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Six reasons why Logitech and Thrustmaster going direct drive is huge news 

Six reasons why Logitech and Thrustmaster going direct drive is huge news 

Setting aside the G Pro Wheel and T818’s pros and cons, two volume-leading steering wheel manufacturers jumping aboard the direct drive train is key to industry growth.

With two of the largest volume players in racing game steering wheels now jumping on the direct drive bandwagon – after Fanatec pioneered a more affordable and console-friendly route to market – the time is right for the technology to go mainstream. 

Direct drive wheel bases place a force feedback motor directly on the steering shaft, as opposed to utilising a series of belts or gears traditionally seen over the past decade. 

Overall, it delivers more precise, naturalistic, sensations to the driver, and it also fosters the potential for high torque outputs, measured in Newton metres. 

Up until this year, however, both Logitech and Thrustmaster had held off. 

Everything you need to know about the Logitech G PRO Racing Wheel 
Logitech’s first direct drive wheel – the G PRO

That changed in September when the former announced the G PRO Wheel, aimed at the premium market with up to 11Nm of force, PlayStation and Xbox compatibility, a bundled steering wheel and an optional set of load cell pedals. 

It costs $999.99/€1,099/£999.99 and is available only from Logitech directly. 

Then, Thrustmaster followed suit, announcing its T818 yesterday (17th November) with 10Nm of maximum torque, PC-only support and $649.99/€649.99/£599.99 for the base alone. It is compatible with the entire existing range of Guillemot Corporation wheels and pedals. 

Thrustmaster T818 reveal event, direct driver wheel base
Thrustmaster’s first direct drive wheel – the T818

Comparing what Moza or Fanatec device you can pick up for the same, or even less, money I think is only looking at it from a grizzled, hardcore, embedded sim racer perspective. 

Yes, that’s important, no question, but I also think this new wave of direct drive devices from established mass-market players is a pivotal moment for the industry. Here’s why… 

Competition is healthy 

I’m a firm believer in competition benefiting the consumer. Sometimes, products come along and push the whole market forward. They may not invent the baseline technology, but they polish it or repackage it in a democratised fashion. 

I genuinely don’t believe automakers would be pushing so hard with their electric vehicles if Tesla hasn’t shown the world how to mass-produce EVs. Shark vacuum cleaners wouldn’t exist without Dysons, and Dysons wouldn’t have exited without Hoovers. 

VRS, Simucube and Fanatec, plus others, have long been producing direct drive wheel bases, but only the German-based company saw the opportunity to make an entry-level device that worked on consoles and was compatible with its existing wheel and pedal ecosystem. 

Asetek SimSports showcases 27Nm sim racing wheel base and ecosystem
Would Asetek SimSports exist without Fanatec?

Now there’s Moza, Logitech, Thrustmaster, Asetek SimSports and no doubt even more in the future. 

Logitech and Thrustmaster have the late mover disadvantage of not being seen as pioneers, but they have the advantage of looking at the competition and finding a gap in the market to position themselves. 

They can also do something a little different, bring their own innovations or refinements – Logitech’s matching pedals are fresh and exciting, Thrustmaster’s new quick release can swap wheels in under five seconds – which in turn drives more innovation as each company tries to outdo each other. 

It’s easy to look at the T818 and think that Thrustmaster has missed the boat, but there’s little doubt that every rival is testing, learning and moving forward. 

Feeding existing ecosystems 

This point only really applies to the first-ever direct drive Thrustmaster and not the Logitech. 

Sure, there will be an adapter next year for the G PRO to allow existing gear shifters and pedals to become compatible, but the Swiss-American peripheral manufacturer has never produced a range of separate steering wheels, as it’s never produced a quick release before. 

But Thrustmaster has eight available in its current range, plus shifters, paddles and handbrakes, all of which have been designed for its previous belt-driven wheel bases.

Thrustmaster Ferrari SF1000 Wheel Add-on
The SF1000 wheel has been crying out for a direct drive wheel base

Yet, every single one will work with the new direct drive addition, thanks to a bundled quick-release adaptor. 

Existing ecosystem members, and there are many, now have a new device with theoretically richer feedback to purchase. That incredible SF1000 licenced Ferrari F1 wheel now also has a wheel base befitting of its class-leading fit, finish and functionality too. 

Upcoming ecosystems 

When quizzed about a future steering wheel range, Richard Neville, Head of Product for Sim at Logitech said: 

“It has a quick release for a reason,” to Traxion.GG during a media briefing for the G PRO. 

What these wheels will entail is not clear, but Logitech is building a brand-new range for budding sim racers to dip into. 

Thrustmaster T818 US release date
The T818 will be arriving in the US in 2023, but so will four new steering wheels

The same is true for Thrustmaster. While the T818 works with the existing range, the American-French company is also working on four new models. These are also a closely guarded secret, but with the Ferrari licence in its armoury, we’re intrigued. 

That’s the key point here really, new steering wheel devices are interesting. They could offer something different, unique or simply desirable. And desire can be powerful. Two new wheel ranges only build anticipation, interest and engagement for the market. 

At the very least, there’s a slate of new products to discuss over the next 12 months or more. 

Aspirational range toppers

Be under no illusion, I’m not stating that the G PRO or T818 will be the best-selling devices in each respective product range. They never will be. 

Yet, they are something to aim for. 

Thrustmaster has invested heavily of late in entry-level wheel and pedal bundles – see the T128 and T248 – designed primarily to be piled high and sold cheap during holiday periods. 

But now, entry-level or younger owners of those devices have a product to aim for. To lust after. To work hard, save up and purchase later. 

Thrustmaster T128 steering wheel, Xbox
Entry-level Thrustmaster T128 steering wheel

All it takes sometimes is a flyer within the box of a lower-end device, or a quick follow on social media, and a top-end Thrustmaster device becomes a target to aim for. The same applies to a website visit or email newsletter sign-up. 

In the sim racing website and YouTube hardware review land, products are often judged purely on their advantages and disadvantages before a competition comparison. But we must be accepting that not every potential owner watches or reads – brand loyalty still exists. 

Now existing Logitech G29 owners or Thrustmaster T150 users have new pinnacles to set their sights on, and each respective company’s marketing team will be trying to tell them about their existence. 

European manufacturing 

Thrustmaster has gone bold with the T818, eschewing the traditional Asian manufacturing process and producing its latest device in France. 

It’s a big call, one that could set a precedent for the rest of the industry – provided of course that it can scale up quickly enough, still create a solid margin and meet the quality requirements. 

Amongst the other points raised in this article, there’s an arguement that this is the most important. Diversification of supply chains is a hot topic at present within electronics, far bigger than solely gaming peripherals. 

Potential use of existing retail partnerships 

A bone of contention, this one, as sim racing content creator random callsign, rightly pointed out on Twitter.

I’m of the belief that these new devices are important for the industry’s growth, he isn’t. It was an enjoyable debate. 

Race Sim Central‘s Tim Wheatley pointed out that Thrustmaster and Logitech are the brands most prominent in classical retail outlets. Here in the UK, online and physical retailers Currys, Argos and Game only sell Thrustmaster, Hori and Logitech devices. 

Best Buy and Target in the US online only stock Thrustmaster and Logitech. 

These companies could theoretically utilise these existing retail relationships to sell these new devices through outlets not possible even for a giant like Fanatec. 

Except, they aren’t and maybe won’t. These, for now, are premium, high-end devices, made in much smaller quantities at a higher price point. 

But – things are being ramped up. 

Thrustmaster only has two small batches of the T818 for pre-order this side of 2023, and only one of which is set to be shipped this year. The US must wait until at least March 2023, and other regions possibly even longer. 

A pile of Logitech G290 wheels in a UK retail store
A pile of Logitech G290 wheels in a UK retail store

However, production will ramp up over the next six months, and a console-compatible version has been muted alongside a Ferrari-branded bundle. 

Yes, direct online sales are only possible at the minute, but demand is far outstripping supply during the launch period. 

Once the initial rush has subsided, I hope at least one direct drive unit is sold through more traditional retailers. If anyone manages it, I wouldn’t bet against Thrustmaster being the first…

*Update, the Logitech G PRO is currently sold in Australian retail store The Gamesmen*

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