The Handmaid’s eSports Series

Though she certainly hasn’t been able to boast the marketing empire of fellow IndyCar-turned-NASCAR star Danica Patrick, fans of American open wheel racing will undoubtedly be familiar with the name Pippa Mann. Finishing a stout fifth place in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights series – a championship commonly used as a proving ground for the big show – Mann found herself unable to secure a full-time ride over the following seasons, instead making sporadic appearances for Dale Coyne Racing during marquee events such as the Indianapolis 500. The thirty four year old journeyman driver from England earned a fairly stout reputation among the paddock despite her limited track time in the Verizon IndyCar Series, both for her ability to bring the car home in one piece for a mid-pack finish during otherwise chaotic eventssuch as the notorious 2015 MAV TV 500 death race at California Speedway – and for her abundance of charity work, which usually centers around the breast cancer awareness foundation as you can see above.

Yet in stumbling upon today’s biggest piece of sim racing news, it’s not her on-track accomplishments that reminded me Pippa Mann exists, but rather her comments away from it.

With sim racers patiently awaiting for more news on the long-awaited release of GTR 3 – which was first teased earlier this year – as well as an estimated release date regarding RaceRoom’s supposed implementation of an iRacing-like online structure – again, heavily teased – SimBin UK (and presumably Sector 3 Studios, as the two are more or less sister companies that share technology) have instead eschewed giving their fans any sort of relevant information about their upcoming products, and announced this morning the creation of a women-only eSports racing series. No, I promise you this is not April Fools’ day. This is like, an actual piece of news I woke up to being posted on legitimate news websites.

And like most reading this, my jaw hit the floor several times in rapid succession, because I was left with more questions than answers.

First, SimBin UK don’t actually have a game on the market to hold this competition in. Sure, they’ve announced GTR 3, but all we’ve seen of the title are assets from RaceRoom Racing Experience placed into the Unreal 4 engine for static images, some of which actually display vehicles clipping into the ground – a pretty amateur effort. So I’m a bit unsure as to how they’re going to conduct some progressive eSports competition when there even isn’t a finished game to do so in, and the last public interview conducted with the developers mentioned there were just three people on the staff roster at the time the article was posted. Of course, the news outlets covering this have conveniently glossed over this pretty integral point, instead carefully describing the situation as “SimBin UK are currently working on GTR 3 for a release next year.”

Okay, let’s ask the most basic question: if the company’s first game game comes out next year, but the eSports tournament begins this fall, and this company currently has no games on the market… What in the fuck is going on?

Next, let’s talk about the wage gap that has supposedly been one of the reasons this progressive approach to an online racing league has been taken in the first place. Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Harry Potter, the wage gap is a myth perpetuated by emotionally fragile children. Here is the Wall Street Journal debunking it. Here is CBS News debunking it. Here is the Huffington Post debunking it. Here is Reuters proving women actually out-earn men in the workplace. And if this random pretty girl from New York state still doesn’t convince you that this is all a bogus narrative pushed by man-hating feminists, think of it this way – if a wage gap really did exist, whether it be in the working world or the eSports kingdom, wouldn’t 100% of the participants or employees be female, as it would be financially more reasonable to just hire an entire workplace or eSports team full of women and pay them less, than to hire or sign any man in the first place?

But rather than allow myself to go on a tirade against social justice warriors and temporarily turn PRC into Tumblr lite, just like their sister company Sector 3 do when working on new cars or physics updates for RaceRoom Racing Experience, we’ll enlist the help of a professional race car driver to outright embarrass SimBin UK’s pathetic attempts at virtue signalling, and explain why a women’s only eSports series is complete garbage.

Three months ago, in June of 2017 – so this wasn’t that long ago and should still be fresh in the minds of most auto racing fans – an article appeared on car enthusiast blog Jalopnik entitled “This Proposed All-Women’s Racing Series is Some Bullshit.” The post explained how that essentially, some wealthy organization obtained twelve older GP2 cars and would put a bunch of female race car drivers currently without full-time rides in what’s more or less a gimmicky support series. The prize for winning the championship, which is said to be held over six events in 2018, is a full-fledged Formula One test.

Basically, they were doing what SimBin UK have announced they’ll be doing this fall in an eSports series, but with real cars.

Janet Guthrie, the most successful female driver in the history of NASCAR, told the Indianapolis Star it would be a “freak show” and that “it automatically implies women are somehow less capable than men.” Pippa Mann, still fresh off her IndyCar experience, went a step further and penned an entire blog post about it titled “The Handmaid’s Racing Series.” And she did not mince words. This is a legendary tirade that’s worth the ten minutes you’ll spend reading it on the shitter.

And yet with all of these professional female drivers – some with multiple Indianapolis 500-mile races under their belts – slamming a real life gender segregated racing championship, explaining how the concept “made their skin craw” and openly refusing to take part while publicly embarrassing all involved within the organization, somehow the buffoons at SimBin UK thought a virtual counterpart would be a fantastic idea.

SimBin UK, despite not having produced a single retail game as of yet, have the audacity to push a concept that professional race car drivers have publicly ripped to shreds in international news when placed in an identical situation, all while daring to claim segregation is somehow “progressive and inclusive.” And this is in a genre of video games where the input of professional drivers is the holy grail of racing simulator development.

segregation2

We here at PRC have no problem ripping companies to shreds for buggy video games, but this right here is absolute next level hooliganism. SimBin UK have established themselves as the absolute worst developer in sim racing by literally ignoring any sort of relevant feedback from professional race car drivers that may pertain to the situation at hand, and going forward we here at PRC openly encourage our readers to boycott any of their products, or products that may be affiliated with them.

This is farcical.

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Yawn Factor: Sector 3 Studios Acquire Porsche License

If you’re going to go through the trouble of making some sort of impromptu hashtag, and tease a “major announcement” about your video on Facebook, it better actually be a major announcement, and not something that everyone else within the ecosystem have been doing for about eleven months. This is the spot RaceRoom and Sector 3 Studios have found themselves in today, as the #WelcomeHome announcement was not a full-fledged TCR Scandinavia expansion as I publicly predicted (though I think Jean-Francois can confirm I called it in private on Facebook), but rather the introduction of Porsche into the *free-to-play PC racing simulator. After years spent using the aftermarket modification brand Ruf in substitute of the iconic German sports cars – as did many developers during the years of EA’s exclusivity deal – simulation enthusiasts who call R3E their software of choice will now be able to purchase a fleet of authentic Porsche race cars in the near future.

For the R3E crowd, as well as the developers themselves, it’s certainly an exciting time for the game, as Porsche’s inclusion is really one of the last major automotive brands to be implemented into RaceRoom Racing Experience, and there are a pretty diverse array of classes in which Porsche sports cars past and present can be dropped right into the already stout packs to compliment the field. I’m also hoping that some of the older ADAC GT Masters packs will be retrofitted with the previously omitted Porsche content, as the pricier bundles depicting one of Europe’s top GT series at the time shipped with incomplete fields due to the lack of a Porsche license. If Sector 3 were to take this route, it would be an extremely classy move on their part, breathing new life into content people may have forgotten about.

Contextually, however, I find the hype and fanfare RaceRoom tried to drum up in regards to this announcement fairly peculiar, if not outright pretentious. At the very least, the marketing department could have done a lot better given the circumstances.

Rather than simply tease a new manufacturer was being added into the mix, the affordable simulation rig company instead boasted of a “major announcement”, using the hashtag #WelcomeHome. In light of the team’s plans for an extensive online racing service, and an entirely new console game from their sister company SimBin UK, a lot of sim racers believed this #WelcomeHome announcement would be much bigger than a new car brand entering the fray – and this is a sentiment conveyed on the official Facebook page as well. For this “important announcement” to manifest itself as a mere license acquisition… It’s kind of a letdown.

And that’s because for over a year, almost every other developer in the sim racing landscape today treated their own acquisition of the Porsche license like it was a pretty major deal – which in all fairness, it was at the time. Kunos Simulazioni rocked the entire genre on June 17th, 2016, when they revealed their little studio of just under twenty people had somehow managed to wrangle the elusive Porsche license away from the grasp of Electronic Arts, revealing a trio of paid downloadable content packs, paving the way for the rest of the hobby to follow suit. But then Turn 10 got their hands on the very same license, as did iRacing, Slightly Mad Studios, and even Gran Turismo – a franchise that had existed long before EA’s exclusivity deal went into effect. Within a few months, it honestly just didn’t matter anymore, and the deal between Porsche and EA had firmly cemented itself as a really aggravating piece of trivia. So for RaceRoom to advertise this as a major event in the game’s timeline… I’m sorry guys, but that ship sailed long ago.

I also take issue with the rather strange, misguided hashtag used to kind of promote this announcement, the whole #WelcomeHome thing they’ve got going on. Dating back to Race: The WTCC Game, Porsche vehicles have never appeared in any simulator made by the Swedish incarnation of either SimBin or Sector 3 Studios. So in this case I’m not really sure what Porsche are “coming home” to, as Porsche car models weren’t present in games created by this team to begin with.

Some will try and claim this hashtag is actually in reference to the GTR series of simulators, in particular GTR 2, but they’d be factually incorrect to do so. The GTR releases were actually made by a group operating under the moniker of Blimey Games, based out of the United Kingdom, and not Germany – Porsche’s home. Those who still push the GTR 2 argument regardless of these facts are also forgetting that marquee manufacturers weren’t a key selling point of GTR 2; the game was based on the 2003 and 2004 FIA GT Championship seasons, and it just so happened that there were a lot of Porsche’s and Ferrari’s on the roster because that’s what teams were using at the time. This wasn’t Need for Speed or Test Drive by any means, where trailers showcased shiny street-legal Porsche’s and Ferrari’s for you to gawk at; it was a pretty obscure racing simulator.

Regardless, it’s good to see Porsche playing ball with even the little guys in the genre, and this can only open the door for an increased level of cooperation within the sim racing landscape.

 

#WelcomeHome, TCR Scandinavia?

While there hasn’t been a whole lot of action regarding Sector 3’s RaceRoom Racing Experience as of late – the Swedish team slowly churning out more and more obscure content while talk of an extensive online racing interface to rival iRacing has died down – the RaceRoom brand have put out a rather ominous teaser on their official page, christened by the hashtag #WelcomeHome. The post has sent followers and official forum members alike into wild mass speculation, as unlike most developers who drop subtle hints about upcoming content through tweets and other miscellaneous social media posts until the inevitable reveal, Sector 3 have remained relatively tight-lipped about the future of RaceRoom Racing Experience and their company as a whole, meaning sim racers are left largely in the dark as to what this announcement could contain.

Intense speculation is really all this story warrants at this point, so for today I’ll just sort of drop an estimated guess on our audience, and then over the weekend we’ll see how close we got to the actual reveal.

I believe this announcement could possibly be related to an official TCR Scandinavia expansion pack for RaceRoom Racing Experience. While operating under the name of SimBin, the team we now know as Sector 3 Studios released not one, but two very obscure expansion packs for the cult classic simulator Race 07, centered around the regional touring car series many years ago. While it might not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea – one “blanket” touring car series is often enough for most sim racers given how most sanctioning bodies provide the same vehicle specifications, and the same kind of racing – it would at least make sense for Sector 3 to revisit something very close to home. The team are based in Sweden, after all.

The evidence that points towards a possible TCR Scandinavia expansion pack can already be seen in RaceRoom Racing Experience as of today; Sector 3 have spent the past few months pushing out five straight Swedish racing facilities including Knutstorp, Falkenberg, Anderstorp, Karlskoga, and Mantorp Park – so all that’s really needed to complete the TCR Scandinavia experience would be the vehicles themselves. I’m not going to sit here and tell our readers it’s “not a lot of work” to make just a few cars and some liveries, because it is, but it’s certainly much less of a mountain for the team to climb compared to obtaining a Ferrari or Porsche license, and it 100% explains the #WelcomeHome hashtag that Sector 3 are pushing. This project is obviously something they take a lot of pride in because it’s close to home, and there’s nothing that says “obscure Swedish racing sim developer” than “Swedish touring car series.”

Unfortunately, at a time when sim racers are chomping at the bit for either ranked online racing to be implemented into R3E, or more information regarding SimBin UK’s GTR 3, it’s probably not what many loyal R3E supporters are wanting to hear. I’ve really been wanting an excuse to jump back into R3E, as I personally love the combination of how the tires behave, the internal car sounds, as well as the exceptional force feedback, and touring cars on tracks that are otherwise meaningless to me are just not going to reel me in – and I think a lot of people will agree on that front. RaceRoom Racing Experience is a good simulator, it just needs that little extra boost to make it great. This isn’t an extra boost at all, it’s just… more content.

Content that only a fraction of the userbase will even entertain the thought of purchasing, especially in light of talk regarding a massive overhaul to the online ecosystem, and a spin-off game centering around content that people do want to drive, just seems like a really bizarre way to proceed about things. And it’s decisions like this, if true, that really serve to explain why the company has run into financial trouble on multiple occasions. Customers have their credit cards armed and at the ready for all of these exciting new features the team have no problem announcing, but are then given regional touring car series instead that very few people will buy, while the actual exciting stuff just kind of vanishes until someone brings it up on a forum in six months.

But anyways, for the Swedish PRC readers hanging around here, y’all can probably get hyped for a TCR Scandinavian expansion.

Rumor: ISI to Assist in Developing GTR 3?

Still kept from the eyes of the public despite the summer months being a traditional time to release information on upcoming games, SimBin UK’s GTR 3 continues to be a rather perplexing story in the world of sim racing. Announced several times over the years before either failing to manifest, or turning into other projects altogether, the justified skepticism surrounding the current iteration of the title only grew louder, as sim racers noticed the proof of concept screenshots released at the beginning of 2017 from SimBin UK – supposedly representing a multi-platform racing simulator under the name of GTR 3 – could have been mocked up in mere minutes within the Unreal Engine, thus indicating the game might not be under active development, but a publicity stunt to secure funding. While all of us want GTR 3 to finally manifest and land in our hands given the previous edition’s widespread critical and commercial success, SimBin UK’s silence in regards to the title is indeed worrying; key job openings, a lack of social media activity, and interviews with the team themselves paint a very different picture about GTR 3’s existence. In short, it doesn’t look likely.

However, a rogue comment left on PRC, and a bit of circumstantial evidence, indicates GTR 3 may possibly be deep in development after all with the help of a major player within the ecosystem – though it’s certainly not something that should be taken as fact just yet.

The rumor, left on our website by an anonymous user in late June with no prior posting history, alleges that Image Space Incorporatedcreators of both F1 Challenge 99-02, as well as the revolutionary open-ended racing simulator rFactor – have partnered with SimBin UK on the upcoming sports car simulator. Of course, with some of the inane garbage landing in our comments section on a daily basis, it’s hard to believe much of anything that’s written in sim racing’s cesspool of insanity, but there are at least grounds to turn this into a reasonable sounding rumor, rather than something completely out of left field.

Image Space Incorporated transferred development of their flagship racing simulator, rFactor 2, to a team operating under the name of Studio 397 last fall, essentially ending ISI’s direct involvement in a piece of software they’d been actively developing since at least 2003 or 2004. However, the company did not outright state they were ceasing operations and moving away from the sim racing micro-industry altogether; along with message board posts echoing this same sentiment, the last time I spoke to Tim Wheatley, he implied they had taken up a project that’s “not rFactor 3”, but will use the isiMotor engine rather than working to develop it.

I originally believed this to be a revival of the IndyCar racing franchise, considering ISI had acquired the license to both Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as the Dallara DW12 for rFactor 2, but my assertions later proved to be incorrect when Slightly Mad Studios revealed a full IndyCar field and several tracks on the 2017 schedule for their own simulator, Project CARS 2.

If the rumor left in the anonymous PRC comment is to be believed, this would now point to ISI being involved in the resurrection of GTR 3 by SimBin UK, as the most practical application for the isiMotor engine – like I’ve discussed before here on PRC – would be in endurance sports car racing, where changes in weather, lighting, and track conditions are commonplace, and the engine could be used to its fullest extent. It would also explain why SimBin UK are so confident in announcing GTR 3 to the world despite being a relatively small staff seemingly incapable of constructing the game themselves; outsourcing fundamental portions of the game’s development to a highly experienced team would allow them to actually get the game off the ground, while taking care of the elements they are capable of achieving, such as securing licenses and retaining assets such as car and track models from their sister company, Sector 3 Studios.

Obviously, it’s all just rumors and speculation, but it’s a rumor that seems rather reasonable. SimBin UK aren’t big enough to create a multi-platform racer like GTR 3 all by themselves, and it’s been public knowledge that Image Space Incorporated are working on something behind closed doors, not yet interested in completely retiring from the sim racing community. Helping out on GTR 3 would be a natural and exciting fit for both ISI and SimBin UK, as the isiMotor engine would thrive with the  subject matter centered around what their engine does best.

If hell does freeze over and this all comes to fruition, sim racers have every reason to be excited. A polished, feature-complete rendition of rFactor 2 focusing on one primary racing series is long overdue in the genre.

GTR 3 - 4

So… Where’s GTR 3?

For about a week in February of this year, RaceDepartment was set on fire. Proclaiming a revival of the iconic GTR brand on behalf of SimBin UK – an off-shoot of Sector 3 Studios – we were given several lengthy pieces and interviews with key team members promising us that yes, after many years of ideology changes and botched projects, GTR 3 was indeed a real thing. In a sim racing climate in which developers load up their respective pieces of software with as many unrelated vehicles and locations as possible in the hopes that something will captivate their audience, the community saw this announcement as not only a breath of fresh air, but a return to form; the days of single-series simulations we’d seemingly moved far away from were now on the horizon once more, potentially hinting at a second golden age like the one we saw in the early 2000’s was not too far off. Though the initial batch of images SimBin UK published were quickly ripped apart by internet sleuths, who noticed lighting irregularities and oddly placed car models, we were assured that by some point in 2018, we’d be playing GTR 3, and at the very least, the team would have a working game by the summer of 2017.

Of course, when some noticed how absurdly difficult it would be for SimBin UK to create a scratch-built simulation physics engine in Unreal 4 with just the four or five staff members they’d had on the payroll at the time of the game’s announcement, the metaphorical crickets could be heard in abundance – giving doubters such as myself the impression that a lot of people were being taken for a ride, and GTR 3 was yet another pipe dream; the team mocking up a few proof of concept shots and using their connections among the sim racing community to publish pseudo-announcements in high traffic areas, with the hopes of securing an investor to actually fund their vision.

In case you haven’t figured out from the plethora of coverage on YouTube from your favorite sim racing outlets, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is in full swing. This isn’t some sort of obscure gaming show by any means; E3 is ourWoodstock per se – the entire goddamn industry comes together for one giant event in southern California to demonstrate the products we’ll be playing either in the fall, or at some point over the next few years. Now, is it reserved for the giants of the industry? Of course not; Kunos Simulazioni flew out there to announce indie racing simulator Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Kylotonn guys are there displaying WRC 7, and even 704 Games – the questionable team behind the modern NASCAR Heat reboot – brought a laptop and some Xbox controllers to debut NASCAR Heat 2. This is on top of the already stout lineup of Forza Motorsport, Project CARS, Gran Turismo Need for Speed, Formula One, and The Crew – though the latter isn’t a personal favorite of mine.

Absent from this list, would be SimBin UK’s GTR 3, possibly the only major racing game that’s been announced yet did not make an appearance at E3. Now you’re certainly not required to travel halfway around the world show up to the California-based convention to demonstrate your game – a simple YouTube teaser would suffice – but that too appears to be missing in action. When the world is focused on the gaming industry as a whole, and your entire collective target audience have their eyes locked on YouTube to take in the sights and sounds of all the new racing games, it’s certainly odd that there’s not been so much as a peep from the GTR 3 team.

Yes, that’s my “scoop” for today; SimBin UK have not shown off GTR 3 at E3 or at least taken advantage of the hype and pushed out a teaser trailer on YouTube, so I personally have a hard time believing this game exists, or that things are going smoothly behind closed doors. But before you call me an evil conspiracy theorist set to destroy other games, let’s take a bit of a journey around the internet to see what might support this theory, and make it significantly less of a wild conspiracy perpetuated by a sim racing “hate blog.”

SimBin UK’s own web page lists an abundance of job openings, and this is something you can navigate to and see for yourself. There are at least five active positions available to apply for on the SimBin UK company roster, most of them being very prominent positions that play a key role in the development of a multi-platform racing simulator. They don’t need random motherfuckers to bomb around the office and crank out car liveries every few days, they need senior programmers, C++ programmers, and network programmers. These are the kinds of positions you fill before announcing a game, slowly fleshing out the roster with supporting positions as the main guys fall into place and bust their asses on the heavy stuff.

How do you announce a game in February, proceed to whip all these different websites into a flurry of excitement, and then five months later still have openings for key positions on the team? This is like announcing you’ve started a rock band and are recording an album, but post on your official Facebook page that you need a drummer, lead guitarist, and singer.

Bruh.

Next, we travel to the team’s Twitter account, which is suspiciously quiet. Aside from seemingly being configured to retweet anything relating to RaceRoom Racing Experience, there’s virtually nothing about GTR 3’s progress. There are something like seven or eight posts in a row about the official Mercedes DTM competition on Sector 3’s RaceRoom simulation, but that’s clearly not GTR 3, it’s RaceRoom – an entirely different piece of software. In regards to GTR 3, there’s actually a whole lot of nothing – save for one custom tweet stating their new website is live.

That was back in March.

In an era of gaming where developers across the sim racing community sit on forums and social media virtually all day, bantering with customers and/or releasing teasers of upcoming projects or future updates, for SimBin UK to announce a major racing simulator earlier this year, and then put their social media on autopilot to regurgitate articles focusing on a game from their sister company, in combination with no progress or updates on their game in six months, no appearance at E3, not even a newer teaser piece, and a whole lot of important positions yet to be filled, is highly suspicious.

Links to the team’s other social media pages from the SimBin UK website, such as Facebook and YouTube, direct to pages that in some cases haven’t been touched in three years.

This kind of anti-progress and questionable chain of announcements seems to be something not specific to SimBin UK, but also extends to Sector 3 Studios themselves, a team responsible for an objectively good racing simulator with R3E. While the team have been openly talking about turning the online portion of their title into something that can compete with iRacing at a fraction of the cost – something that’s very well possible given the diversity and overall popularity of the content offered in RaceRoom Racing Experience – as of two days ago, long after this stuff was first announced, Sector 3 can be seen openly trying to recruit employees to actually build that element of the game. So between both Sector 3 and SimBin UK, I’m under the impression they’re both operating in a manner in which they announce upcoming features, and in some cases entire games, without actually having the staff necessary to build them. They then go “oh shit” and scramble around to fulfill their previously announced goals, hoping the sim racing community either forget the previous announcements they made, or vehemently defend them if they can’t be seen to completion because “muh small developer” and stuff.

I’ve been patiently awaiting the new online format for RaceRoom Racing Experience as I love how the title drives, and would not hesitate to purchase all the content the honest way if I woke up to news that the structured multiplayer format was set to go live in a few weeks, but the reality is that all we’ve got is a few new GT cars and some obscure Swedish tracks. I was told around September of last year that they were working on an iRacing-like multiplayer service, and nine months later we’ve gotten precisely no new info; only clues that they don’t even have the relevant staff positions filled to complete it in the first place.

And I believe that’s what’s happened with GTR 3 as well. Judging by what’s publicly available, the lack of any updates or teasers at what’s traditionally a time to take the covers off everything in the gaming industry, the awkward silence on social media, the abundance of open positions on the team’s official website, the difficulty in creating a high-fidelity simulator engine from scratch with a skeleton crew, and zero coverage from sim racing publications that were once happy to push the announcement of GTR 3 to the forefront, I have an exceptionally difficult time believing this game will see the light of day.

Again, I want GTR 3. The popularity of sports car racing is at an all time high and it would be sweet to have that flagship GT game where all you do is race GT cars, in the same manner that DiRT 4 is that all-encompassing off-road title for fans of rally racing. Warts and all, I don’t think it’s too hard for a non-traditional team to deliver some sort of niche sports car game; Milestone’s MXGP3 is proof that no matter how obscure the subject matter may be, a good racing game is a good racing game.

But in this particular situation, there’s a marshal holding a red flag in every corner. Radio silence at a time when even the lowliest of NASCAR and Isle of Mann developers are proud to demonstrate their software to the world, no social media activity, a blackout from the publications who once covered it, and prominent job openings when original interviews stated there’d already be an internal build operational in the summer. If you want myself and the other skeptics to believe GTR 3 exists somewhere other than the imaginations of SimBin UK, this isn’t the way to do it.