Opportunities for developers of racing games seem to have taken a detour. The console track has narrowed to just a few high-profile vehicles, like Sony's Gran Turismo, Microsoft's Forza Motorsport, Electronic Arts' Need For Speed and Codemasters' Dirt. Indeed, many studios with racing experience have shuttered as demand for other titles has disappeared.
Meanwhile, independent racing specialists -- mostly European, like Eutechnyx, Slightly Mad Studios, Nadeo, and ShortRound Games -- say the PC track is wide open and they can only speculate why the confusing traffic pattern exists.
For instance, Andy Hubbard, creative director at ShortRound Games, believes a number of factors have hurt the console racing sector, including the fact that gamers have less money to spend than they did previously, and so they're less likely to invest their limited cash on a new IP when they can buy something more familiar.
"In addition, players seem to want to race in cars that they recognize and possibly dream about driving," he says, "which is one reason why the Forza, GT, and Need For Speed franchises do so well. It's not hard to see why if you're a car fan; which would you rather drive -- a completely fictional vehicle that you've never seen before or the latest Ferrari that you've seen on Top Gear?"
ShortRound's four founders -- Hubbard, Stu Pharoah, Kim Burrows and Steve Uphill -- had all worked on such racers as the Moto GP series, the Burnout franchise, Pure, and Split/Second at Black Rock Studio before Disney Interactive closed it down in June. ShortRound opened its doors just days afterward.
"There were some great plans for a sequel to Split/Second but, because it's so hard to make a decent profit on any game nowadays -- let alone one in a genre that's in decline -- it was decided not to proceed with another game. From what I understand, Black Rock's closure was largely due to the racing game genre and, in particular, the arcade aspect of it, being in decline," recalls Hubbard.
He also suspects that, with money and budgets being so tight, publishers are less willing to properly invest in everything that a new IP needs to get successfully off the ground and to grow a fanbase.
"If you look at all the successful racing franchises that are out there now, they've all been around for a very long time and have had many iterations to get them to this stage," he says.
Slightly Mad Studios' Project C.A.R.S.
Indeed, one series with well over a dozen titles under its belt is EA's Need For Speed, two of which -- NFS: Shift and Shift 2: Unleashed -- were developed by London-based Slightly Mad Studios in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Both focused on simulation/arcade racing rather than the arcade racing of previous titles in the series. And both were developed for both console and PC.
At Slightly Mad, creative director Andy Tudor recalls how his team got started -- first as mod makers for other people's racing games and then, in 2005, joining SimBin Studios, the Swedish developer of racing sims best known for GTR -- FIA GT Racing Game and GT Legends. In 2009, the core team moved on to form Blimey! Games and then Slightly Mad.
"At that point, EA chose us to do Need For Speed: Shift because the franchise had been kind of in a decline for a few years," says Tudor. "It was sort of like the Tomb Raider series, which had once been really innovative, really cool, and then, through the different iterations, it basically lost its sheen and had become slightly tarnished. What Need For Speed needed was a new set of eyes, someone to spiff it up a bit."