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Will Next-Next-Gen Save Racing Games?

Is that the answer? Is the current hardware the reason why games like Split/Second and Blur fail to make a dent at retail? That is the opinion of Gareth Wilson, formerly Bizarre Creations. There’s some interesting quotes here in the OXM interview.

You remember Blur, right? A kart racer with some neat ideas, but in the end…a kart racer. I played a surprising amount of Blur and, while a decent enough game, still –it clearly was going to have limited appeal. It was also well received by the media and even that couldn’t save it.

“Over the past three years since our purchase of Bizarre Creations, the fundamentals of the racing genre have changed significantly. Although we made a substantial investment in creating a new IP, Blur, it did not find a commercial audience. The problem with Blur, Split Second or Motorstorm is they’re probably just a bit too niche for the modern market. They’d probably do great as downloadable titles but the market just isn’t there any more.”

He’s right. A game like Blur or Split/Second battling the $60 retail game is a recipe for, well, what happened to Blur and Split/Second. It’s not that racing games can’t succeed at full retail but when you have Forza and GT — how many racing games, regardless of the sim aspects, can the market support? So a huge investment into a new IP like Blur was perhaps not the best move, especially at a $60 price point.

Wilson suggests that new hardware is the answer.

“We need a new console. Racing games always do well when a new console comes out, and you do a new physics engine and improved graphics, but towards the end of a console cycle it’s always quite hard to push racing games, I think, because if you’ve DiRT 1 do you need DiRT 3? If you’ve got PGR3 do you need PGR4? I’m not so sure. It really relies on technology, the racing genre. Maybe more than other genres. So with the next hardware we should be able to create features with another level of immersion and quality.”

Is it the need for new hardware?

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Or the need for a more affordable product in a marketplace that can’t support a lot of similar style games?

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

16 thoughts to “Will Next-Next-Gen Save Racing Games?”

  1. Is it really that people don’t need iterations? Look at Madden… or the COD games (Forza?). Kart Racers are kind of a niche and when you throw a whole bunch up, people will buy the best and leave the others to flounder. Especially at the $60 price point.

    Or could it be that racing games seem to be a major part of the launch line-up and tend to be great tech-demo type games for a new consoles graphics. I don’t mean to put Ridge-Racer down (well, kinda), but would that game do as well if it wasn’t always part of an initial line-up of games? I think they tend to do well because they show off the new system, and when there are only 10 games out, you are more willing to shill out money for something you normally wouldn’t just to get some variety of play…

    Just my take.

    1. Well, the Blur and Split/Second fiasco was just pathetic timing on their part. Personally, I liked Split/Second better. But there was not a market for both games to come ut within a week of each other, and it killed them both. They were both solid and fun.

      I don’t think a new console changes that dynamic.

      Forza versus Gran Turismo is fun for the press, but irrelevant. Shift was less sim but more fun than either. It was really the logical direction that PGR should have headed.

      All of these games hit different demographics within the racing niche. But I don’t think any of those niches are big enough to support so many options.

      And a lot of what makes Blur, Split/Second, and NFS: Hot Pursuit fun are also provided by SSX and Trials. they are fun score-chasing games.

      I suspect a new round of hardware is going to present the same challenges. I won’t be surprised if the publishers fail to recognize the the problems with thir strategies.

      1. “I won’t be surprised if the publishers fail to recognize the the problems with thir strategies.”

        Probably the most broad statement I have read in a long time. What were the strategies with the current console, and in which ways did they fail? In what ways did they succeed and how can they repeat that success? I think the big point Gareth is making that like all games there is a lot of luck involved with getting a success, and a big factor for racing titles is being released close to launch.

        1. Blur and Split/Second releasing a week apart. Crappy sales for both.

          EA marketing Shift as a sim instead of a deeper version of PGR. There was no reason to taunt the Forza and Gran Turismo fanboys to trash their game.

          But the basic premise of the entire post, which escaped your limited capacity for comprehension, was that racing games are a niche that is too small to support several embedded niches.

          I’m truly sorry I did not make this more clear. I will try to include a SparksNotes for you next time.

  2. I may be a bit too critical of Wilson, but saying that “racing games always do well when a new console comes out…” is obvious because they’re the *only* racing game out so of course it’s going to decent if not well.

    When there’s more competition in the market, you have to set yourself apart or do one hell of a PR job to get consumers excited for the product.

  3. Sounds kind of like Gareth is trying rationalize some poor decisions but can’t bring himself to accept what he’s saying. I like racers, but you don’t need a bunch of them at $60 a pop. Racing’s racing. It shouldn’t have taken them flopping and losing their company to find that out. That has nothing to do with the stage of console life, now or two generations from now.

  4. I love Shift and Shift 2, and the last thing I say to myself when playing them is ‘this would really be awesome if the graphics were better!’. The games look fantastic. I think Mano has it right above – the games sell well on new hardware because there is little competition at that time.

  5. I actually think the assessment is spot on. Racers have always traditionally been a kind of tech demo of the console. They are a relatively easy way to showcase the graphics of a console taking you through a world on a (relative) rail where you can showcase snippets of neat things to look at. Namco always has a Ridge Racer waiting in the wings for major console releases, and they always do relatively well even though there isn’t a lot of gameplay there beyond the arcade racing experience. Then you look at sales numbers and say “racing games are in again” and the whole cycle repeats.

  6. Christ, “Next-Next Gen?” What is wrong with you? We’re firmly on the decline of the “current gen.” PS2/GC/Xbox/DC are “last gen.” Starting with the Wii U, we are in “next gen.” Jesus, we’re the only generating that stuck to “next gen” for this long.

  7. It’s not just the “tech demo” aspect…it’s also that racing games tend to sell better when you’ve got, say, eight to ten games to choose from _total_. This is why systems ALWAYS launch with a race game. I think most people don’t feel the need to own several racing games.

    This does go right back to the “what is my $60 buying” question that consumers rightly ask. Forza and GT games are $60 and give you hundreds and hundreds of real-world cars (not fake sports- and super- cars as in most arcade racers), real-world tracks, limitless customization, many different modes and ways to play, online functions, etc. etc. etc.

    Even at their best, arcade racers can’t possibly match this depth or breadth of content. No, they aren’t worth $60. I have yet to play one that is, and I love this genre. Ridge Racer Unbounded was fun, but I’d never suggest that anyone buy it for full retail.

    Split/Second, which is one of the top games in the genre, flopped not only because it was released day and date with Red Dead Redemption and right on the heels of Blur but also because it’s a game that simply isn’t worth full retail price given that it is a pretty one-note arcade game. Maybe that kind of thing sold at full retail in past console generations, but times have changed.

    Split/Second, as a $15 download, probably would have been a blockbuster. I bet it would have outsold what it did at retail exponentially. I just rebought a copy of it, more than happy to pay $7 for it. When I bought it at full retail, I liked it but wished that I had waited for it to get cheaper.

    Blur was a disaster, the game sucked and it was the classic example of a product designed to please everyone but pleasing no one. Kart racers didn’t care about real-world cars and realistic physics. Serious racing fans didn’t want guns and weapons or silly physics. Casual fans were pretty much fucked out of the gate in playing online unless they liked finishing in the last five every time. All of the “Call of Duty online features…but Racing!” marketing crap didn’t work. Call of Duty fans did not give two shits about this game. It was a confused, misconcieved product all around. I saw a pile of copies at Big Lots the other day for $5. What’s the point with the online portion almost certainly abandoned by now?

    In both cases, we see again that products were over-promised, marketed with unrealistic expectations, and failed. Studio closures followed. But maybe somebody at some point should have said “Hey, this game is not going to sell like you think it will…let’s scale it back and do something different”.

  8. My girlfriend plopped Split/Second three days ago just for a quick blast… (a game she had already completed) its really a great little throwaway arcade title.

    It really suffered from a lack of content. Instead of wasting the resources to jam in an online mode which was largely redundant within a month it would have been better served with another track or two!

    As you say… racing games are generally quick little blasts of fun (after all it is an upgraded flashier pole position) and who needs 10 slightly different lil’ bursts of fun.

    Strange how we haven’t had a Chase HQ or Road Rash downloadable rip off or two… just more Need for bloody Speeds. The problem is a lack of innovation in the racer category, prettier next generation graphics wont change that.

    1. I think you guys are right about Split/Second. As an XBLA title, it could have supported future “seasons” or “episodes” and probably been decent earner. As much as I liked it, it really wasn’t a $60 game in world where Forza and GT exist.

      And Barnes is right (as always, except when he is wrong), Blur was a mess. I’m a huge PGR 2 fan, and I was really looking forward to Bizarre Creations new game. It was just a really poor effort.

      As far as I’m concerned, EA’s Shift series picked up where PGR 2 left off. PGR 3 and 4 were letdowns.

  9. Racers (like most other genres) need something unique to really draw people in. The last few racers I’ve played each had some special feature that really worked for me.

    Gran Turismo 2 won me over with its depth of cars and races.

    Forza 2 did the same several years later, in a prettier package. Though it lacked the power GT2 had for me, and is the least favorite on the list.

    Need for Speed Porche Unleashed was a love letter to Porches, and the campaign through time (with different cars gaining and losing value over time) plus interesting races was great IMO.

    Mario Kart is, well, Mario Kart. It’s the only racer I play multiplayer with friends and family.

    Need for Speed Most Wanted. The open city, with the ability to just drive around (with dozens of cops chasing you)was lots of fun. The reality is once I unlocked the final tier of cop chase, plus the full map, I never wanted to do story races again. I just would find a cop, milk the chase until the helicopers arrived, and have fun trying to get the biggest chase possible.

    The point is that each did something different to make them special. It’s funny to me that the most recent one is the one I liked least. Forza 2 is arguably a better game than GT2, but it didn’t have anything really new for me. The NFS series used to be one of my favorites, but they’ve lost all interest from me because they rehash, rather than do something new. I’m afraid that the next round will be the same. Shinier graphics mean absolutely jack to me. If the new racers don’t do something new count me out.

    1. With Most Wanted I found it easier to drift round corners then to stay on the road in a straight line….
      I mean it was so close to being a great game but the actual racing felt “off”. Did you also have that feeling?

  10. Racers is one of the few trends of gaming that hasn’t changed. A racing game from the NES days is exactly the same as one today; just prettier. Mario Kart is awesome because it’s fun and you can play with your buddies right next to you. Most racers are single player only on couch; so there’s a bit of a change from the success that is Mario Kart. Burnout Paradise is hands down my favorite racer of this or any other generation simply because, it is fun. You wanna drive around a huge open area with no cops or invisible walls; go for it! Wanna play online with some friends, here you go. Racing in its purest form isn’t very fun, that’s probably why it’s tacked onto other games, or given some form of distraction (a red shell for example.)

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