Examining the Historical Firmaments of Racing as a New Gaming Standard
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 20th Jun 2012
The PC and iRacing.com?
What is being hailed as the first viable challenger to the dynamic duo of Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, iRacing was created by David Kaemmer and John Henry following the demise of their Papyrus Design Group. With a mandate to create a PC-based driving simulation game based upon the code from Papyrus' NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, the group was able to sign a five-year deal in 2009 with NASCAR for an online NASCAR-sanctioned racing series, in addition to providing the software being used for the NASCAR Hall of Fame simulators.
This became iRacing.com, and was launched with a strong web-based organizational structure using a PC gaming engine downloaded by gamers, who access it via the subscription-based system that is structured to manage their "driver" records, to which their subscription is linked and around which their participation in the online racing simulation competition is based.
In addition to providing the servers, server software, and racing client, iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations also models the tracks that are part of the service by surveying the actual physical tracks themselves, and accurately models the different vehicles with the assistance of the manufacturers, providing a service that is so realistic that many professional drivers use it to learn the layout of specific tracks and their idiosyncrasies! From its very beginnings the iRacing service has been marketed as both a racing entertainment game and as a training tool for real life drivers.
Observing the trend towards realism over all else, each of the cars in iRacing.com's simulation was created with the assistance of their manufacturer, while the addition of each track in the game followed a rigorous protocol in which engineers were dispatched to each track to perform inch-by-inch surveys so exacting that the game is used by professional race car drivers as an aid to learning the layout and the feel for each track!
The public-side of the iRacing service launched on August 26, 2008, and as of September 2011 has an estimated active role of over 30,000 paid and active members, which on the face of it may not seem to be in the same class as the player base for Forza or Gran Turismo, when the online segments of those game communities are taken into consideration iRacing easily places in a competitive level with the two better established games.
To appreciate the point, consider that 99% of the game play activity on iRacing takes place online -- there is no offline client for the game -- in competition between human opponents, whereas online competition in Forza and Gran Turismo represents only a tiny fraction of the player base for those two games, and the legitimate threat in competition posed by iRacing at least with respect to the segments of gamers for the other titles interested in online play suddenly stands out.
Where Forza and Gran Turismo rely mostly upon expansion of tracks, cars, and scenario play, iRacing largely leverages its relationships and numerous partnerships with real-world racing organizations including NASCAR, GRAND-AM, IndyCar, V8 Supercars, the Star Mazda Championships, and the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup, and relationships with real-world car manufacturers, as well as agreements with outfits like the Skip Barber Racing School, so that it not only adds tracks and cars to its game, but semi-official and official races that mirror the real-life versions, which offers a heady mix of game and accomplishments that can feel very real indeed.
-- A Level Playing Field --
The basic package that every gamer receives when they subscribe to iRacing includes their driver record, access to the tracks for practice, and access to official events, as well as an NEX Legends class Ford '34 Coupe, a Street Stock class car, a Mazda MX-5 Miata, a Pontiac Solstice, an SCCA Spec Racer Ford, and a Cadillac CTS-V R.
The subscription package above includes the basic set of 10 tracks and six cars intended to be used to practice, acquire basic racing skills, and ultimately to race. Additional cars and tracks chosen by each gamer are then added to their driver account by paying additional one-time charges, after which they have full and unrestricted access to them. The cars in iRacing are divided into graduated classes, and require the player to have the level of license that corresponds to the car level, for example the Rookie car classes (there are several) require the player to have the proper license in order to drive buy and drive the car.
In addition to participation in officially-sponsored and scheduled racing events online, players are able to organize their own online sessions, hosted on servers run by iRacing, as well as non-standard racing series, examples of which include a four-week Rookie series, IndyCar and Grand-Am Premier series, and Pro series. That neatly describes the game and by extrapolation the threat that it poses to the status quo.
Enter the Dragon -- Alternative Racing Games
Until recently there was nothing to indicate that the plethora of alternative racing games posed any sort of interest or threat to Forza or Gran Turismo, but the creation of Forza Horizons on the part of Turn 10 suggests an awareness of that side of the fence and a desire to service that demand that is interesting. The basic premise of Forza Horizons neatly fits into alternative racing games like Need for Speed and the like that clearly shows that the folks at Turn 10 feel there is a market share to be desired there.
With Criterion Games taking over the Need for Speed franchise from EA Games Black Box on behalf of EA Games, as the host suggests they needed to take a long look at the series and come up with their own unique take on it -- which is Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2012 -- and while they do a bang-up job in this trailer and live demo (embedded above) this also serves to illustrate that there is a well-established market for story-based off-track racing that both Turn 10 and Polyphony Digital want a piece of...