In the event you’ve pushed the bizarre spectacle out of your mind – like many of us have since that fateful day – January of 2017 was an especially dark time for the sim racing landscape. With the eSports craze in full swing, propelling basement nerds into super-stardom for their prowess in a wildly popular game of wizards and warlocks… or something like that… and delusional Formula E marketing members grossly over-estimating the appeal of virtual auto racing to the general public, international credit card company Visa jumped in to serve as the pastor of the little white chapel, wedding the two entities that should have never crossed paths in the first place. And like all marriages taking place during prime time in Las Vegas, Nevada, the endeavor immediately warranted absolutely atrocious results.
The Visa Vegas eRace promised to be the event which helped rocket sim racing to the top of the eSports totem pole, but instead quickly descended into chaos. A million dollar prize purse, and a grid which mixed real life Formula E racers with the best simulation drivers from around the world, did very little to mask an abundance of technical difficulties and organizational gaffes that quite simply should never have manifested during an event of this stature. Rather than jump on board with this relatively new and exciting eSports discipline, viewers immediately mocked the stoic personalities on the grid, rFactor 2’s objectively poor visual style, and the outcome of the race itself, which saw the FIA manually adjust the results following the podium celebration after an outcome-affecting glitch with the in-car boost functionality.
In short, it was a disaster, and while most of us do genuinely wish sim racing would become a bit more popular – just to have more people on the grid in multiplayer events at the very least – what happened in Vegas, should have stayed in Vegas.
Indie blog SimRacingPaddock have recently discovered the opposite; a job opening on the Formula E website heavily implies the full roster of Formula E drivers, vehicles, and locations are now set to appear in Studio 397’s rFactor 2; bringing with it an even larger eSports championship.
First of all, rFactor 2 is dying a very slow, painful death. Unlike the first game in the franchise, the sequel’s modding community has not exploded, the online scene revolves around two or three very specific Endurance Racing leagues rather than a diverse array of disciplines and race formats, and the game’s vanilla content is so all over the place and so misguided, it’s hard to recommend to anyone aside from the most hardcore of sim racing enthusiasts. If Studio 397 want to rejuvenate the game and make it appeal to more than just the 5% of the community who buy every sim regardless, they need captivating content.
This is why I have not ripped into Studio 397’s upcoming paid DLC featuring McLaren race cars; while I feel it’s kind of a dick move to start selling paid DLC when your game has so little of a fanbase to support it – not to mention all those people who paid for lifetime and are now realizing that investment was pointless – at least it’ll be a bundle of cars people will be excited to drive, and potentially showcase rFactor 2 in a much better light. Maybe I’m burnt out from a stressful day at the race track and seeing things in a very non-PRC perspective for today, but being able to say there’s a McLaren 650s GT3 car in rFactor 2 is a lot better than awkwardly telling people they can race a shitty Nissan 370z at Atlanta Motorsports park. This is not attractive to anyone and you are a goddamn fool if you think it is.
But then there’s Formula E, or according to the above webpage, all of Formula E.
Let’s get the initial complaints out of the way. Formula E cars are slow, and they’re extremely quiet to a fault – you could argue they’re full-scale electric go-karts. I mean fine, if you want to release a stand-alone Formula E game, be my guest, but I’m assuming this will be a paid expansion pack for rFactor 2, and rFactor 2 is a game for hardcore sim racers. This won’t sell and won’t entice people to try out rFactor 2, because it’s not what the greater sim racing fanbase want. These people want crazy, exciting shit to drive, and this is something you should be able to deduce just by hanging out in the sim community for a while. The most popular sim racing content, off the top of my head, would be the DRM cars of the late 1970’s, the 1998 CART mod, and the Lotus 49 – regardless of the game in which it’s featured. All of these cars have one thing in common; the insane power to weight ratio, which makes just turning laps in them an adventure unto itself. Formula E, by comparison, is the opposite.
So Studio 397 are going to go through all this effort to build cars that people couldn’t care less about and won’t bother purchasing, because it’s the anti-thesis of what sim racing is supposed to be. Sim racing at it’s core is about being able to drive exciting race cars you’d never have a shot at piloting in person – unless you start a blog and shitpost your way into a late model ride. Formula E vehicles just don’t scratch that proverbial itch, period, and this is exasperated by the numerous other low power single seaters already in rFactor 2. Congrats, Studio 397, you have added yet another generic open wheel car to your simulator. Well done! Except this time, they’re a goofy Crystal Pepsi offshoot of grand prix racing, a series designed in a board room by clueless boomers in a desperate ploy to appeal to millennials, who would rather send dick pics on Snapchat than attend a race in person.
And then there are the tracks.
Above is a shot of the Brooklyn ePrix as constructed by Maciej1 over at the Gene-Rally International forum, and though it’s a track created for a freeware racing title featuring cars built from just forty polygons, it drills home how absurd it is for Studio 397 to pursue a major partnership with Formula E. This track layout is a complete clusterfuck of concrete walls and absurdly narrow choke points, two elements of a racing circuit that will be a nightmare not just offline – with rFactor 2’s rudimentary AI – but online against other players as well. These circuits will be a nightmare in a virtual setting because they breed endless chaos, similar to the Tokyo Expressway circuit in the Gran Turismo Sport beta. Once one guy knocks down a wall and gets sideways in front of the field, everyone else behind him is a surefire fatality. Alone or in a public lobby, that’s a quick way to discourage users from never racing there again and telling their friends not to bother purchasing the content. In a competitive setting, like what Formula E are planning, it’s openly asking for every single televised virtual race to be a complete and utter disaster.
I’m not saying it’s wrong for any developer to pursue Formula E, but when rFactor 2 supporters are asking for more content, giving them tracks they’ll race on once, realize how terrible they are, and never drive them again, isn’t the way to go about doing things.
They also take an enormous amount of time to build. Unless Studio 397 will purchase track models from Electronic Arts and use the same circuits found in Real Racing 3, dedicating the art team to building all of the tracks on the schedule is going to take away time from completing other projects that would actually add to rFactor 2. Had Formula E raced at popular circuits not yet seen in rFactor 2, this wouldn’t be much of an issue because the track roster would grow in a way that accommodates all players, but the problem here is how these tracks are designed specifically with Formula E cars in mind. If you aren’t specifically a Formula E fan, Studio 397 are wasting time on building tracks that you will never race on, pushing the release date of content you actually do want so far into the future, it’s probably better to just buy a different game altogether.
First of all, the series isn’t doing very well. Our boy Chris had the option of attending the Brooklyn event as he lives close by, but at $80 per ticket, full-scale electric go-karts on a tight circuit that doesn’t breed many passing opportunities is a particularly hard sell. Had the actual series exploded in popularity overnight, then yeah, good on Studio 397 for jumping on that while it’s hot. But unfortunately, that’s not how things transpired in real life. It’s still seen as this weird off-shoot series, even with Mercedes abandoning DTM in favor of campaigning an ePrix factory team. I can’t name a single person who follows the series, enjoys the races, or has actively voiced to me in passing that they’d want to drive these cars in a sim.
Second, rFactor 2 needs more content, but this is the wrong type of content. In a game over-saturated by amateur and semi-pro single seaters, it’s yet another semi-pro single seater, this time with almost no engine sound. This is, of course, exactly what sim racers want to spend money on after purchasing expensive surround sound setups and add-ons for their sim rig like ButtKicker – a car that makes almost no sound at all. The tracks are also so obscure and so anti-competition, your average sim racer won’t get much use out of them – this isn’t Spa or Barcelona, where you can generally take any vehicle on the roster to the circuit and generally receive an enjoyable race in return.
Third, the push for sim racing to become an eSport is beating a dead horse at this point. iRacing struggles to attain more than a few hundred viewers for their two most prestigious series, whereas Madden or FIFA tournament finals can reel in almost one million views. That should be a pretty clear indication that if even the biggest simulator team in the business, after eight years in action, still can’t get more than a few hundred views on YouTube for their World Championships, that maybe it’s time to give up on this eSports thing and just focus on making a good game your core audience will want to play.
And chasing after Formula E for the complete ePrix experience isn’t the way to go about doing so.