The above screenshot is a really interesting moment in time, at least from a sim racing perspective.
This was part of the Black Ice 200, a special event hosted by iRacing in November of 2012 featuring the NASCAR K&N Series Impala at the newly-released Rockingham Speedway. At the time, iRacing was still rolling out present-day NASCAR tracks on a not-so-consistent basis, so every new addition was seen as a major milestone that would help flesh out the in-game schedule.
The top four drivers in this picture will all embark on relatively unique career paths. In the lead is Tyler Hudson, who will one day find himself listed as an iRacing.com staff member. Following close behind is yours truly, who will go on to work at rival developer Slightly Mad Studios – but right now he’s just a shithead kid running a gawdy looking pink & leopard print car. In third place, future four-time NASCAR eSports champion Ray Alfalla – he’s already the most respected driver on the service and has two championships under his belt, but two more will come later. Behind him, Alan Elwood, a midwest karting phenom from Ohio.
This is what iRacing looked like in the final days of it’s infancy. The eSports craze, sim rig craze, and Twitch stream craze hadn’t quite arrived yet. In fact, they were still several years away. The service was simply a hub for stock car racing superfans to hang out and beat up on each other for little more than pride and a few Elo rank points that only mattered to a couple hundred people max. And that’s what we did. Night after night.
Because we loved it.
What this screenshot doesn’t show, however, were the numerous discussions being had on Teamspeak servers and message boards about just where exactly this game was headed – it was hard to ignore the growing pains that were starting to put a damper on the experience as a whole.
David Kaemmer’s experiment, the revolutionary “New Tire Model” project that hoped to turn iRacing into the be-all, end-all platform for sim racing, wasn’t panning out as planned. After a beloved beta period in the fall of 2011 which saw most drivers claim the Nationwide Impala may have been the greatest sim car ever created, something had gone horribly awry.
Updates from that point forward resulted in cars that were overly reliant on geometrically precise driving lines, and featured tires that seemed to be comically unforgiving past the point of adhesion. As sim racers, we no longer had the ability to man-handle cars as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were doing every Sunday afternoon seemingly on a whim. The simple act of driving a car was no longer fun, races became an exercise in frustration, and the once happy demeanor on numerous chat servers morphed into frustration centered around a single burning question:
Will the next update fix this?
It’s a question that, as of April 2021, we’re still asking.
And that’s not a good thing. In fact it points to a situation where iRacing might not ever become the simulator many hoped it would be.
At first, iRacing attempted to deny there was ever an issue, and I think that’s where part of this problem comes from – their own stubbornness.
By 2013 I had made the decision to be quite public about iRacing’s shortcomings, and had mentioned some of their tire behavior oddities in a review I had written for RaceDepartment.
This resulted in, of all things, thinly veiled legal threats from iRacing staff members, and an email I still cling on to, to this day, almost like a trophy. Merely pointing out their racing simulator did not match onboard footage was deemed “slanderous” and “unsubstantiated,” and I as a fairly young kid was now left wondering what in the fuck was wrong with my favorite video game company that I’d become quite a staunch supporter of.
We all just wanted a cool stock car game to play. Somehow, this had descended into cars that wrecked if you induced any sort of slip angle, as well as middle aged men sending implications of legal action, and we were supposed to act like this was all perfectly normal.
Even as guys like FIA GT1 driver Xavier Maassen dropped a few words of support in private to let me know that no, I wasn’t crazy, I was actually right on the money, just getting a developer to understand there was quite a serious problem with their game – and if they fixed it, their game would be even better! – was instead a sore spot you were strongly discouraged from ever bringing up; a stance further solidified by their own sporting code.
This is a sign things are most definitely not on the right path.
And the situation didn’t improve.
Guys that I spent my teens and early twenties racing against, they fucked off. They got married. They had kids. They went to university. They bought houses. We kept in touch on Facebook, maybe playing a couple of rounds of Warzone to catch up every few months, but the idea of them getting back into iRacing, that’s something that was laughed at by all aside from those lucky enough to find themselves involved in the eSports side of things.
And they had good reason for it.
The updates we’d all been hoping for, the ones that rewarded us for our patience and eternal love for auto racing, never came. There wasn’t a reason to get back into iRacing. The complaints we had made back in 2012, 2013, and 2014, were now being made by an entirely new generation of sim racers who weren’t even around six or seven years ago.
As well as professional drivers.
The bio-hazard lockdowns – I think that’s a satisfactory description – funneled almost every professional race car driver into numerous iRacing exhibition and charity events that they had no choice but to participate in. This should have been iRacing’s coming-out party and cause for celebration across the entire industry, even as the world seemed to be a lot closer to George Orwell’s 1984 than any of us were comfortable with.
Instead, those who were hoping to enjoy a lighthearted evening showcasing the drivers of their favorite series blasting around a virtual track akin to a charity go-kart race on steroids, were subjected to impromptu lectures from championship winning race car drivers about how inaccurate and unrealistic the game was.
Bro, that’s not a good thing when your game has been on the market for eleven years, and you’re promoting yourself as the most realistic and authentic in the business. This is pretty embarrassing.
This should have been a massive kick in the ass for iRacing, or any company finding themselves in this situation, for that matter. But a year after the pro invitational debacle that saw NASCAR, IndyCar, and V8 Supercar drivers all publicly trash the game on their various Twitch streams, what does iRacing have to show for it?
The answer is… nothing.
As of today, iRacing released a fleet of Generation 7 NASCAR stock cars, just hours after the real thing was unveiled to the public. This is their newest piece of DLC, developed after eleven years in existence as a company, and hot on the heels of copious amounts of feedback from professional drivers who were contractually obligated to play their game for a few months in the spring of 2020.
Already, there are complaints in the forums that the cars are spinning out unexpectedly.
None of the feedback was listened to, and their newest piece of content is still exhibiting the same problems it did nearly a decade ago.
“The car is great, aside from this major issue that makes it undrivable,” say some members on the forums.
Bro, listen to what you are saying.
Zero progress has been made in eleven years.
Over the winter, I introduced one of my best friends to sim racing after we’d spent years beating the shit out of each other when the Xbox 360 was still a relevant console. Eventually, Assetto Corsa just didn’t cut it anymore – outside of Nordschleife tourist servers you end up racing the same 20 – 40 people every night – and I helped him sign up for iRacing in the most cost-effective manner possible: Buy content in chunks of three and monitor the schedule for overlapping tracks so you get the most bang for your buck. It’s easy, just time consuming and convoluted for someone who’s brand new to everything and literally doesn’t know how the service works.
This eventually led to several nights where we’d just trade off on races as his account climbed out of Rookie shitters and into A-Class.
I am no longer just some idiot kid playing iRacing. At one point I had a late model track record to my name, a couple of podiums, and have raced a variety of cars on both dirt and asphalt – usually with some level of success. It’s pretty dope to get to a point where not winning a trophy is rare and competitors look forward to seeing your in-car footage.
The ARCA Menards Impala at Homestead was the most difficult race car I’ve ever driven and I say that with complete sincerity.
The rear tires gave off the sensation of being on black ice if I went beyond 50% throttle input at any given time. I was scared to touch the gas pedal and had to frequently dodge other drivers self-spinning off the corner not just in practice, but in the race as well. The rear end was completely unpredictable, and the few times I dared to go beyond the limit of adhesion, I couldn’t move my hands fast enough to keep the car under control. Some of the wrecks I had in practice looked like I’d never played a racing sim before, and the only reason I ended up victorious was due to attrition.
I was more nervous and exhausted from that shitty D-Class ARCA Menards race, than I’ve been in an actual race car, or driving in winter snowstorms with an ill-equipped Chrysler Sebring.
This did not match anything I’d seen on TV.
The situation, quite frankly, is dire and embarrassing.
Sim racers should be asking some very hard questions about iRacing’s lack of improvement, as the amount of time that has passed since users first spotted major issues is nonsensical.
In hindsight, I think it was fair to tell people like me back in 2013 or 2014 to “stop being so impatient, updates are in the pipeline to fix everything.” None of us really knew what the future held regarding this game.
But it’s now 2021. Today is the future.
Those updates never came. Another new car, another wave of comments complaining that it spins out for no discernible reason.
How long are iRacers willing to put up with this?
If they can’t get it right in eleven years, what makes you think they’ll turn it around in year twelve?
What about year fourteen? Is that when even the most diehard of iRacing supporters finally throw in the towel?
Fourteen years to wait for a video game update bro. Insane. You are fucking insane if you defend this.
iRacing members are now being subjected to a situation seen in both the Star Citizen and Madden NFL communities – years, if not decades passing, with no tangible improvements, longing for the game to be just as good as something released at the beginning of the century. iRacing members, in my opinion, are quite simply being ripped off – sold a game promised as the ultimate racing simulation, and being given this weird, eternal science project with unresolved core gameplay issues that now go back almost a decade.
The worst part, however, has been watching this situation play out from the standpoint of a rival developer.
I obviously can’t elaborate too much on my time with SMS, but there were indeed instances on certain projects where cars early in development exhibited the exact same symptoms that their iRacing counterparts did; low speed, unrecoverable slides that happened for no discernible reason. It was reported, reproduced, and fixed, sometimes within a day or two – the culprit being as simple as a typo in the tire file. I know around these parts some of you aren’t fans of SMS and I’m certainly not happy with how they treated me in my final days with the company, but credit where credit is due, they fixed this shit in days.
iRacing instead puts rules in their sporting code to stop you from talking about it, then sells you brand new pieces of DLC with the issue still unresolved.
After nearly a decade of both avid users and professional drivers openly complaining about it, and begging the devs to fix the issue.
If you don’t begin asking hard questions about where this project is going, you’re part of the problem. You shouldn’t need to wait fourteen years for a patch to a video game.