thing. Fuck you for perpetuating this bullshit, a whole bunch of gamers are tired of blatant advertising masked as genuine reviews. That’s the GamerGate movement in a nutshell.
The 2016 calendar year featured no better example of the concerns raised by GamerGate than the release of Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and in particular, how major gaming outlets evaluated the title. For those who are tired of hearing this on a semi-regular basis here at PRC, I’ll try to keep this short while covering all the bases: lots of people love Assetto Corsa and play it every day, but the game is objectively unfinished in terms of features, and buggy as fuck on a technical level. Unless we evaluate each title based on the pure driving experience behind the wheel, in no way would Assetto Corsa ever hold a candle to something infinitely more polished such as Forza Motorsport 6. This isn’t really up for debate. In Forza, you’ve got a mammoth career mode to explore, thousands of car customization options, and a fairly robust set of online race types. Assetto Corsa won’t even let you create custom online lobbies, nor can you track fastest laps among your friends with built-in leaderboards; there simply aren’t any.
So when the console version of the popular-yet-flawed PC racing simulator launched in August of this year, I immediately began claiming some of the reviews listed on Metacritic were dishonest, and the result of either bribery or intense nationalism, particularly from outlets within the exact same countries which publisher 505 Games called home – Italy and Spain. And as you can see above, there was a pretty major discrepancy between publications flying under the same banner – IGN Italy rated Assetto Corsa five points higher than Forza Motorsport 6, while the American office fared thirty five points worse. This raised a few eyebrows, and I promptly called it like I saw it, because while I occasionally both fall for fake stories and grossly over-react to them (which is hilarious for our spectators), I’m not this stupid. Clearly, something shady was going on.
Stefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazioni – the guys who made Assetto Corsa – ended up getting really upset at my assumptions that the only positive press the game received on consoles had been bought by the studio and wasn’t genuine. For proper formatting’s sake I’ve taken his quote and pasted it over a pretty picture of Assetto Corsa my buddy took – because the quote is part of a much larger rant that doesn’t lend itself to proper cropping all that well – but what I’m trying to convey is that a member of the developer team who built the game got genuinely mad I accused them of bribing certain review sites. According to him, they simply couldn’t afford it – which essentially admits this practice does exist, but that’s besides the point. Now I understand why he’d become emotional over such an accusation to begin with, because indie game developers with small audiences care about indie gaming blogs intended for said audiences, but the smart way to handle what has the potential to turn into a grand shit-flinging competition it is to just show our readers why I made those conclusions, and let people decide for themselves where they stand.
A few days prior to the launch of Assetto Corsa on consoles, a guy from what I presume to be Destructoid arrived on the Assetto Corsa subreddit, completely bewildered by the sub-par quality of the product. His posts were instantly brigaded by the community, but they paint a picture of a game with framerate problems, glitches that should have been ironed out months earlier, and an experience that simply did not live up to the fanfare. The guy genuinely believed he didn’t configure the options menu correctly, because the game was so drastically different compared to the one Assetto Corsa lovers commonly discuss across various enthusiast forums. KSDemon’s pleas and comments mirror release day gameplay footage, where the Xbox One version of the title can be seen struggling to hold a framerate that’s even remotely playable.
Despite this, over ten different gaming outlets – again, all from the same locations as the headquarters for 505 Games – praised Assetto Corsa as one of the best racing games ever, and conveniently failed to mention these show stopping technical issues, despite the North American outlets ripping the game apart, and Kunos Simulazioni themselves quickly issuing a news update saying the team were looking into the widespread performance problems. I mean, guys from these websites were literally taking to Reddit in absolute confusion and begging the community for help, yet a chain of websites from an extremely specific region of the globe where both the developer and publisher happen to be located, completely ignored a show-stopping technical problem that even Kunos Simulazioni admitted existed. This simply doesn’t happen without some under-the-table bullshit, and I didn’t feel it was wrong of me to make those assumptions.
The Kunos Simulazioni headquarters are located at the Vallelunga Circut – an Italian race track which is hardly a run-down facility by any means – a location which plays host many regional auto racing championship events, alongside being used as a test track by the German Touring Car series – which most people know by it’s acronym of DTM. None of this information is a shock to anyone, nor is the fact that Kunos occasionally have been holding private events for members of the gaming press to come out to the facility, check out a preview build of Assetto Corsa, and ride along as passengers in a fleet of luxurious supercars. Yes, gaming journalists are being wined and dined by an indie team which Casillo claims can’t afford this sort of thing – so that’s a bit sketchy – but both videos of the event are sitting out in the open (seen HERE and HERE), and it’s hard to knock what’s objectively a really enjoyable day at the race track. Cars, video games, food. As a car guy, this is my kind of day. I’d prefer to be driving, but you know, insurance costs and stuff.
But it’s what I recently came across on Instagram that brings it all into perspective, and basically confirms that all of this positive reception in the face of a technically unstable piece of software was clearly paid for.
Based out of Sydney, Australia, Jack Huddo is a 25 year old generic YouTube personality – one of thousands which cover modern video games for his small yet dedicated group of followers. On his Instagram account from shortly before the console game hit store shelves, he can be seen showing off a fancy press kit he claimed to have received at one of the Assetto Corsa events at Vallelunga, featuring a hat, model Lamborghini, free copy of the game, and some candy, all given to him by the Assetto Corsa team. This dude only has two thousand followers on Twitter – meaning he isn’t exactly swimming in YouTube money – and lives on the exact opposite side of the globe as Italy, indicating he certainly couldn’t foot the bill himself to jet across the entire fucking planet, just to cover some obscure racing game he hasn’t mentioned on Twitter in months. The guy basically posts about Monster Energy and Overwatch. This doesn’t sound like your typical sim racer.
So who did foot the bill?
Stefano Casillo claims Kunos Simulazioni cannot possibly pay for positive coverage of Assetto Corsa, yet here on Instagram there’s a much different story – they’re flying out random motherfuckers from the other side of the planet (which obviously costs thousands of dollars) to hang out at the race track for a day and maybe get an Instagram shout-out or two – so imagine what they’re doing for review outlets? Now, maybe Stefano’s technically correct on this, and it’s 505 Games paying for the arrangements instead, but when you join forces with a publisher to put your game on the market, every idiotic move they make reflects poorly on you, and every idiotic move you make reflects poorly on them. You’re a cohesive unit bringing out a video game to the masses. This isn’t a rock band, where Paul Stanley of KISS can go on CNN and shit on his bass player for not sharing the same political beliefs. You really don’t have an option here.
Not only does Casillo look a bit silly for attempting to play the victim and claim Kunos couldn’t possibly pay for positive coverage of Assetto Corsa, we actually know what was inside the complete press kit each journalist at the event received as a parting gift. So not only were a whole bunch of social media personalities and journalists flown out to Rome and given an all-expenses paid track day at a fancy Italian motor racing circuit, they left with a pretty cool gift bag as well.
But those glowing reviews that conveniently left out major technical issues? Oh, maybe they just really liked the game in spite of its faults and other numerous shortcomings?