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EA is the History of Sim Racing

Tim Wheatley - Dec 19, 2020       1 Comment
Tim Wheatley - Dec 19, 2020
    1 Comment

The recent announcement that Codemasters would be purchased by Electronic Arts (EA) certainly came as a surprise to many, but if you look back at their storied history it might surprise some even more to know just how interwoven EA are into each simulation we have today.

iRacing was co-founded by Papyrus co-founder David Kaemmer. David’s first racing simulation (some say the first ever racing sim), was published by EA. Who knows what support was needed to make it happen? Would no EA involvement mean no Papyrus? No iRacing?

Image Space Incorporated made the PC versions of the EA F1 games, but the connection goes back to their first racing game; Sports car GT.

SCGT was a title ISI were making for Virgin Interactive. EA bought Virgin to acquire Command & Conquer, and SCGT was the only other game they didn’t cancel. In fact, their decisions led to a development extension where ISI moved many physics parameters into the filesystem for easier tweaking… This led to the vibrant SCGT modding scene that continued through the EA F1 titles and eventually became the rFactor one.

Now let us consider what came from that modding community… Many members, in some cases all members of the (old) SIMBIN, Sector 3, Slightly Mad Studios, Reiza Studios and most of the rFactor and rFactor 2 content development teams actually came directly from the community.

Modding was at a crossroads in 2004 before rFactor came out. iRacing had chosen to aggressively defend their newly acquired NASCAR Racing 2003 engine. Without the modding community that was created under EA’s watch, it could have ended (at least out in the open).

Here is where I stretch things a little, but why do you think Assetto Corsa has a Lotus 49 and historic Monza? Because most developers now played Grand Prix Legends, and I’m sure it’s the same at most other studios in one staffing department or another.

Now let’s look at when things went wrong for EA and Sim racing, because I have a perspective on this that I haven’t ever read before. EA and ISI parted ways, obviously, and this came after they’d made an offer to buy ISI… ISI said no. They then had part of an engine (some belonged to ISI) and basically never got the job done ever again.

However, that’s not EA’s fault. If iRacing were to lose Grant Reeve or if ISI had lost Terence Groening (both men I have worked with), it would be very hard for either studio to put together a new racing sim if half the physics were suddenly taken away. EA didn’t just lose ISI, they lost Terence.

The fact is, between 1989 and 2004 EA were at the forefront of racing simulations and the legacy of the titles they produced continues to this day. Their purchase is basically what they wanted to get from ISI, with complete staffing capable of making use of the incredible licenses they own.

I don’t imagine for a moment that F1 2021 will see many changes because it’s well into development, and EA certainly aren’t going to introduce micro-transactions because F1 2020 already has them… From Codemasters.

Looking into the future we can’t know for sure where this is going to go, but I would be very shocked to see many big changes. This is just an area EA want to be involved in, and why not? Back on Jun 14, 2007 Codemasters raised a total of $100M in venture funding over 2 rounds to acquire the F1 license, now they’re worth $1.2Bn as a company.

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EA buying Codemasters is, for me, not a really good news. EA has had the same problem with their racing games than Ubisoft with Assassin’s Creed : a new one each year, either too much like the previous one, either different enough but half baked.
I think Codemasters did wrong when they tried to “EA” themselves with games like DiRT Showdown, GRID 2 and now PCars 3 : take a working licence, take out what make it good (the handling, the “seriousness”, the simulation side) and add things people never asked for (Destruction Derby and Turbo, yay ! NFS Underground like career, yay ! What if PCars 3 was in fact GRID 2020 ?).
I forgot GRID 2019 existed, it’s like a “PCars 3 : Prologue”.
EA might let them continue on this path, which is wrong in my mind.
Like you wrote, F1 series already have micro-transaction (which is a real shame – micro-transactions, like DLCs, are often presented like “spend a little to help use keep the game alive”. But we have to buy the new F1 game every year to be up to date … ), so EA’s ownership might not even be felt.
Codemasters knows how to make arcade, simcade and sim games. I just hope EA doesn’t come with a stupid yearly business plan on licence that don’t need them (F1 and newly acquired WRC licence excepted)
On a side note, I’m happy 2 companies that knows how to choose soundtrack for their racing games are now under the same flag.

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