Speed freaks

Racing game enthusiasts certainly have much to look forward to over the next 12 months, with a huge range of innovative products and returning franchises set to hit shelves. Christopher Dring speaks to the specialists at Codemasters about their never-ending quest to create the world’s greatest racer…

The racing genre is beginning to demand the sort of column inches normally reserved for the likes of Call of Duty, Fallout or GTA.

Sony’s upcoming duo of Gran Turismo titles turned heads at E3, while excitement is building amongst consumers for Bizarre Creations’ Blur and Black Rock’s Split/Second.

Indeed, racing developers have talked all year of a need to ‘revolutionise’ the racer, while Black Rock called racing games a ‘dying genre’ as recently as April – assuring the press that they were the studio to save it.

But try telling that to the expert team at Codemasters. The same studio that developed last year’s award winning chart hit Race Driver: Grid will continue to provide excellent racing games to the market this year with a string of major new products – beginning with Dirt 2 next month.

There are some false assumptions out there, which may stem from the non-appearance of Gran Turismo and some poor design effort from other legacy franchises, that the genre has been losing relevance to the gamer over recent years,” says Dirt 2’s brand director Guy Pearce.

However, sales curve growth evidence from the original Colin McRae: Dirt and last year’s Race Driver: Grid indicates that with good design and re-branding it is possible to experience growth in the racing genre. Racing titles will always be a mainstay for a significant segment of gamers.”

Codemasters’ internal racing studio is one of the genre’s all-time great developers, and the team deservedly claimed a BAFTA this year for its work on Race Driver: Grid. Meanwhile, its games, including the Colin McRae series, have constantly featured high up in the All Formats chart. So what is it that has made the team such an overwhelming success?

It’s difficult to pin-point specific influences as
they come from so many different sources in a team made up of 120 developers at the top of their game,” continues Pearce.

In the case of Dirt 2, the design and content influence came from Colin McRae’s own exploration into different off-road race events toward the end of his career. Also, the design responded to the natural ascendancy of off-road racing’s broadening appeal, especially rally’s involvement with X Games – making the sport culturally more relevant to a wider audience segment. Making rally more relevant and shining a light on the sheer entertainment of racing rally cars in a game has always been our aim.”

If the racing genre is on the brink of a renaissance, then Codemasters will be at the front of the pack. The firm boasts a number of new IP (such as the recently-released Fuel), licensed products (such as its Formula One games) and established brands, including Dirt and Grid – not to mention a series of currently unannounced projects.

Yet the primary way Codemasters hopes to remain the world’s No.1 racing firm is by appealing to younger racing enthusiasts:
It is always necessary to seek out new relevance to younger fans,” concludes Pearce.

It is natural for any group of fans to age and not have as much time to invest in games. Having an awareness of who your existing audience is, who your next audience can be and how to correctly engage them with your brand is the key to keeping racing games at the forefront of creative games development.”

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