Though I’m not much of a PlayStation fanboy by any means, I certainly respect what the Gran Turismo series has done for our favorite hobby. Whereas hardcore PC simulators were always sort of obscure pieces of software, destined for consumption primarily by elitist nerds always pursuing a more difficult and demanding experience at the command of a toy steering wheel, we simply wouldn’t be where we are today without Gran Turismo. Introducing the gaming masses to the idea that driving games could be much more than just firing red shells at guests on the other end of the sofa, Polyphony Digital managed to blend semi-authentic vehicle dynamics with a ridiculously bland yet strangely compelling single player campaign mode in such a way that captivated the normies and generated millions upon millions of sales with each passing rendition of the series, eventually turning more and more console gamers onto the hobby of PC sim racing once they were ready for the next frontier. And sure, while Gran Turismo 5 & 6 were certainly nothing to write home about – genuine improvements and physics refinements offset by bizarre, useless shit like the ability to drive the lunar rover or legacy car models that stuck out like sore thumbs – Gran Turismo 1 through 4 are the reasons many of us are here today; still patiently awaiting one final hurrah from Polyphony Digital which captures the magic of older titles.
Unfortunately, I’m here to reveal that those days are officially over. The awkward eSports endeavor known as Gran Turismo Sport has been officially confirmed by studio head Kaz himself as the future of the franchise, with a more traditional Gran Turismo 7 experience not even on the drawing board according to a recent article posted over at the series’ unofficial home, GTPlanet. Sport will not be a prologue-like release to preview what’s next for the franchise while acting as it’s own separeate game, nor will it be a spin-off to capitalize on the eSports fad while the fire is burning at maximum intensity within the gaming community – Sport is the new direction of Gran Turismo.
In short, the Gran Turismo a large majority of you grew up with is now a relic of the past. Gone are the days of smooth jazz accompanying your travels through the game’s extensive car roster, objectively slick user interface, and lengthy campaign mode. I’m not going to sit here and claim the series was perfect by any means, but they were extremely quirky, unique driving simulators with enough widespread appeal to suck people in for weeks upon weeks of playtime, and it is certainly sad knowing that Polyphony won’t be sitting down to build another one with modern technology anytime soon. Yes, Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport franchise has more or less picked up where Gran Turismo left off, but even with the enormous budget behind them, Turn 10 will never quite be able to capture the atmosphere seen in the OG Gran Turismo titles – especially with perks and penis liveries dominating the experience. Sure, there were tire model issues and driving elements that could be abused – even in the heyday of the almighty Gran Turismo 4 – but for a period of time, there was absolutely no shame in admitting the best-selling PS2 simulator was your preferred stomping grounds.
And while maybe it’s a good thing that the classic Gran Turismo gameplay will now be a thing of the past – excessive grinding, rudimentary AI, a lopsided selection of vehicles, and uninspiring event types having no place in a modern racing game – Kaz placing all of his eggs in the eSports basket isn’t exactly a reasonable alternative, either. To ensure long-term survival, the evolution of Gran Turismo needed to be a carefully crafted balance between what worked with the old games in order to retain the loyal group of followers the series has generated over the years, and what players are responding to in a positive manner today within today’s gaming climate in an effort to reel in a flock of new individuals who will play the game to death, and subsequently buy all of the DLC.
The eSports approach doesn’t fit that description at all.
I’ve written about the Gran Turismo Sport closed beta several times over the past few months here at PRC, so to save time and get right to the point, I’ll just confront the issue head on: I was left unimpressed, and Gran Turismo Sport is one of the primary reasons I purchased a PlayStation 4 to begin with. I found each build update to be bundled with exponentially more questionable driving physics and force feedback effects than the last, with the cars in each class woefully unbalanced. The racing sessions were lopsided, the force feedback featured too many canned effects that made driving the car on the edge of adhesion significantly more difficult than it should have been – as the wheel was producing false behavior that made the car feel unstable when it really wasn’t – and the cars exhibited universal understeer characteristics unless you physically deviated from the preferred line and intentionally attempted to wreck your car. I did not enjoy hotlapping Gran Turismo Sport, nor did I enjoy partaking in online race sessions.
And this was because, aside from the atrocious physics and unbalanced cars, the majority of players I ran into across a variety of rooms – from bottom split (low skill level) to top split (high skill level) – just weren’t very good. I am certainly an elitist prick when it comes to what I consider a compelling online race, but many sessions I found myself all alone at the front of the pack, or just out of reach of the leaders as they shot away in AWD Nissan GT-R’s while I was stuck with a lowly RWD Hyundai Genesis. In a sixteen car field, on average I’d say only four drivers knew what they were doing – even in the highest skill level split – with the other twelve either completely clueless, or just not fast enough to be competitive. The problem that arises from this scenario, is that unlike traditional Gran Turismo games, where the game world is treated as an automotive sandbox, Sport will see drivers progress only if they finish well and drive a clean race.
If seventy percent of Gran Turismo Sport owners can barely keep the car on the track long enough to generate rewards and progress through the game, a lot of people are going to drop that shit and find something else to play. Gran Turismo as a series worked because even if you weren’t the best virtual race car driver, there were still ways to enjoy yourself within the sandbox. However, in this situation, Sport only works if you’re a good driver. And there are exponentially more bad drivers than good drivers out there, which obviously complicates things. Sport has been built for people like myself, who can jump in and instantly turn competitive laps at the Nordschleife. Those who can’t, are going to be frustrated mighty quickly, which will lead to a mass exodus of Gran Turismo fans left bitter at what the series has become.
And with this mass exodus, leads to another problem: the eSports push. If Gran Turismo fans rush to pick up GT Sport on launch day, only to be unanimously turned off by the title – save for a few sim racers and outliers who were just diving into the competitive scene at the right time – this means there aren’t enough people to support a large eSports community like Polyphony have planned.
Here’s why this is a problem: with a robust eSports scene, comes lucrative advertisement deals and guaranteed DLC sales figures. A non-robust eSports scene, at least what’s looking like a realistic outcome in the case of Gran Turismo Sport, will result in a situation where the game is little more than a footnote on the eSports world stage. That means next to no useful advertisement revenue, smaller than expected sales figures, and considering Polyphony have shifted the whole direction of this franchise compared to previous entries in the series, a whole bunch of pissed off fans who either won’t buy the game, or ignore any post-release consumables you push out for one of several reasons – they either returned the game outright, or just aren’t engaged enough to justify the purchase.
Remember, while Gran Turismo is a monolithic entity in it’s own right, a name multiple generations of gamers have experience with, they are effective starting from scratch here. The perennial power-house in this realm is not themselves, but instead iRacing, and if this piece of software – harboring the greatest sim racers in the world and eight years’ worth of prior simulated championships to build off of – can only reel in a fraction of the crowd that actual, legitimate eSports can, Polyphony will be faced with a tremendous mountain to climb. If the sim racing eSports leader, a game which people purchase knowing full well what they’re getting into, can only reel in four thousand viewers for a world championship event compared to almost one hundred thousand sets of eyes for Rocket League, and hundreds of thousands for either FIFA or League of Legends, what chance does an awkward change in direction for Gran Turismo stand? You’ve already lost a part of your potential audience because you’ve alienated core fans who have stuck around from iteration to iteration, and you’re getting into a sub-genre that amounts basically nothing on the eSports totem pole when you start looking at the publicly accessible data.
I’d love to be proven wrong and see sim racing as an eSport take off with the release of Gran Turismo Sport, as these customers will inevitably become curious and explore the PC side of sim racing – inevitably leading to more cars across all multiplayer grids – but a realistic prediction is that this is actually going to kill the franchise, with Kaz already taking the steps to build the coffin by ruling out a traditional Gran Turismo release; placing the series’ existence on the success of a title that’s built around something that numerical data shows is simply not working.
If you loved Gran Turismo at any point in your life, now is the time to say goodbye, because it’s probably not coming back in a manner you enjoyed.