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WATCH: Exclusive interview with Studio 397 rFactor 2 and Motorsport Games

With the news that Motorsport Games intends to acquire Studio 397 and with it, rFactor 2, our very own Thomas Harrison-Lord had the chance to speak with Marcel Offermans, Managing Director of Studio 397, and Paul Coleman, Director of Design for Motorsport Games, to get some more information.

The big question on many sim racing fans minds is: what does Motorsport Games buying the rFactor 2 developer mean for the future of the popular simulation product? Additionally, many questions will be had from fans of the NASCAR games or those intrigued by the new BTCC and Le Mans licences held by Motorsport Games – how will they be affected? Well, we did our best to find out!

Watch our exclusive video interview – also available in podcast audio form below or by searching for The Traxion Podcast on your favourite platforms – to find out what the future hold for rFactor 2, NASCAR, BTCC, Le Mans, next-gen consoles and more. You can also read our in-depth opinion piece.

As always, keep it pinned!

You can read the full auto-generated transcript of the interview, below.

Motorsport Games and Studio 397 interview transcript

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Hello there. We’ve got some exciting news for you from the world of sim racing today. As Motorsport Games has announced, it’s intention to acquire Studio 397, the renowned developer of Rfactor 2. We thought we’d get a few people together to discuss the news in greater detail. So joining us today is Paul Coleman, Director of Design for Motorsport Games and Marcel Offermans, Managing Director of Studio 397. Many of you may know Paul from his work on the DiRT franchise a few years ago, in particular as the Chief Game Designer and creative brains behind DiRT Rally. Meanwhile, Marcel is equally as highly respected having taken control of rFactor2 a number of years ago and helped shape it into what many people now believe is the king of the simulator platforms. So welcome both of you. Thank you for your time. Happy to speak to you today at such short notice. How are you today, Paul?

Paul Coleman:

Very good, thank you

Tom Harrison-Lord:

and Marcel?

Marcel Offermans:

Doing excellent as well. Thank you.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Very nice. So I guess we’ll kick off with some questions if that’s okay. So, first of all, Paul, how did this come about? Why Studio 397 and rFactor 2?

Paul Coleman:

Yeah, I think it all goes back to when our president started speaking to Dom Duhan about, how we could work together. We, I think the key objective for Motorsport Games was to ensure that every game that we make, we define a new standard for racing games. It’s part of the reason why I joined the company because the philosophy for how Motorsport Games puts, games together very much aligns with the approach that I’ve taken throughout my career. So, from my perspective, as a game designer, I want to make sure that the moment to moment core experience is as good as it can be. And you only get to do that when your physics is in the right place. So working with a partner like, Studio 397 is, is such a logical kind of partnership because these guys have what I believe to be one of the best physics and tyre models in the business.

Paul Coleman:

So why not go straight to the best, when you’ve got the opportunity to work with new partners. So, yeah, I think, this is, this is something that’s been in the works for quite a long time. We worked obviously very closely with 397 with the virtual Le Mans race. And I think actually that led to us being able to, help them negotiate a Ferrari, for the game. So that shows that already our joint relationships starting to pay dividends there, but actually, I first met Marcel pretty much this time last year. As I embarked on working on the NASCAR game that we’ve been building in the background for over two years now, we wanted to make sure that we took this game in a completely new direction with fresh physics, fresh game engine.

Paul Coleman:

And, so we’ve been working with 397 already to get their expertise and get the kind of feel, as the core of the game that we’re working on. So, their tyre model’s unsurpassed, we see this as just the start of the relationship. I think as we build games in the future, we’ll be looking to integrate that technology more and more. But for now, this is about philosophy and the fact that they understand racing, we understand racing and we just think that we’re gonna work together, in a fantastic partnership going forwards.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Right? So that sounds very exciting. So Marcel, why Motorsport Games, I guess?

Marcel Offermans:

Well, I guess Paul already gave part of the answer to that, if you look back at last year, we did some great esports events together, 24 Hours of Le Mans, was definitely a highlight for everybody, but also the great series of events we did for Race at Home with Formula E, were very cool and very interesting events to do. I think we just share much of the same DNA, or all of us in that we’re all very big fans of racing and sim racing, and it’s a passion, it’s what we love to do. So it was just a natural fit to start working together. And I think the two companies compliment each other really nicely. So for us, that was the reason, to go on this adventure together, so to speak and, join forces.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Nice. So I guess Marcel, we hear that you’ll be continuing to work on rFactor 2, which is great news. Can you tell us perhaps what you’ve got in store for the future?

Marcel Offermans:

Absolutely. So, for us, it’s on the one hand business, as usual, on the other hand, this is obviously big news and, and a big change, but we’ll be continuing to evolve rFactor 2, adding a lot more tracks and series to it, improving the engine. And this is certainly an area where we’ll also take advantage of all the expertise within Motorsport Games. Building this into an even greater esports platform for the future. I think we have a really high end PC game that appeals to many of the very hardcore SIM racing fans. And I think, combining that with the other interesting games we’re planning to create in the future, builds a really exciting platform for everybody involved in racing and sim racing.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Yeah, that sounds really exciting. But I suppose Paul, we have to ask, do you plan on making any changes to rFactor 2?

Paul Coleman:

So I don’t think now’s the right time to be talking about changes or anything like that. Ultimately Marcel and his team know rFactor. They know the product inside and out. They’ve nurtured it over many, many years. We’re not here to tell them what to do with rFactor. What we want to do is offer our assistance and our help if they ever need it. But ultimately rFactor should continue to run as the product. It has run as and we’ll be there to offer guidance whenever it’s needed, but we’re not here to start mandating how rFactor should be run or what content should be put in, or, certainly not going to turn it into an arcade game or anything like that. You know, rFactor is what it is and it’s an amazing product. And, Marcel and his team have done an incredible job with it, and it should continue to run in that direction that they see fit.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Epic. So from a Studio 397 point of view, then what do you think you’ll bring to Motorsport Games?

Marcel Offermans:

I think first of all, we’ll bring a team of very hardcore, very enthusiastic racing and sim racing fans that are quite good at what they do. On top of that, obviously we have the core rFactor 2 technologies. We already touched on the point of our physics engine. I think that’s the best or one of the best in the business and certainly a very advanced model. And we’ll keep improving on that, going forward, other things that are very interesting to combine forces on are the, networking code and the artificial intelligence. And as Paul, explained a little bit earlier specifically the tyre model that we have as part of the physics engine.

Paul Coleman:

From my perspective, I think the, the work that we’ve already done together has shown that, the tyre model has given us an incredible platform to build on, I think, areas where we’ve already been making significant improvements have been, how the artificial intelligence is driving, in the specific context of NASCAR, the behaviors of stock cars on a Speedway, are very different to a traditional European road course race where, it’s all about getting the best racing line and, taking your moments to overtake. Stock car racing there’s a lot more side by side, obviously drafting is an integral part as well. So yeah, we’ve been working on, how we can get an improved AI experience for the player so that the race feels like it evolves and it really comes alive.

Paul Coleman:

I think the other key area that we’ve been working in is, is assists. rFactor had a great suite of assists already, but in terms of my ambition to make our games as broad reaching as possible, for me, that means taking a sim platform and actually broadening the reach of that game and ensuring that it can be accessible to the most novice players, rather than trying to shift the entire product over and away from sim for me, I want the most hardcore players to have that in-depth experience that feels like you are racing on track using the real car with nothing getting in the way, but I also need our most novice players to be able to pick up the game and race with a control pad, full assists, and have as much fun racing the AI as those, those hardcore sim racers.

Paul Coleman:

So that has required us to do some extra work with the technology, but the results have been incredible. And I think it, it shows that the guys that are already working in 397 have huge passion for racing and their product, but they also have that capability to think outside the box and expand their horizons into areas that they wouldn’t traditionally have needed to worry about with rFactor. But as we go towards products like NASCAR, which are more mainstream, which do have a broader audience requirement, that they’re there and they’re looking at ways in which we can improve the product. And I think in time you may see some of that stuff feeding, into possibly the future of where rFactor goes, but actually it’s going to stand us in really good stead for every product we make it Motorsport Games with BTCC, Le Mans and any further licenses we should hopefully sign in the future.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Yes. So as we’ve already alluded to, I guess, Paul, that the team at Motorsport Games has been very, very busy recently, as you’ve just mentioned there, you’ve added Le Mans and BTCC to the future product lineup alongside the existing arrangement with NASCAR. It’s also been recently announced KartKraft are on board as well, and therefore a studio in Australia. So where does Studio 397 fit into this mix?

Paul Coleman:

So, I mean, I think you can tell from that list that you’ve already given, there we’re extremely ambitious. We don’t want to just, farm out, kind of licensed racing products as has been seen in the market previously. When we build a game, we want to capture the essence of what makes that particular motorsport special. So bringing 397 on board, obviously it’s a huge addition for us. They bring so much knowledge and expertise and passion for racing, that it means that it makes our life so much easier from a game design perspective, to be able to say, right, okay, this is a BTCC product. What makes BTCC special? How can we capture that in the way that the cars are driving? How can we capture that in the way that the AI behaving around you?

Paul Coleman:

And, with that core in place, we can then start to put the kind of game production wrapper around that, the excellent graphics, the cutscenes, the things that bring the game to life and hold it together. And I think the same applies to a NASCAR product, to a Le Mans product. All of things have something special about them and that special thing starts on the racetrack and with the expertise that 397 bring to the table, it allows us to make sure that that foundation is as solid as it possibly can be. And we’ve captured that core racing experience first and foremost, and then we can build the wrapper around that to create a great gaming experience.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

So with that in mind, then might we see rFactor 2 coming consoles, perhaps?

Paul Coleman:

So I think it’s far too early to start talking about rFactor coming to consoles, but I think what we do want to say is that, our ambition is to bring that incredible driving feel to a broader audience. And whether that comes as part of products that we’re working on, such as NASCAR, or whether that is, an approach we take with rFactor in the future. I can’t say at this point, but I think the key thing is we want players to get the experience that those hardcore PC players have been getting on their console. And I’m really looking forward to the challenges that that presents, but also I can’t wait for the feedback when players actually get to feel what this tyre feels like. Because, it frustrates me sometimes that the best driving experiences are only available to a small portion of the gaming audience because of hardware.

Paul Coleman:

What we’re seeing now with the new transition to next generation consoles is that those machines are actually capable of running,a more detailed simulation. And that for me is one of the best things about moving to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X is the fact that we can actually now look towards a future where those core simulation experiences are available for the mainstream. So, I think that’s really exciting. I think it’s a conversation for the future, but you’ll already start to see some of that technology moving into our current suite of games that we’re working on at the moment.

Marcel Offermans:

Yeah, absolutely. Just to add to that, I think we’re as excited as Paul is for bringing this technology to these new consoles, to just broaden, the market and make sure that we offer the same high fidelity experience to more players. So, we’re definitely already looking at these technologies and making sure that core parts of our engine work on those platforms. And like Paul says, I think the rest of the conversation is something we’ll discuss going forward. But it’s a bit too early to speculate right now.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Interesting. Very interesting. So, any hints about the new NASCAR game? Can you tell us anything more about that at the minute?

Paul Coleman:

So we’re definitely going to be revealing more concise details. I think in the not too distant future, I’ve probably already said too much on this meeting and our PR and marketing teams are going to get pretty upset with me, but look I think what, what we’ve set out to do is completely rebuild the NASCAR franchise. It is going to feel like a departure from the NASCAR Heat series. What we’ve been doing is nothing short of a complete rebuild. We’ve been working on it for the last two years. It’s a brand new franchise we’re using the very best tech in gaming, of which 397 plays an enormous part of that. And ultimately, we feel that we are on the path to something incredibly special. So we’re really looking forward to talking in more detail about it, but I think today’s announcement is a clear indication of the direction we’re taking with our games. The fact that we’re bringing 397 into the business and, using their input, means that, players of the NASCAR franchise, will start to feel that extra gameplay depth that they’ve been crying out for years now. And, I think it’s one of those things. We often see arguments about sim racing, being elitist, maybe perhaps too difficult. There’s only one other alternative, which is an arcade kind of casual experience. And I don’t see it like that. I think, we believe in authenticity of the experience. So I think if you make an authentic experience, then you can definitely make an experience that captures a much broader audience.

Paul Coleman:

And when you make a license game like NASCAR, where you’ve got kids as young as two or three years old, all the way through to experienced race car drivers that are looking for something to do, when they’re not racing at the weekend, we believe that we can build an engine that makes the car easier to control, but also far more enjoyable to drive. And as you learn to master that, that driving experience, you can start to play with the assists and turn them down and actually get a feeling for what that car is like, as close to the real world experience as it can be.

Paul Coleman:

So, race driving is about self-improvement, as well as the challenge of winning the race. I think that natural instinct to go back and try and improve your lap. That is the core of what race car drivers are looking to achieve. It’s very compelling and what we’re doing with 397 is getting those fundamentals right. That core package, that means that the on track experience is as engaging as it possibly can be and those tenths of a second on a lap time make all the difference. And once we’ve got that right, we build around it to create a compelling game experience that players will keep coming back to year on year.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

So Marcel then, do you enjoy working on NASCAR?

Marcel Offermans:

Absolutely. I mean, NASCAR might not be the obvious choice for somebody from Europe, but, actually as a sim racer myself, I’ve been enjoying a lot of NASCAR racing in our local league. So I’m quite familiar with how it works and it’s, it’s certainly an interesting strategic challenge to drive on these ovals and something I’ve learned to appreciate. And I know it’s not as easy as it looks, so, yeah.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

Absolutely, absolutely. So I think we’re coming towards the end of our time together. So, first of all, Paul, any final messages you’d like to say to the racing game community?

Paul Coleman:

So, obviously this is a huge announcement today and I think it’s, it’s very exciting. I think anybody who loves racing can be excited by this news, not worried about it. I think our passions are in exactly the same place and where we’re looking to take this relationship is absolutely aligned with what I think the sim racing and the wider racing community are looking for in their racing games. So watch this space, we’re going to have plenty more news in the not too distant future, but for now, look forward to the developments that are coming in rFactor 2. And we’ll have plenty more news on the licenses that we’re working on later this year.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

That’s great. Thank you. And Marcel from your point of view, any messages or thoughts for the race community and the rFactor 2 fan base at the minute?

Marcel Offermans:

Well, just to say that we’ve been working already with Motorsport Games, for the last couple of years on the NASCAR title and doing a lot of these esports events together. So it might seem as a little bit of a surprise move to some, but it’s something that we’ve been working on for quite a while, and we feel very comfortable with this merger. We’re very much looking forward to a bright future together.

Tom Harrison-Lord:

That’s wonderful. Thank you very much for your time, both of you today. And this is clearly a very exciting announcement from both Motorsport Games, the racing community and rFactor 2.

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