Having been a fan of sim racing games for a long time, I finally caved in and decided to subscribe to iRacing recently. I was quite surprised to discover that the apprehensions I had of the service were all false and it seemed as if iRacing was a game that deserved to have the amount of money that was squandered on it by players.
We will be looking at iRacing’s business model and all of the positives and negatives that come about because of this. In the end, you will have a fair idea of why iRacing turned out to be such a massive success in its niche.
iRacing and Microtransactions
iRacing requires players to subscribe to their service. Subscriptions can be $13 USD a month if you only pay for a single month but you can get them for as low as $8 USD a year with a discount for paying the fee annually.
For this money, you get access to 17 different cars and around 17 different tracks. This money allows you to take part in rookie races and some of the advanced races as well.
That is not all though. If you want to race some of the better cars in the game, you will need to purchase them and their tracks. These range from around $11-$15 and that is paid as a one-time fee for unlocking them.
The most surprising part is that you do not own the content that you buy. If you are unable to pay the subscription fee, you will not be able to use the content that you own even for single player.
The game itself has no AI (although that is being added) and players battle each other in online races which run on a fixed schedule.
The subscription has tens of thousands of loyal customers many of whom have been a part of the game since it was released in the late 2000s. Let us see why the game has managed to survive as long as it did.
Capitalizing on the State of Online Sim Racing
Sim Racing is a very serious hobby for many people who end up investing thousands of dollars into their craft.
However, the state of online sim racing is quite terrible unless you want to join a league which has 1 or 2 races a week running at a fixed time. Most of the drivers in online public races do not care for rules and will smash you off the track if they want to.
Since gauging penalties in online races is also quite hard, it is very easy for someone to push you off the track and claim that it was a ‘racing incident’ when the admin comes along.
The main reason that iRacing has been as popular as it has is the fact that they not only weed out the non-serious participants by charging a high subscription fee but they have a very strict penalty system which punishes people for even the slightest amount of contact.
To put it into perspective, you can barely touch 2 cars during a race and go off track a handful of times and you will be disqualified from the race.
Even more hardcore is their Safety Rating System. This system assigns a safety rating depending on how many incidents you average in a race (iRacing also has an elo system which works separately from the safety rating).
In order to get licenses for driving faster cars, you need to prove yourself in the lower divisions by being less of a hazard on track than you would expect a rookie to be.
The Hierarchy of your Racing Career
As you may have noticed, that iRacing seems to be mimicking what real racing is like. That is true to quite an extent.
The only difference is that most of the races run on an hourly schedule so it is possible for you to decide the time when you want to race.
Once you have a good enough Safety Rating, you can essentially be guaranteed a clean race (although even the rookie license has better racing than I have seen anywhere else).
There is a lot of climbing for you to do, and you will generally be placed with other players of similar skill levels due to the game having an elo system. iRacing gives players who are in love with motorsports to be a part of motorsports.
An actual ladder which has the iRacing world championship series at the top of it where you can make actual money. Games try to do this for single player modes but iRacing did it in multiplayer.
In many ways, iRacing is the world’s only true eSports racing game, and having to pay to be a part of it is a small price.
Execution and Marketing
Although iRacing is quite outdated graphically, it still has a berth of content for players to explore. Players can take part in any event that they like from racing road legal cars to GT3 cars to Formula 1 cars to oval stock cars to rally cross.
The cars are very realistic and seem to behave as their real life counterparts do, and the tracks are all laser scanned to have every single bump represented accurately.
Essentially, this is a service where no matter what kind of racing you like, you can get your fix.
A lot of racing professionals has also marketed iRacing. Many drivers have used this as a way to hone their skills or at the very least to have a bit of fun and practice before their race weekends.
When people as good as Rubens Barrichello are using your service, other people are going to follow.
Road to Improvement
Of course, iRacing is by no means something that is perfect. In fact, it has many flaws.
Although many of these are not tied to their business model, they do tend to make iRacing a little less attractive to many of the hardcore sim racers.
One of the ways in which they fall short is that their engine is quite outdated, and it shows. The graphics are quite subpar and the tire model needs a lot of work (it is currently being worked on).
Considering what you get, it would be fine for a normal priced game. However, the amount of money that you have to spend every year in order to effectively take part in the service does deserve a lot more than players are given graphics wise.
Not only that, you are also required to buy expensive gear if you want to emulate an actual car. A good racing wheel can go for thousands of dollars and other things like a VR headset (not compulsory) are extensive costs.
Sim Racing is by no means a hobby for the poor, and although you can have a decent amount of fun on the rookie races, money will eventually leave your pocket in one way or the other.
Overall, iRacing does seem to have its fair share of problems. It has capitalized on the fact that their entire genre seemed to have this massive weakness in their online component.
Personally, I do not mind the prices as the trade-offs that you get are still not found anywhere else, and the game is fun as hell!