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What does the Motorsport Games acquisition of rFactor 2 mean for racing games?

Motorsport Games and rFactor 2 exclusive interview

Today, as I write this, Motorsport Games is announcing the intent to purchase one of sim racing’s most beloved titles – rFactor 2. Nurtured of many years by Studio 397, rFactor 2 has garnered praise from gamers, esports pros and racing drivers alike, building a loyal community.

While rFactor 2 is available to all with a PC, wheel and pedals, it is also used on a professional level by multiple organisations to broadcast esports events. Recent examples would be the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, the current Formula E: Accelerate series and the GT Pro Series, alongside many others.

What’s clear from today’s news is that this will not change. There is a guarantee that rFactor 2 will continue to be fully supported by Studio 397, as per normal. Its roadmap for new additions, refinements, cars and tracks remains exactly the same – only now it has the backing to realise those aspirations. For those who are fans of rFactor 2, this can be seen as positive news. Financial, technical, infrastructure and publishing support to back-up the simulator you know and love.

But Motorsports Games will surely be looking to maximise the Studio 397 talent and the rFactor 2 technology across some of its recently attained licenses. It’s here where things start to become intriguing.

Having spoken to both Paul Coleman, Director of Design for Motorsport Games, and Marcel Offermans, Managing Director of Studio 397, earlier today for our video interview, I took away a sense of rFactor 2 being its own thing still, but with the foundation of that being used to power the next NASCAR release.

NASCAR Heat 5

For context, the current NASCAR Heat game is developed upon Unity, a development engine that is ideal for smaller titles, but I think reaches limitations once you try to aim for certain levels of complexity. It is also based upon work by Monster Games, who have now gone on to work on projects away from Motorsport Games. With 704Games at the helm, Heat 5 felt like a marginal update compared to Heat 4. Now I can understand why that was the case.

“What we have set out to do is completely rebuild the NASCAR series. It is going to feel like a departure from the NASCAR Heat games. What we’ve been doing is nothing short of a complete re-build. We’ve been working on it for the last two years with the very best tech in gaming of which Studio 397 plays an enormous part in. Ultimately, we feel that we are on the path to something incredibly special,” said Paul.

If you’re familiar with rFactor 2 already, NASCAR may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Studio 397’s previous body of work. However, the team is clearly engaged and knowledgeable.

“NASCAR might not be the obvious choice for someone from Europe, but as a sim-racer myself I’ve been enjoying a lot of NASCAR racing in a local league. It’s an interesting strategic challenge to drive on ovals, which is something I’ve learnt to appreciate,” said Marcel.

One would assume, then, that the next NASCAR game will include a sprinkling of rFactor 2 goodness within its makeup, as the company builds something new from the ground-up.

It’s worth factoring in though, that Paul is very keen to stress that while it will be an improvement to drive, it will still be approachable.

Motorsport Games and rFactor 2 exclusive interview

“We often see arguments about sim racing being elitist or perhaps maybe being too difficult and there’s only one alternative which is a casual arcade experience, but I don’t see it like that. We believe in authenticity and if you make an authentic experience then I think you can make something that captures a much broader audience.

“When you make a licensed game such as a NASCAR, you’ve got kids as young as two-three years old all the way up to experienced real-life drivers that are looking for something to do when they’re not racing at the weekend. We believe we can build a [game] engine that makes the car easier to control but is also far more enjoyable to drive. As you learn to master that driving experience, you can start to play with the assists by turning them down to start to get a feel for what that car is like and get as close to the real-world experience as you can be.”

So far then, rFactor 2 continues on its merry way but with the necessary backing to bring more features and content, while the NASCAR series gets the reboot it sorely needed with the help, advice and technology from Studio 397. That’s great, but isn’t there more to it than this?

Motorsport Games has the licence for the British Touring Car Championship and recently, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It recently announced its intention to purchase go-karting simulator KartKraft and created a new studio, Motorsport Games Australia, using the key team members behind it.

KartkKraft

It’s something I wanted to try and get to the bottom of, because to me it seems like a lot of IP and talent now merging together in a way that could mean lots of racing games that drive well and are available on both PC and consoles.

“We are extremely ambitious. We don’t want to just farm out licensed racing games. We want to capture the essence of what makes a particular motorsport special. Bringing Studio 397 onboard is a huge addition for us. They bring so much knowledge, expertise and passion for racing which makes our lives so much easier from a game design perspective. [We can ask them] this is a BTCC product but what makes BTCC special and how can we capture that from the way the cars are driving and the AI is behaving?

“With that core in place, we can then put the game production wrapper around it,” explains Paul.

The relationship between Studio 397 and Motorsport Games is long-established behind the scenes, as Marcel explains.

“We’ve been working already with Motorsport Games now for a couple of years on the NASCAR title and a lot of esports events. It might seem like a surprise to some, but it is something we’ve been working on for quite a while and we feel very comfortable with this merger and are very much looking forward to a bright future together.”

Indulge with me in the dream scenario for a second where KartKraft leaves Early Access, rFactor 2 continues to deliver the best physics on PC for simulator users and then popular real-life motorsport championships are able to have games released using the best minds and technology from these latest acquisitions combined.

Doesn’t that sound like a really positive move for the racing game industry? Could that deliver experiences that PC and console users have been crying out for? Either way, we’ll find out over the coming months and years. I for one really hope it does…

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