When Thrustmaster’s debut direct drive wheel base was launched via a Twitch stream on 17th November 2022, it became the final major steering wheel peripheral manufacturer to ditch the gears and belts.
“Our objective was not to say ‘hey, we want to have a direct drive wheel base’, we wanted to achieve something else, something to match with our customer’s needs,” said Xavier Pieuchot to Traxion.GG, Product Marketing Manager at Thrustmaster.
“Sim racers don’t necessarily need direct drive, instead sim racers need consistent force feedback and reactive information from the platform.
“At the start of the project we interviewed sim racers to understand what they need and, as I said, that the answer was not ‘we need direct drive’. They needed features and results.
“That’s why we wanted to manage all aspects of the direct drive technology to be able to launch the T818. Which is, I will say, a demonstration of what we are able to do in terms of direct drive.”
The latest device featured 10Nm of torque, but crucially this is constant torque and not peak torque, in addition to a lightweight moving-part construction which genuinely makes the force feedback feel unique.
“We didn’t take a motor off the shelf, we wanted to create our own,” continued Pieuchot.
“So, we can control every aspect of the motor in every aspect, and it takes time. We had eight versions of the motor before finding the right one.”
In the end, the French-American company didn’t rush its first-ever direct drive wheel base, but instead worked on delivering something it thinks exceeds its internal objectives, irrespective of the existing competition.
It also took its time before moving into this market.
“It’s been three years that we are working on direct drive,” said Pieuchot.
“We put a lot of effort into understanding the benefits of direct drive. What is the advantage? What are the needs of sim racers? Then, how you can build good direct drive?
“For the unfiltered experience, there is how you interact, and the whole ecosystem around the wheelbase. So, there are many elements to take into consideration.
“To be honest, we could have launched a direct drive wheel base before. But the truth is, we were not happy with the results of [initial] direct drive technology.
“Because we were so ambitious about our first direct drive [wheel base], we didn’t want to continue if we are not happy about what we have got. So, we start from scratch.”
“We changed the chip to start with the whole new technology infrastructure.”
While the T818 is an all-new approach, it did need to be backward compatible with all existing Thrustmaster wheel add-ons, despite a different quick release design – another element that added to the development process.
“That was a big challenge, to be honest because we knew that we have a wide ecosystem already,” highlighted Pieuchot.
“We knew that we have a wide Thrustmaster community already on many platforms with wheels and pedals etc.
“It was crucial for us to not start the ecosystem again. The quick release adapter was a complex thing to do because it must fit with every wheel we already have but be solid enough to hold the 10Nm of force.”
Alongside the challenges of creating its first direct drive motor and extensive compatibility, Thrustmaster also decided to build the T818 in France, which required a new production partner to be found.
“Our [initial] objective was not to go in France,”
“It’s been a while now since we were looking for opportunities to take back the production. or a part of the production, to Europe, but not in France particularly.
“I think COVID-19 also showed that we can be very dependent on our production if we only have one business model. That’s why we want to diversify the production.
“We actually found a partner in Europe [who could] upskill the factory with our experts to take the production back in Europe.
“Luckily, we found a partner in France and many people at Thrustmaster are really proud to have it made in France. But it’s important to understand that France was not the main objective, because we are French, you know, we wanted Europe.”
Demand has been strong so far, with the first batch of pre-orders selling out in minutes and the fortunate few receiving their new T818s before Christmas. The second wave of orders for Europe recently took place on the 26th December 2022 for January 2023 delivery.
But customers in the USA will have to wait until March 2023.
“The reason is simple,” said Pieuchot.
“As the product is made in France, we need time to ship the product to the United States and by boat is 10 weeks or maybe more. So, the production of T818 for North America is ongoing, but then we need time to ship the product there.”
It may have been a long time in the waiting, but if our review is anything to go by, the T818 was worth it…