How Hot Wheels Unleashed harnessed the power of a niche

Crystal Scuor
Hot Wheels Unleashed has been a runaway success for developer Milestone and it’s fastest-ever selling game, as Lead Developer Federico Carlo Riccardo Spada explains.
How Hot Wheels Unleashed harnessed the power of a niche

I’ve always looked up to my older brother.

He’s just over a year older than me, so of course, he was my best friend when we were little. Every morning, I’d scurry to his room to wake him up. He’d be wearing his favourite Ninja Turtles’ pyjamas, while I’d rock a My Little Pony nightie. We’d sit on his iconic felt car mat where we’d drive our shiny new Hot Wheels all around town.

“Beep, beep!” I’d shout as we zipped the cars around the mat, sometimes driving right over the cartoon houses like a tiny bulldozer. We’d both giggle.

Those cars were a staple of our childhood, actually.

And after downloading Hot Wheels Unleashed onto my PC and pressing ‘any button’ to fire up the game, I instantly felt like I was back on that car mat in my brother’s room, admiring his collection of Super Chromes and Real Riders.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Corvette

Milestone didn’t just create a racing game. Hot Wheels Unleashed is such a welcome dose of nostalgia wrapped up beautifully in an unparalleled attention to detail, right down to the children’s grubby fingerprints on the teeny car’s windshield.

It’s literally like hopping into the DeLorean – which you can eventually find in a Blind Box – and going back to the simplicity of being a kid again.

Not surprising, Hot Wheels Unleashed hit a Milestone (see what I did there?) by selling over one million copies worldwide, making it the Milanese studio’s fastest-selling game to date.

Fun fact: on just the second day after its launch, Hot Wheels Unleashed turned a profit.

“Milestone has always set high expectations for all the games,” said Lead Developer Federico Carlo Riccardo Spada.

“But we understand that racing games are sort of a niche. Obviously, these numbers for us are really huge.

Hot Wheels Unleashed Resetting

Spada, who has worked at Milestone for over five years, admitted that achieving such success with Hot Wheels Unleashed gave the company a big boost of encouragement.

“The community’s reception was amazing. When we saw people on the Facebook page or in the Discord community channels…saying, ‘Oh, the game is great! We’re having so much fun, thanks. Give us more’…it’s kind of [like] winning a marathon.”

To be honest, playing the game itself is also a huge win.

The first time I indulged in Hot Wheels Unleashed was during my debut stream on the Traxion Twitch channel. Watching it back was a treat because every whimsical track transported me to a cherished childhood memory.

When my brother and I upgraded from the velvet car mat to a gaming console, I assumed the role of cheerleader. Big bro would defeat the scary bosses in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and I’d high five him after doing so. Most of the time, my head was still buried in a pillow to hide my eyes from the beastly battles.

Racing games were always much more my vibe.

Cadillac Seville by Gucci Hot Wheels Unleashed

Especially when given the option to drive a Gucci Cadillac through the hungry mouth of a Cobra, which is totally a thing in Hot Wheels Unleashed.

“The collaboration with Gucci was something else,” said Spada. “Most of us were laughing with joy. It was an honour for us to have this opportunity and we wanted to share this with everybody.”

Aside from the Gucci Caddy, the game offers a plethora of classic and quirky cars that will surely float anyone’s boat. You can carb-load with the Roller Toaster and Buns of Steel or catch a Cowabunga! wave with the TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) Party Wagon.

And even if you’ve opened every Blind Box possible, an expansion pack will be available on 21st April which includes five new vehicles as part of a Hot Wheels Monster Trucks theme.

“They’re super cool to see. They have these huge tires, which you know, makes a lot of difference. These monster trucks will feel different from other cars. I think you will be happy with how they work and how they will handle.”

Expect a few flashy driving environments, too, including Desert, Ice Mountain, Jungle and Quarry locations.

A niche within a niche: that’s something Milestone does extremely well. They’ve taken the novelty of a racing game and blended it perfectly with unique hobbies and interests that speak to timeless souls who appreciate everything Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand stands for.

“I would love thinking about that Hot Wheels Unleashed will start a sort of like a renaissance of… arcade racing games,” Spada noted.

“I love racing games in general. I’m part of the niche of players who would like to have more racing games to have fun with. I just thought that Hot Wheels Unleashed will start and will encourage other [game developers] to do the same.”

Hot Wheels Unleashed Corvette drift

Hot Wheels Unleashed goes beyond the grid of a typical racing game.

It’s a journey to the past while living in the future. That’s why the game struck a winning chord with so many. It represents much more than just a tiny toy car driving around those legendary orange track pieces: it’s like being in the driver’s seat of your own beloved youthful memories every time you press play.

And thankfully for us, this is just the beginning.

“At the moment, as a lead game designer, I can tell you that we are working to provide quality content for Hot Wheels Unleashed. I’m pretty sure that you will be really impressed by what we’re creating for the game and the community.”

Fasten your seatbelts and check out our full podcast episode with Hot Wheels Unleashed’s Federico Carlo Riccardo Spada. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below!

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