I think if there’s any one specific event in the history of sim racing that displays the utter foolishness of the community, and their willingness to virtue signal in front of their peers for internet brownie points rather than demanding more from developers in the face of a dying genre, Reiza Studios’ IndieGoGo campaign – the aptly titled “Sim Racing Bonanza” – immediately comes to the forefront. Twenty four months have passed since a whole lot of sim racers collectively tossed over $107,000 USD at these guys, and I am genuinely surprised not one of them have bothered to ask some pretty basic questions as to what Reiza Studios are actually up to.
The year was 2015, and Reiza Studios had established themselves as an upstart indie developer in a scene known for relentless superautists that criticize the slip angle of every last tire compound seen within a modern racing simulator. Yet though their most recent release, Game Stock Car Extreme, was quickly becoming a highly underrated cult classic among the most dedicated of pretend race car enthusiasts, Reiza Studios had run into a bit of a problem; they knew their piece of software was objectively something special, yet lacked the means and funding to insert vehicles and locations that would attract a bigger crowd to the title. Featuring primarily South American content, with the centerpiece being a sort of pseudo-DTM series known as Stock Car Brasil, Reiza’s creations had traditionally been held back by a very weird brand of racing which Europeans and North Americans – the two largest sim racing demographics – found very difficult to adapt to. And as a result, for everyone who bought Stock Car Extreme and loved it – myself included – there were ten others who looked at the track list and went “what the fuck?” No thanks.
Reiza’s solution to the obvious problem, was to take a leap of faith and create a crowdfunding campaign – highly popular at the time – in which sim racers would donate to the team in exchange for Reiza to work on more appealing content, and this is outlined pretty specifically on the IndieGoGo page.
On paper, it wasn’t a terribly bad idea, and Reiza were initially justified in their decision to explore the crowdfunding route when it was revealed the first piece of content contributors would get their hands on was none other than a mighty V8 Supercar-spec Holden Commodore. With Australia’s national racing series lacking any sort of simulated representation outside of iRacing, users flocked to the otherwise highly niche title, some pitching in a pretty absurd amount of money to the campaign just to turn laps in this beast before anyone else. And to Reiza’s credit, they deserved this fanfare; the SuperV8 is one of the best simulated race cars of all time.
Reiza surpassed their crowdfunding goal with flying colors, but the popularity of Stock Car Extreme was not sustained from this unprecedented wave of generosity on behalf of the sim racing community. Within a week, Stock Car Extreme was once again a ghost town; used solely for independent online racing leagues, and Steamcharts actually hinted the game was on life support – a significantly different story than what users across various sim racing message boards would have led you to believe. At the time, I even wrote articles on the phenomenon, as it was unbelievable how sim racers tossed a six figure sum at an extremely small developer, only to basically forget about it a week later. The amount of active players the game boasted, amounted to about three league’s worth of players turning offline test laps for an upcoming race – no different than the game’s level of activity prior to the crowdfunding campaign. In short, the virtue signalling of sim racers claiming to support Reiza, didn’t translate into more people playing the game; only sim racers buying or contributing to tell others they did so for internet brownie points.
Acting quickly to counter the drastic decline in legitimate popularity, Reiza re-released Stock Car Extreme with minor, sometimes intangible improvements under the name of Automobilista – an effort that I believe was made to capitalize on the popularity of Assetto Corsa as an “every man’s PC driving simulator”, albeit with a much more profound focus on race cars. While I personally enjoy Automobilista, very little hides the fact that it’s yet another rFactor re-skin with an assortment of community plug-ins and minor tweaks; ones the average sim racer won’t pick up on. Thankfully, those who owned Stock Car Extreme on Steam prior to the launch of Automobilista, received the game for free.
Reiza promised a pretty steady stream of new content and features throughout the title’s lifespan, and while it’s something they’ve somewhat delivered on, the process has been very slow going. Development of Automobilista was intended to be completed by the first quarter of 2017, but as of this summer, the team are still working to complete post-release downloadable content packs and other upgrades they were once happy to discuss and publish a tentative release date for. Some mentions of previously teased content have disappeared from newer updates on the official Reiza forums, such as a Group B rally car, hill climb stage, and a car pack from a major manufacturer. This content has failed to manifest as of late, and while I don’t exactly doubt Reiza’s ability to finish the cars and tracks at some point in the future, their timeline to do so is now well beyond what was originally advertised. Simply put, they are now tangibly behind on Automobilista.
The second point of interest relates primarily to a title flying under the codename of Reiza 2017. Now while it’s important to note that the crowdfunding campaign was not for their full-fledged sequel, many of the higher contribution perks advertised a free Steam key to this upcoming major release. According to the IndieGoGo pitch made two years ago, we could realistically expect to see Reiza2017 available for purchase sometime after the final quarter of 2016. This is why a lot of people found the crowdfunding campaign so attractive in the first place; they’d fund an extensive push for Stock Car Extreme downloadable content, and in return receive “the big one” for free in a few years when Reiza had sat down and made their own full-fledged software release.
The people who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign expecting Stock Car Extreme DLC, followed by a major release that pushed the isiMotor engine to its limit, were instead given a half-baked repackaging of Stock Car Extreme with a dynamic racing line and higher physics refresh rate, while info on the “new simulator” discussed in the campaign pitch is non-existent to the general public – despite the campaign implying it should have been released by now. Reiza did make their change of plans clear to the general public, believing it would be ideal to introduce a stop-gap title to hold people over until Reiza2017 was ready for release, but this isn’t a plan that would work if the team were to fall substantially behind on development of the stop-gap title.
Which is precisely the case right now. At the very least, Reiza are enormously behind on the company’s three-year plan, which has understandably angered some sim racers as they were very much looking forward to a DirectX 12 powered racing simulator from an otherwise fairly competent indie team, not a regurgitated version of rFactor with light tweaks here and there. In a more extreme view of these events, I think those wanting a refund have a reasonable complaint to register with the team, as part of the attraction in contributing to their crowdfunding ordeal was the eventual free access to the DX12 simulator, and we haven’t heard a single thing about this game’s existence despite blazing past the initial expected launch date for it. The stop-gap title essentially took so long for Reiza to complete, it’s now shifted their entire calendar back.
It’ll be a tricky path for Reiza to traverse, but one thing is for certain; Automobilista in it’s current state isn’t exactly a poor game by any means, but when there’s talk of DX12 and dynamic weather, a regurgitated copy of rFactor with some decent community plug-ins inserted by default isn’t what a lot of people were hoping for.