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Posted: May 22, 2023 @ 11:14 pm GMT-0600
Updated: Jul 14, 2023 @ 09:30 am GMT-0600
Sorting Tags: Article Software, Articles, bignews, INDYCAR 23,
This post has been read 1,262 times.

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Header image from rFactor 2.

The Glory Years

This past weekend I sat inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway and watched Alex Palou set the fastest ever pole speed in Indianapolis 500 history, eclipsing Scott Dixon’s record from 2022 and Scott Brayton’s from 1996. In 1996 IndyCar racing games were making their first steps towards hardware rendering with IndyCar Racing II from Papyrus but it was this title, initially released in 1995 without Rendition support, that signaled not all was well because this title didn’t even include Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Licensing can be complicated and the history of Indianapolis and IndyCar is a case study in how to neglect or abandon a sub-section of fans. It is important to understand, however, that hindsight allows for this kind of judgement which, at the time, few saw it coming. Papyrus had set the genre in motion in 1989 with the release of Indianapolis 500: The Simulation and followed this up with IndyCar Racing in 1993. 1994 saw two track packs, including an Indianapolis Motor Speedway track addon, giving the title a full schedule of tracks and full season simulation.

If you don’t count the fact that IndyCar Racing had originally released with Andretti/Newman-Haas box art it later had to replace due to licensing, didn’t include Mansell or either Newman-Haas liveries for the A.I. opponents, IndyCar Racing was a solid and complete product. When IndyCar Racing II was announced everyone expected more of the same and Virgin Interactive, who published the first release in 1995, even included Indianapolis in a (below) trailer… Then, we split…

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The Split

U.S. motorsport was torn apart with the creation of the Indy Racing League after 1995 when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway broke off to form its own series away from CART, the governing body who had licensed the IndyCar series to Papyrus. With that, the IndyCar Racing franchise was dead, and while Papyrus would license CART, re-release IndyCar Racing II as “CART Racing” and did plan to have a product based on the Grand Prix Legends engine release in 1999, it never happened. Like NASCAR Racing 3, it was canceled… Though it wouldn’t have included the Indy 500 anyway (that wasn’t a CART event).

The sim racing community converted Indianapolis from the first IndyCar Racing title and eventually NASCAR Racing 3 (the version of N3 that actually released) and made it work as a mod for the second, so the lack of Indianapolis track licensing for IndyCar Racing II didn’t really hurt as much as it probably should have. Various other mods for the EA Formula One franchise also appeared alongside Microsoft’s CART Precision Racing, but CART was the focus of those mods… Not the Indy Racing League and not the Indianapolis 500.

The Drought

What did get released for fans of the Indy 500 over the next seven years was a selection of games that just didn’t live up to the name or reach the right audience; ABC Sports Indy Racing was generously critic-rated 64%, Indy Racing 2000 only released on Nintendo 64 while IndyCar Series and IndyCar Series 2005 development was outsourced almost entirely by Codemasters to Brain in a Jar, a company clearly out of their depth. The PC version of IndyCar Series 2005 didn’t even make it to market, while in the United States it was sold as an Xbox exclusive. All four titles provided an experience worse than could be found in Papyrus’ original Indy 500 title from 1989.

Multiple CART and Champ Car titles were licensed, announced and never created over the same period of drought of quality on the IRL side. rFactor released in 2005 and much of the modding community that had worked on EA F1 series CART and IRL mods came over to the platform, creating various U.S. series including the Indy Racing League and Indy 500 as mods, until Champ Car and the IRL merged back into a single series in 2008. While many of the mods worked well for leagues, it is perhaps important to note that by the time iRacing released in 2008 the last fully-licensed and ‘good quality’ simulation to officially include Indy cars and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (albeit as an addon) was still from 1993.


iRacing’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2009).

New Era

iRacing is an on-going development and has deployed major quarterly updates since the beta invites went out that year. Adding the Dallara IR-05 Indy car and Indianapolis in 2009 followed by the Dallara DW12 in 2014 and IR-18 then aeroscreen in 2020, it did not include A.I. support until recent years and to this day doesn’t have all the current IndyCar tracks that would allow users to simulate a full real-world championship. The Dallara DW12 came to rFactor 2 in 2014 along with an up-to-date Indianapolis, but again there was and is no support for championships or a full schedule. There are other products, PC and console, but no new or ongoing-development product exists today that simulates an IndyCar championship and – let’s say it again – the last title to include the essential elements of an IndyCar series simulation is from 1993. That’s why, when Motorsport Games announced INDYCAR 23 back in 2021, many of us felt positive about it. We were finally going to see a full roster of cars and tracks, A.I., offline championships and get an actual first-party IndyCar and Indy 500 experience after more than 20 years of waiting. Not only that, but it might be a “finished product” rather than an endless beta you move away from before it’s even finished. Right?

Expiring License

Once boxed products stopped being a thing and the on-going development cycles seen in every modern simulation started we entered a new era where brands decided they didn’t want to license their content to a product like iRacing that could potentially be in digital stores for decades. A car or track could be licensed for only perhaps three years until they were either renewed or expired. An expired license means that the item needs to either be removed from sale for new users or removed from the product entirely. Should multiple items of content all need renewed at the same time it might make more financial sense to simply remove the whole product from sale. None of this is cheap. None of this is consumer friendly.

Exclusive License

Exclusivity isn’t new, but it’s always a problem. Daytona was exclusive to SEGA until 2000 because of the arcade racing title “Daytona USA”. Nobody else got to put Daytona into a NASCAR simulation after 1994 and even various modding efforts attempting to add it to NASCAR Racing, NASCAR Racing 2, NASCAR Racing 1999 Edition, NASCAR Legends and NASCAR Racing 3 by the community were shot down eventually by legal threats. It wasn’t until February 2000 when Papyrus released exclusive Daytona demos that featured Daytona for both NASCAR Legends and NASCAR Racing 3 that we got to experience what we’d been missing all those years.

Electronic Arts held an exclusive license to Porsche vehicles for sixteen years that prevented the brand being seen in anything other than an occasional Need for Speed game. Products from other developers came and went either including a Porsche car licensed through an agreement via EA and AutomaniaX (who held the simulation license), a RUF Porsche licensed via a loophole or no Porsche cars at all. No older “finished” products that included Porsche cars were affected at all because they all were boxed “finished” games that pre-dated the agreement. That type of product no longer exists in today’s digital storefront.

At the end of 2022 iRacing’s IndyCar license expired and because the IndyCar series had signed an exclusivity agreement with Motorsport Games this meant that, for the first time I’m aware of, existing content had to be altered and limited in an existing product in order to meet the requirements of a newer license for a different product. This is a direct result of licensing methods not meeting the modern requirements of ongoing development and a lack of understanding how exclusivity would impact existing products. Someone really didn’t think this through. If Geoff Crammond was still around and updating Grand Prix 4 it would have had to be pulled from stores once Codemasters signed to acquire Formula One exclusivity in 2009. That’s the reality here.

Over the years I have worked hard to understand exactly why a developer might push a brand for exclusivity, something iRacing have notably never done, and it really only serves the developer as a way to limit the opportunity for the customer to buy a better product. For the brand, it can only be motivated by money.

Neither Respecting, Nor Preserving

In this software space it only takes a contract amendment for a brand-new GT car to be added to a product and one that “nobody races anymore” to be dropped for being financially nonviable. All the days and weeks of work on the dropped cars 3D model, audio, handling and the experience the car gave in the software are all gone. It really is digital e-waste. Developers would prefer to keep every car and track available to users, but that’s not always possible and as as archivist, that infuriates me.

In much the same way that it blows my mind nobody can buy F1 2010 – F1 2021 and experience the evolution of the Codemasters F1 franchise or indeed Formula One itself during that snapshot of time anymore, we’re going to end up in 10 or 20 years unable to give any new sim racers or racing fans an education on any car without an electric engine unless it’s in a museum. Because of contractual term limits, on-going development that’s never “finished” and exclusivity we’re at real risk right now of not preserving the content and software we’re enjoying or the sport we’re watching for future generations.

Let’s imagine the SRO GT racing licenses Kunos Simulazioni has and uses for Assetto Corsa Competizione was for 10 years and we’re five years into it… They may withdraw the product from stores once that license expires and then what? New users have to either hope something new comes along or… Play GTR 2? How on earth does that show any respect to the current drivers, teams and cars that compete in the real-world series? How does it show respect to the gaming medium or sim racing genre? And how does that show any respect for fans?

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What's truly sad is how much none of this benefits anyone.

Simracers suffer for no decent Indycar simulations for decades and Indycar suffers for a lack of exposure and audience for decades.

Reply 1 Like

Yeah, licensing simply hasn't advanced when products shifted from boxed/finished to digital/ongoing development in any other way than to add term limits. After 3-5 years a 3-5 year old car is a lesser draw so the fact they have to drop/remove them rather than everyone just moving on just drives me absolutely insane. It's anti-consumer. If a developer wants to keep you coming back they'll license the newer version of a car anyway, they shouldn't have to drop the older one to be able to afford it.

IndyCar games have just been a mess. That's why it's still pretty refreshing to play the originals. Indy 500 is just still so good.

Reply Like

Good article. Part of the issue I think is that the sanctioning bodies treat the sim racing add-ons as a money making venture rather than as a marketing tool. If you treat it as advertising, your actions are quite a bit different: how to expand my market? how to target a particular demographic? how do I achieve long term growth?

Reply 2 Likes

God that's so true.

I'm British, grew up watching F1 only. I didn't even know NASCAR existed before I bought NASCAR Racing. When Mansell went from F1 to IndyCar I started watching it and eventually bought IndyCar Racing, that made me more of a fan because I understood the challenge by this point of "turning left". It's SO IMPORTANT in building a fanbase.

Reply 2 Likes

In any logical world, the series and car OEMs should be paying sim developers to feature their cars in sims. But sadly the old guard still rules and video games are not taken very seriously.

It's not like the billboard makers have to pay BMW to put up their ads.

Reply 1 Like

This explains motorsport games

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