Among several initiatives the World Rally Championship Promoter is deploying in order to increase the reach of the series, the cognoscenti can be forgiven for sometimes overlooking a key element – video games.
Yes, the new look Rally.TV service and a calendar that reaches more of the globe are vital. As is the revised YouTube content strategy enacted for this season.
But, video games are pivotal in inspiring a new generation of WRC followers.
“Our sport goes into some pretty remote corners of the globe, yet video games can make WRC easily accessible to rally fans worldwide,” explains Marc de Jong, Head of Business Development at WRC Promoter GmbH.
“They really showcase WRC’s epic adventure of man and machine against the elements. The WRC games let fans experience first-hand the unique skills and attributes a driver and co-driver must possess to be successful, and that builds understanding for our sport.”
Undoubtedly, there will be a subset of existing aficionados who are virtual devotees, playing the official games on PC or console as well as tuning in to the real-world action. Me, for example.
But I also speak from my own experience when it comes to first discovering the globe-trotting motorsport competition.
The year was 1998, and Colin McRae Rally burst onto my PlayStation console. I’ve been besotted by the sport ever since, but it started on my PlayStation, learning how to listen to pacenotes while driving a Škoda Felicia.
“The WRC games have helped us win over many new WRC fans who have discovered our sport through gaming,” concurs de Jong.
“That’s why video gaming has been an important part of WRC’s communication strategy since 2001 when we launched our first official title.”
That initial release 22 years ago was in collaboration with a previous promotor, the David Richards-ran International Sportsworld Communicators, and Sony. It delivered five games, followed by a pause of half a decade, before a further four titles by Italian studio Milestone and seven by Parisian outfit Kylotonn were released.
This year, another new partnership kicks into gear, as a deal between the Electronic Arts-owned Codemasters, known of late for creating the DiRT Rally series, and the WRC becomes effective
The more astute reads will know that it’s the same company that created that original McRae title a quarter of a century ago now at the helm, paired with the business behind the current Formula 1, FIFA and Madden NFL games.
“EA Sports offers us an exciting combination of Codemasters’ development heritage and EA’s publishing power,” says de Jong.
“As a studio, Codemasters has an unrivalled rally pedigree stretching back to Colin McRae Rally and as a publisher, EA’s track record with major sports franchises is absolutely second to none.”
For the British-based developers, despite a strong lineage of releasing projects in the genre, this will mark the first time it will work with the WRC directly.
“How the deal with the WRC came about was thanks in part to our determination,” explains Ross Gowing, Senior Creative Director at Codemasters, talking ahead of any official game announcement.
“We think we make the best rally games, and WRC is the pinnacle of rallying, it seemed like a match made in heaven.
“That was the deal that was pushed for, and thankfully the deal that got across the line, which is, in my opinion, the perfect match.”
Since the first WRC game, technology has marched forward relentlessly, and current PC, PlayStation and Xbox devices allow for more realistic rally experiences than ever before – especially when combined with contemporary steering wheel and pedal peripheral sets.
Meanwhile, the leading Rally1 machines are now high-speed, hybridised, speed machines. Surely, now more than ever, the WRC is best placed to deliver the intoxicating excitement levels a new generation of gamers requires.
When you next read about potential new events for the 2024 calendar, or the 2025 rule evolution – don’t forget that those playing at home are just as important to the sustainability of the WRC’s fanbase.
Images: Motorsport Images/McKlein