Forza’s tenth lap

Ten years ago, when the Forza franchise debuted, developer Turn 10 found that car manufacturers weren’t all that interested in video games.

They looked at games as a small licensing revenue thing,” says Dan Greenawalt, creative director at Forza creators Turn 10.

Gamers were kids, so these manufacturers didn’t have it on their radar. Now it’s to their peril to not think of gamers seriously. The rise of the gamer in the last ten years has been amazing. Gaming is mainstream. Games like Forza are one of the best assets that a manufacturer has to create brand affinity, to create brand loyalty in a driver who may not even have a driver’s licence.”

He adds: These companies now come to us. Where before, we’d have approached them, nowMcLaren, Ford,Lamborghini, Ferrari all come to us, telling us about their new car that they want to have in the game”

"Ford told us about the Ford GT
even before most of the company
knew about it."

Dan Greenawalt, Turn 10

One manufacturer to partner with Forza this year is Ford. The firm’s new Ford GT is the cover star of Forza Motorsports 6, and was even lowered onto the stage at this year’s E3.

With Ford in particular, it told us about the Ford GT before most of Ford knew about it,” continues Greenawalt. I was actually there when they were developing the car. When there were execs coming down and being told about it, I had known about it for six months. It was crazy.

Ten years on it’s gone from we ask them to they ask us, to now ask us before they ask their own management as to whether they can do it. It’s incredible.”

But there are more to these deals than just marketing the next flashy car. It helps the studio, too, says Greenawalt.

Technologically we learn a lot from our partners, and it’s different every time. Some specialise in this, others in that. We just tell them how we do simulation, here’s why and here’s all the data we have. They ask if we’ve ever looked at light weighting of CFD [complex fluid dynamics] and we’ll say: ‘no, how do you do it?’. We wouldn’t have known they worked on that from the outside, you can only find that out once you’ve been let in.”

This month’s Forza 6 is the biggest game Turn 10 has ever built, with Greenawalt saying its line-up of 26 courses overtakes previous milestone set in Forza 4.

We have 450 cars, and you can get in all the cars and open the door and drive in cockpit and damage them and customise them,” he says. We have 26 environments and that’s the biggest game we have ever built. We’ve got a lot of numbers – it’s 1080p, 60 frames per second, 24 cars on track – numbers, numbers, numbers. To me, what’s important is the experiences that we can deliver with those numbers. 450 cars is a lot, but it’s the diversity of the cars that matters. You can have cool match-ups, cars that you never would expect to be against each other.”

It feels like there’s been a resurgence in the racing game space. New IPs such as DriveClub, The Crew and Project CARS have generated a lot of attention. But Greenawalt plays down this perceived renaissance.

People tend to look at too short an interval when they look for trends,” he says. I’ve seen racing come and go and in a sense I don’t think it’s ever come or gone. It’s just been there. From one year to the next there are IPs that are coming and going and what have you. But game development takes two or three years and your shots aren’t always going to land. So when two things happen at the same time, we’re having a renaissance, when two things are in mid-development, we’re in a drought. I don’t think it’s nearly as romantic as what people are saying when they’re going on about things getting big or going away. Racing is fairly constant.”

Regardless, Turn 10 has a new rival in Project CARS, which is cut from the same simulation cloth as the Forza franchise.

We’re not at all worried about the competition. We’re first party. My goal is to make Xbox your home for racing,” Greenawalt explains. So that means I work with the peripheral teams to make sure the wheels and triggers feel great. Project CARS and The Crew are both great. Having them on our platform is great. I don’t look at that as competition, I look at it as getting people excited about cars. They’re actually doing my job for me.”

"My job is to make Xbox your home for racing games."

Dan Greenawalt, Turn 10

Another games development in recent years has been the growth of eSports. Given that racing games have widespread and mainstream appeal, and are focused on competition, it’s a bit surprising that racing titles aren’t very big on the competitive gaming scene.

The interesting thing to look at is sports games, FIFA and Madden,” Greenawalt says. You would think because it’s so fun to watch football matches on TV that it’d be fun to watch virtual football streaming on Twitch, and yet it’s not really the case. At the end of the day, do people want to watch the real version or the virtual version? The real version is always on and you can watch F1 over the weekend.

Here’s where I think this gets more interesting: There’s now a generation that’s being brought up watching Twitch as their primary form of getting entertainment, and that group is starting to get driver’s licences and starting to become more mainstream. Those things that we relegate to traditional, linear media are going to start to transition into this more digital space as the new, younger demographic comes in and just expects to be able to watch stuff on Twitch and doesn’t want to watch TV. They want to watch people like themselves.”

And it might be this that could help define Forza’s next ten years.

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