There’s traditional summer vacation periods, and then there’s what’s happening – or the distinct lack thereof – on VirtualR.net as of late. Once known as the definitive blog to visit for automotive simulation news, always making readers aware of brand new community mods or upcoming releases from full-time developers, day-to-day operations have seen a pretty drastic shift over the past couple of months. No longer allowed to discuss non-official Formula One content, and staying far away from controversy despite the website breaking some genuinely interesting stories in the past when deviating from the standard strand of news, the popular website recently turned into a metaphorical dumping ground of generic press releases before embarking on an extended period of silence that still has yet to end. For three straight weeks, sim racing’s most trusted publication has remained oddly silent with not so much as a peep to inform loyal readers as to what’s happened, a sign of the changing landscape in simulation news at the very least.
Though we’re technically co-workers, I don’t actually know what’s going on at VirtualR; speculation the only option at this point, placing me in the same boat as the average sim racer – questioning how a website that’s fairly important to our hobby could just turn into a ghost town unannounced – but at the same time, I understand. Sim racing as a genre is a very strange minefield to navigate, and those who refuse to dive into opinionated topics and ruffle feathers will often find themselves out of subjects to write about for days on end because things simply don’t progress as fast as other, significantly more popular video games. In this situation, prolonged breaks from any type of coverage whatsoever are pretty understandable; unless you’re willing to voice an opinion on something that’s come to mind, there’s just not a lot to talk about.
However, what I do know, is that everyone in this hobby involved in the content creation side of things – or mostly everyone – do so on their own free time, and sometimes life gets in the way. Though I do my best to post a new piece every couple of days, there are races to attend, cars to haul, promo girls to take out to dinner, parts to buy, and other miscellaneous gatherings to show up at. While it’s obviously intriguing as to why there’s been no new content on VirtualR for three weeks, it’s perfectly reasonable at the same time: people have lives, and sometimes pretend race cars can wait.
Yet at the same time, VirtualR’s complete stoppage in activity points to a larger overarching theme: there has indeed been a change in how sim racers are consuming media surrounding their favorite hobby, and maybe it’s okay if VirtualR is indeed in the process of shutting down, as sim racers no longer resonate with this kind of coverage. Take a quick look around the community, and it’s easy to see that things certainly aren’t how they used to be – and maybe there isn’t much of a use for a traditional, politically correct news wire anymore.
The first evidence of this, would be in none other than Jimmy Broadbent’s streams. Now I know a lot of you guys reading PRC aren’t big fans of him, but here we have a pretty prominent sim racing personality reeling in hundreds upon hundreds of viewers – in some cases more live viewers than iRacing’s own eSports World Championship events, featuring the best sim racers on the planet – to either climb aboard for a nostalgia trip, or check out a new piece of content in one of the many modern simulators. I can’t say I agree with the copious donations to watch someone else play racing simulators while simultaneously complaining the cost of iRacing is too high – these guys are making it statistically accurate to call sim racers a bunch of paying cucks – but this isn’t entirely Jimmy’s fault; this has been considered customary for a while on live streams, and the sheer numbers have spoken – sim racers dig this sort of thing, and want more of it.
RaceDepartment have also climbed aboard the audience participation bandwagon, with many news stories no longer being news stories at all, but instead little blurbs to generate discussion among active members. Sure, there are the traditional announcements of new simulation content, but they are now far outnumbered by screenshot competitions, “Have Your Say” segments, posts openly asking for opinions, and real-world motor racing stories to fill otherwise days or weeks of relatively little activity. Again, the front page of RaceDepartment once acted as a traditional news wire very much in the same manner as VirtualR did, but the staff have now realized sim racers by and large no longer resonate with this way of presenting information, and they’ve now changed things up to compensate.
Professional-appearing outlets with proper anchors have also become a thing of the past, as InsideSimRacing’s own Darin Gangi has given up ownership of the company he started to pursue other ventures; the brand itself no longer the powerhouse in the genre it once was despite an objective, tangible improvement in the content ISR produces. Though Gangi’s fall from grace has been aided in part by antics displayed in the above screenshot – in which he can be seen belittling another sim racing personality from California by referring to him as an “ungrateful piece of fat shit” – the exchange highlights how working to maintain a professional on-camera persona can actually backfire given the abundance of childish shit-slinging that occurs within the community on a daily basis. It’s seemingly far easier in the long run to be open about your issues (a la Jimmy Broadbent) and willingly partake in the traditional message board debauchery as a goofy YouTube personality, than to pretend you’re some kind of semi-official ambassador for the community and be forced to exhibit impressive levels of damage control when your behavior behind closed doors is made public.
Obviously these are just three examples I was able to pull from the general public, but the way sim racers consume information about their hobby is certainly changing, and VirtualR’s sudden hiatus may not just be a prolonged personal matter Rob has to attend to, but a subtle hint that maybe the days of traditional news outlets are behind us. It will obviously be disappointing if VirtualR returns with a message that states the website will be winding down until its eventual closure, considering how much time many of us have spent there over the years, but at this point, it would be a very natural progression.