The racing game renaissance

Alex Calvin
The racing game renaissance

The racing genre can be incredibly difficult to keep up with.

One moment it is among the biggest sectors and everyone is releasing their own driving game; the next moment, the bubble bursts, titles start underperforming, the big publishers lose interest in the sector and declare it dead. Repeat ad infinitum.

In recent years, the genre has all been about big sequels like Dirt, Gran Turismo and Forza. And that's largely due to the racing collapse of 2010. Back then, confidence was so high in the genre that both Disney and Activision went head-to-head with new IP. Disney had Split/Second, while Activision launched Blur. Both were met with great reviews, and both flopped, resulting in the closure of two top UK developers.

This reluctance and hesitation towards the racing genre was something that Slightly Mad experienced when pitching Project CARS to publishers four years ago.

When we started with Project CARS, we went to Activision and all the other big companies and we said that we had this cool idea for a racing game. We were hot off the heels of making EA's Need for Speed: Shift 2, we've been making games for ten years like this and they've all done really well,” creative director Andy Tudor explains.

We thought we had everything going for us. But all the publishers were saying that Project CARS was way too risky, that the costs involved for the licensing for cars and tracks is a lot of money. We have a new IP, which is scary as people don't know who we were, we're trying to take on the big guys – Forza and Gran Turismo – how could we ever hope to compete?”

"Four years ago, publishers said
Project CARS was too risky.
They didn't think we could
compete with Gran Turismo."

Andy Tudor, Slightly Mad Studios

Some of the concerns surrounding the racing genre seems to have dissipated in recent years, and the sector appears to be in rude health.

In the last twelve months Sony released DriveClub – a title that was the top-selling single-platform game last year – while Ubisoft launched The Crew and Slightly Mad released Project CARS. Both saw big sales numbers.

The racing genre is currently very vibrant on every major platform – from console and PC through to mobile – and new games are entering the market, while old favourites continue to perform well,” Codemasters' director of marketing Dan Robinson says. There are some great experiences out there right now for all kinds of players. It feels that there's a renewed interest and renaissance amongst players for racing games.”

He continues: The popularity of the current generation of consoles has given many people renewed faith but racing is a tough and complex category to enter and very easy to get wrong. You have to meticulously build the right product, and the gap between success and failure is enormous, because the cost and complexity of building a very large, content-rich racing game and engine is huge, before you even consider marketing budgets.”

PQube's marketing boss Geraint Evans adds: The last couple of years have been fantastic for racing game fans as there's such a decent amount of choice across a range of formats. We're also seeing the racing game communities like Team VVV really strengthen in numbers and activity. There's a definitely a renewed hunger for the genre.”

So, after years of low confidence within the racing genre, why are we seeing so many new IP launching?

It's always easier to release a new franchise early in a consoles life cycle,” Evans says. People are buying new hardware and tend to be much more open to trying new experiences - you're always going to see the genre stalwarts performing well, but in the opening couple of years of a console's life, while the catalogue of games is relatively low, it's much easier for something fresh to get noticed.”

Robinson adds: There's a relatively uncongested market, while developers spin up their established franchises, which provides a window for new players to join the genre, and an opportunity for new IPs to establish themselves early in the cycle,” he says. Normally, hardware stepping forward enables something that wasn't possible on previous generations, so the new IP can offer something genuinely exciting, with higher fidelity.”

"Competing with Forza or Gran Turismo is always
going to be hard – but racing is a broad genre."

Geraint Evans, PQube


And it isn't just these new IPs, either. Publishers argue that there is an opportunity for slightly smaller racing franchises, such as PQube's MotoGP and MXGP titles, as well as Codemasters' F1 series.

Racing fans will always want a variety of different types of experiences and it's our job to provide this,” Robinson says.

Fans generally embrace games which can bring something new to the genre, whether that is a deeper experience, or can capture some aspect of racing that is missing from the market. We've always worked hard to ensure that with F1, Grid and Dirt, we do just that.”

Evans adds: The opportunities lie in offering a racing experience that sits outside what the main titles are doing. Competing with Forza or Gran Turismo or Need For Speed is always going to be hard - but racing is such a broad genre that you don't necessarily need to go head-to-head with those titles. There are loads of different motorsports, and a wide range of vehicle categories you can explore, many that have huge audiences and dedicated core fanbases, but that also have decent appeal to wider audiences.”


WORKS OF ART

IT might have taken slightly longer than expected, but there are now a number of new racing franchises on Sony and Microsoft's fancy new hardware.

And of course, racing games, are an excellent way of showing off the graphical power of the new machines.

People want to push what the new hardware is capable of. Racing games are ideal for that,” Slightly Mad creative director Andy Tudor says.

Cars are made of metal and glass and things like that, and computers are really good at rendering those really, really accurately. It's not like you're doing a face with emotions and hair and all that. They are quite a rigid object. When new consoles come out, racing games are one of the go-to genres to really showcase what they are capable of. It's nothing more than that. There are always loads of new racing games out early in the console cycle.”

Robinson adds: Obviously for platform-exclusive titles like DriveClub and Forza, showing off the new hardware is a big motivation - there's no better way to show off new hardware than shiny, curvy beautiful cars in gorgeous environments. But the racing games launched so far have been m

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