Exposure: A Double Edged Sword

FIA Formula E

It can be argued that, in terms of Sim Racing exposure, we are reaching more people than ever before. With titles such as rFactor 2, iRacing, Assetto Corsa, and more being shown off more than ever, it is giving us a larger audience than ever before, which is a great thing!

However, the gaining of exposure can also be seen as a double-edged sword. While we are expanding the viewer base, and the potential market reach, we are also opening ourselves for more trouble. That was unfortunately a fact that became evident in the FIA Formula E E-Race.

The FIA Formula E E-Race was hyped up for months, being touted as “The Biggest Sim Racing Event in the World!!!” where the LAST PLACE finisher receives $20,000. That is double the amount that the iRacing NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series champion wins! The winner of the event takes home a cool $200,000. In other words, that is more than the prize money a NASCAR Cup Driver would take home in an “average week”. This was a big ticket event.

However, not everything went according to plan. The race was stricken with controversy, when a stuck Fanboost button led to Olli Pahkala earning what was deemed to be an unfair advantage, leading to him being demoted to third place, and Bono Huis earning the victory. Despite that, the race ended up being a decent success, with the “Highlights” video reaching over 125,000 views on Youtube.

That’s where one of the main issues arise. In the gaming world, first impressions are paramount. With this event, thousands of gamers/racing fans/aspiring sim racers were getting their first look at rFactor 2. Their responses? Well… let’s take a look:

The thing is… from the point of view of these people on the outside looking in, I can see what they’re talking about (Now excuse me while I dodge a few tomatoes). Now, as you guys know, I’m a strong advocate for rFactor 2. I feel it has an incredibly powerful engine powering the physics, the tires, and so on. The graphics do leave some to be desired, but it is a solid performer.

The problem is, what we saw in the FIA Formula E race was NOT representative of the state rFactor 2 is in right now. We saw this third party mod paired together with a third party track, that didn’t exactly scream production value.

This is rFactor 2 with first party content. While it admittedly isn’t a true eye catcher, it is perfectly serviceable as a solid title.

And now, here is a screenshot from the Vegas E-Race highlights reel. If you didn’t know better, you’d say these are two completely different games! They look almost nothing alike. Most notably, you see the lack of definition on the road, and it just doesn’t feel authentic.

Now, imagine you were a racing fan, and knew NOTHING about rFactor 2. All you knew was this title was being used for “The Biggest Sim Race in the World”, featuring respected race car drivers running against some of the top virtual racers. Then you watch the race. How would your reaction be? Would you want to take a closer look at this racing title, based on your first impression?

Fortunately, the exposure did pay off. On January 8th, one day after the race, rFactor 2 saw a spike in players. According to www.steamcharts.com, it was the largest amount of simultaneous racers using the simulation at one time. It also seems like a few racers are staying too, judging from the following days.

However, I can’t help but wonder, what if the version of the Vegas track we saw was more polished? What if we didn’t have that controversy? Could we have maybe seen even more racers migrating over to the sim racing world via the event?

Also, I’d like to mention that this isn’t limited to just rFactor 2. Titles such as Assetto Corsa and Project CARS have received their fair share of exposure due to events, awards, and hype, but unfortunately had left some with a sour taste. That isn’t to say they’re bad titles per se, but first impressions can affect both positively, and negatively.

I do believe we are moving in the right direction with Sim Racing combining with the real world. I also am aware that, as more and more racing sims enter the public spotlight, how these races are conducted, how these events are run, that will be what will really define the direction Sim Racing heads.