I will admit that until Dave reviewed
the SteelSeries SRW-S1 Steering Wheel in February that I had not heard of Simraceway. After seeing the wheel and doing some research I was interested in finding out how the company was going to be offering such a high end experience for free as well as offering prizes to folks who participated in races against real world professional drivers. Luckily I was able to secure this interview with the company.
Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project?
My name is Jonathan Haswell and I am the founder and CEO of Ignite Game Technologies, the producers of Simraceway.
What’s the elevator pitch for Simraceway?
To reinvent the racing game and gain a solid piece of the genre’s share of the $74 billion video gaming space.
When the topic of organized online racing comes up, iRacing is usually considered the dominant offering. How will Simraceway seek to differentiate itself from iRacing and the other games in the market?
We don’t see iRacing as a direct competitor to Simraceway. We have a great deal of professional respect for its coverage of stock car racing, but we’ve always had loftier ambitions in terms of both content and user base. While it’s good at what it does, adopting a similar strategy would simply be too limiting for us and, personally, I will consider this venture a disappointment if we don’t end up with iRacing’s 40,000 user base plus a couple of extra zeroes added onto the end of it!
Our main interest is in rivalling the likes of Grand Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Need For Speed, something we intend to do by offering a unique product that is able to attract all three driving game player types—simulation, realistic and arcade. A product that is authentic and challenging enough to be played by sim racing pros and professional racers, and entertaining, content-rich and accessible enough to be enjoyed by those brought up on console-based racing games.
We hope to achieve this using a number of innovative tools and techniques, chief among them a brand-new player skill matching service that we’ve developed in-house and will be rolling out later this year. We’ve always known that whomever produces the first truly accurate matchmaking tool will possess a distinct advantage in the marketplace, so we’ve placed a great deal of emphasis on making sure it’s us. We believe that what our skill-quantification experts have produced will prove game-changing, guaranteeing permanently exciting and challenging live racing and making competitive mismatches a thing of the past, thus allowing drivers of all abilities to enjoy every race.
Another major factor that differentiates Simraceway from its rivals is the fact that it can be played at absolutely no cost (not bad for a premium game with, arguably, the most realistic physics in the marketplace), encouraging players who have maybe never experienced the genre to pick it up. We’ve even taken the unprecedented step of developing our own affordable high-end racing controller to ensure that more people than ever before can enjoy what we believe is the most exciting experience in gaming.
Simraceway will also feature an unparalleled selection of licensed cars and tracks whose authenticity will be second-to-none, thanks to the combination of a development team that benefits from the expertise of Dario Franchitti and the much-missed Dan Wheldon, and our permanent, real-world racing facility on Infineon Raceway (another first for the genre!). What’s more, thanks to the way the game is set up, we will be able to constantly deploy new content, feature and physics updates to keep Simraceway at the cutting edge.
Are you strictly going after the hard core racing sim fans or are you going after more casual racing fans as well? How big do you consider your potential audience to be?
As I’ve mentioned above, our aim is to attract an audience that draws from the entire spectrum of racing game players and, with that being the case, we really need to be looking at attracting as much of Gran Turismo’s, Forza Motorsport’s and Need For Speed’s 20 million user base as possible.
The game is free to play, since nothing good in life is free, where are you going to be making your money with the game?
Simraceway can indeed be enjoyed without spending a cent. All the tracks in the game can be raced on for free in Practice mode and our live, multiplayer Quick Races are free to enter. We also provide a free car which new players can race, accruing in-game Credits that can be used to buy further vehicles.
However we’re aware that players may not want to wait until they’ve built up the required number of Credits to buy a new car, so they are also available for cash—and this of course provides us with income. Unlike many other racing games that offer a similar service, however, we use a straightforward and affordable pricing policy that lists cars at 1/100,000th of their real-world value. That means, for example, players can pick up a 2011 Dodge Charger R/T for just 30 cents.
We also run regular time-based events which challenge players to record the fastest times over various formats, from single hot laps to multiple races. Most of these offer great prizes including cash, racing hardware and all-expenses-paid automotive experiences and, while some are free to enter, some have entry fees to help fund the cost of these prizes. What’s more, in order to provide a level playing field, each event requires the entrant to use a specific car, which they will need to buy if they don’t already own it.
Going forward, we’re planning on rolling out new and exciting modes, including full-size, virtual recreations of real-world racing series. As you would expect, the cost of setting up and running cool features like this would likely necessitate some form of charge too.
Finally, as previously mentioned, we have our own racing controller, developed in conjunction with respected peripheral manufacturer SteelSeries, which provides another revenue stream.
How did the partnership with SteelSeries to include the game with the SteelSeries Simraceway SRW-S1 come about? What made their product so appealing over all the others on the market?
It’s true to say the SRW-S1 Steering Wheel was a joint venture between SteelSeries and ourselves, but I should point out (because doing so pretty much answers the question!) that the product was designed wholly in-house by Simraceway developers and our advisors, which included professional drivers Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon, and prominent sim racers David Greco and Bruno Marques. We settled on the final configuration only after an exhaustive (and exhausting!) process during which we created twelve separate iterations, and we hold the patent on the SRW-S1’s unique throttle and brake lever system.
While it might be considered unusual for software developers to get involved in the hardware side of things, it made perfect sense to us for it to be part of our wider process of thinking through the entire driving game experience.
As you would perhaps expect of a peripheral designed by a game developer, we wanted to bundle Simraceway with the SRW-S1, not least because of the synergies created by their simultaneous development. That said, it is compatible with all PC games currently on the market.
It would seem that the high-fidelity racing simulator market is somewhat saturated in the PC realm, while the console market remains wide open for a serious online racing league. Given the lower acquisition costs of a high performance console versus a PC, are there any plans to port the simulation software and potentially the Simraceway SRW-S1 wheel to one or more of the consoles in order to increase the pool of potential participants?
This is something we are actively looking at and we hope to make a decision soon.
You are advertising that you’re going to have real race drivers competing against players, how hard was it to recruit drivers to go up against amateurs?
Extremely! These guys know their stuff and have seen video game projects come and go; however, once they get under the covers of the project and understand its scope, it becomes much easier to convince them. Obviously having Dario and Dan able to speak to other drivers about it helped too!
In the early days of Simraceway, there was quite a bit of angst arising from the modding community that were the foundation of the wildly popular rFactorCentral site. Has this settled down in the intervening years? What was the ultimate resolution for their concerns over their mods being used in a for-pay business model?
Yes it has. There’s really no connection between the product you see today and the one that existed then, other than the fact that we used it to test the name “Simraceway” (we also tested “race.me” but it turned out the “.me” confused too many people!) and we still look after both communities.
rFactorCentral.com was the largest single sim racing site and, as such, was the ideal test bed to see if the sim racing end of the market (being one of the three segments we’re interested in) would be excited by competitive, prize-led online racing. While it proved an effective and efficient way to prove our thesis, the controversy surprised us and was largely down to us not doing a great job of community management. In hindsight we should have been A LOT more communicative from the start about our plans, especially the fact that we always intended to go down a fully licensed route, with our own car models.
From our point of view, that period was definitely a baptism of fire and we learned a huge amount from it. So much so that I believe our customer-facing teams now set the pace amongst our competitors. I strongly urge you to try our customer service some time. We absolutely make mistakes—you’re bound to if you’re constantly innovating—but they fix things fast and provide expert help. Think of them as Zappos for racing!
Love it or hate it, iRacing's no-fault penalization of all parties involved in an on-track incident tends to remove non-serious players from the system. Does Simraceway have a similar system in place to try to reduce the on-track mayhem caused by wreckers?
To be honest we’re seeing less of this than we had expected but, to answer your question, yes we are working on a number of tools and features to address these kinds of issues and we’ll be announcing our strategy in the near future.
How important was it to have licensed cars/tracks in your game? Are you going to be adding more later?
Offering real-world cars and tracks always formed a central part of our plans for Simraceway. First off, it provides a level of authenticity that can be appreciated by the entire racing audience, from the hard-core sim racer who has every bump and camber of Brno committed to memory to the more casual player who just wants to get behind the wheel of a BMW M3. Secondly, by including the sheer depth of licensed content that we intend to add to Simraceway, we are ensuring that there’s no end to the number of driving experiences on offer, whether you’re zooming around Infineon in a kart or ripping up Zandvoort in a supercar.
We have already agreed licenses for over 600 vehicles and more than 60 tracks and it is our intention to build on this total until we have a ‘simulation library’ that offers our players the chance to experience every car and circuit from motorsport’s rich history. We think of it as a kind of automotive iTunes
We'd like to thank Jonathan for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Rebekah for coordinating the interview.
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