SO. IT. HAPPENED.
Who would have expected it? Euro Truck Simulator, a game in which you basically drive trucks, is first greenlit by the community, and then proceeds to become the top seller on Steam. Pretty good feat.
When I first heard of this game, it was in a video by French sarcastic reviewer "Le Joueur du Grenier", who made a video about the worst simulator games (such as Geopolitical Simulator 2 or, yes this game really existed, Toilets Tycoon). But soon after, I noticed that, after all, this game was getting some pretty good reviews and building a fair amount of buzz. So I decided to give it a try.
A truck simulator game? Somewhat
Yes. Yes, yes yes it is. A revival of these good old simulator games that were a very common sight among PC games in the late 1990's and early 2000's. For a while, we pretty much had a simulator game for everything, even though the most renowned series was Flight Simulator.
These games were heavily criticized for favoring realism over fun (just notice the "As Real As It Gets" on the picture), by trying to be as close to the real experience as one can be: everything had to be in these games, every button, every option, every detail. The genre was clearly aimed at a small audience of extremely passionate people who couldn’t afford more than buying a game about what they’d love to do (well, not many people can afford to fly an airliner every sunday afternoon!). In the eyes of the rest of the world, the genre was pretty much dead.
Well, we can easily see how "dead" this genre is. Or how it is only aimed at a small, passionate audience.
Now, I have nothing against truck drivers or trucks, but it is a pretty safe bet to think that, to the eyes of most gamers, driving a truck must not rank that high on the list of "exciting things they absolutely want to see in a video game". Even less a $40 game which is ONLY about driving trucks.
This is what the people at SCS have understood, and they have done a great job providing their customers something different and something more than a simple "truck" simulation. Yet people are buying this game, playing it, talking about it, making mods for it. This is one of the most alive communities I have seen in the past couple of years.
While very strange on the paper, the success of this game can easily be understood once you play it. I can tell you, the game is actually very fun.
I know, the game’s called Euro Truck simulator, but I wouldn’t call it a real simulator. As soon as you boot up the game, you are asked to pick your control scheme. If you’re a fan of the genre, you can go with a steering wheel and manual gearbox. Or you can play with a controller. Or even with your keyboard, as you would control your character in any other game. I picked the last option, and started playing. Another thing I noticed was that the game was very forgiving – I once hit a car and only got a 400€ fine (the employer was even pretty satisfied by my job).
But I wouldn’t call the game dumbed down either: I’d rather call it “gamed up”. Every mission brings you experience points that allow you to level up and pick new skills, as in every RPG, to lower your fuel consumption, to be able to accept jobs that require you to drive greater distances, to pick more expensive loads etc. And once you gain enough money, you can buy your own truck, and get your company running by hiring other drivers etc. A real management game! All these small elements add a much appreciated diversity to the gameplay, but also a great sense of progression as you slowly discover new cities and new elements of gameplay. Actually, if you pick the skills that allow you to pick dangerous / fragile merchandize or missions that are on a very tight schedule, you can even ake the game more challenging.
To get back on the core of the gameplay, the actual driving, it turns out to be much more enjoyable than expected. Almost everybody loves driving, relaxing on the road, going to new and unknown places. Most driving games are actually racing games, very stressful and requiring a large amount of mastery. But here, driving is relaxing. There aren’t many cars on the road, and the delivery delays are very permissive: you can take your time, enjoy the music (you can stream any radio from the internet or make your own playlist)… It does feel very close to the actual experience of driving on the road. The developers also greatly reduced the distance: driving from Lyon to Geneva, which normally should take about 2 – 3 hours, takes 30 minutes in the game.
This proves, once again, that, as long as you keep the traditional things players are expecting in a game, you can easily force a large number of players out of their comfort zone – maybe more easily than ever, as gamers have become more open to innovation and new experiences with the fast development of the indie scene.
You say piracy? I say a strong community!
There is another subject I wanted to write about in this article.
The game, in addition to Steam, is also available directly on the developers’ website. And I can tell you, it has to be, by far, one of the weakest DRM I have ever seen.
You can download for free a pretty large demo version of the game… Well actually, you download the WHOLE game, only a large part of the content is locked. And to unlock it, you have to pay for an activation code. Except, this code is not checked online, nor is it linked with your copy of the game. Any code can work on any copy. It takes approximately 25 seconds to pirate this game.
And yet it sells. People are hearing about this game, reading about it… So they buy it.
So remember: the best way to sell your game is to make it good, not to put some annoying DRM that might kill any goodwill your potential players have towards you.