NOTE: This is an opinion piece. These posts are the views of the author only, and do not necessarily represent the views of RaceSpot / A Sim publisher / Any other party.
To put it politely, 2023 hasn’t been kind for Motorsport Games. There’s about a billion things that can be talked about, from the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2023, to licensing, to partners leaving, to game suspension, and that all important share price. I’ve had a chance to work on the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2023 Porsche feed with the one and only Matt Trivett, and have been keeping an eager eye on some of Motorsport Games’ development projects because… IndyCar’s involved, but I’ve seen a case of deja vu, combined with an ever dwindling participation on rFactor 2, to the point where honestly, I don’t know what can be done to change fortunes in 2024.
Disclaimer: I don’t hate Motorsport Games!
rFactor was my first real entrance into Sim Racing. Every time ‘Down With the Sickness’ by Disturbed comes up on my Apple Music playlist, or at some random bar I always think about or mention rFactor. Although it was a different kettle of fish to when I joined iRacing, for a while I preferred rFactor because of the AI racers, and the fact I could race in good ol’ fashioned 1990s CART machines. Eventually commentary and league running meant that I went full time to iRacing, but I lost no respect in terms of rFactor. FSR was a great competition to go up against the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series, and rFactor 2 had its uniqueness, especially when it came to things like Formula E, which rumours persist about iRacing turning down in terms of developing the car because of the need for new thinking about engine technology.
Talking about Formula E, I worked with some of the rFactor 2 / Studio 397 crew back in 2019 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, where Porsche had its first ever public Esports event. iRacing were running a mock round of the Supercup as well as a showcase of their LMP1 car, whilst rFactor had Formula E. Here was one of those times where I learned some tricks that Studio 397 would use to improve broadcast quality, where they rolled out a ‘better’ version of the Monaco Formula E track. By better I mean better in terms of textures and graphics compared to what most users would get the chance to explore. Is that cheating? Not really, but it was a slight of hand which I learned wasn’t a one off. I also had the chance to work with the same Studio 397 crew at Sim Racing Expo 2018, where I had to be driven back to the arena at full speed after we learned last minute there was an rFactor race that we were supposed to commentate. It’s a good job that I’m friends with Dom Duhan after all those years!
Let’s start chronologically…
The most logical place to start talking about Motorsport Games’ year is the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2023. After a more solid event in 2022, there were a number of issues that impacted both class victories in 2023. There was first a red flag caused due to server disconnects, followed by a second caused by a certain streamer accidently showing the session password as everyone prepared to rejoin the server. Credit to the official commentary team for playing the ‘rain delay’ commentary and analysis card to a tee, as Matt and I scrambled to do the same in Gronau. Thankfully we had a printer which allowed for lots of circling of lap times and stint lengths, but even that went out of the window with more disconnects. Max Verstappen famously said that he would uninstall rFactor 2 after the race as their car got screwed out of the win via disconnect, and Porsche Coanda Esports team also suffered a similar fate which cost them a class win.
Following this, it was announced in June 2023 that rather than have the season run to the same timeframes as in 2022, there would be an ‘all change’ moment where the Le Mans Ultimate game would become the new home of the Le Mans Virtual Series, on another platform developed by Studio 397, owned still by Motorsports Games. This should have been released by the time of writing this (December 2023), but instead will be released on the 20th February 2024. Apparently this was chosen as a nod to the #51 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans winning Ferrari 499P, as the 20th February is the 51st day of the year… After delays, I’m certain most fans care little about this symbolism and just want the game. In terms of the Le Mans Virtual Series, the official word is:
We will be bringing the Le Mans Virtual Series, the biggest racing esports series to the Le Mans Ultimate platform in the near future.
Through the official content and new multiplayer features we will further expand the reach, accessibility and participation – creating a ladder of opportunity for players of all abilities and those with limited time to take part in official events and series.
Motorsport Games Financials
Moving on to the rest of Motorsports Games, they have some good news in that they’ve lost less money than last year, although revenue was down US$3.3m to US$1.73m compared to same period (Q1) in 2022. There does need to be some context compared to other sims at this point, and iRacing is possibly the best comparison. It’s common knowledge that John Henry is one of the main bankrollers of iRacing, which as a service wasn’t making much money until about 2018ish. So for a company to be losing money in sim racing isn’t new, or at times wholly unexpected, especially considering the way licensing periods work, as well as one of costs in terms of scanning tracks, making new agreements etc.
Where things are less fruitful for Motorsports games revolve around that stock price. Though it’s no longer in freefall as it was throughout 2021, it is still 99% lower than its high of 338.7pps on the 8th February 2008. iRacing is privately owned compared to Motorsports Games and by extension Studio 397 etc, so profit / losses don’t need to be as widely reported, and therefore have less impact. Despite people belieiving that Motorsport Games would be dead in the water by the end of 2023, that’s not happened, though that claim does have to come with some caviets.
First of all, BTCC and Motorsport Games have ended their partnership. This was expected to provide the first Touring Car game in a long, long time, and provide something similar to the glory days of TOCA Race Drivers on PC, Playstation, and Xbox (I had it on both PC and Xbox, and bloody loved it!). Instead Motorsport Games laid off 40% of their workforce, closed a studio in Australia, and the new Touring Car game looks to be dead in the water.
Also going nowhere is the much anticipated IndyCar game. When I mentioned déjà vu earlier in this piece, it’s because the last ‘official’ IndyCar game before this one was ALSO cancelled, that being a partnership with SimRaceway agreed in 2011 with Randy Bernard who was supposedly ‘In charge’ at IndyCar at the time. That licensing agreement in 2011 directly impacted on the ability for sims such as iRacing to release the DW12, and the Motorsport Games / IndyCar partnership meant the end to one of the Top 2 iRacing Special Events in the iRacing Indianapolis 500, which apart from NEVER being able to get the correct qualifying procedure in terms of pit exit – full warm up lap – 4 flying laps, had the highest participation of a single event alongside the iRacing Daytona 24 Hours.
The Licensing Pandora’s Box
This licensing between Motorsport Games and a series promotor seemed to be their common practice to act twofold: First, provide the ability to create an exclusive game for the genre, and second, to strangle competition from running events using tracks, cars, and names. Not only is the iRacing Indianapolis 500 on hiatus, the use of an IndyCar at Indianapolis on the oval in a broadcasted race is banned. Of course personal bias comes into play a bit here as a former IndyCar driver on iRacing, who ran an IndyCar Series for over 5 years, who’s also called more virtual Indianapolis 5oo races than anyone else in the universe.
The same thing applies with Le Mans Endurance races on non Motorsport Games platforms. There was that one year when the ACO decided to put out one of the most confusing press releases on the weekend of the iRacing 24 Hours of Le Mans, reminding people that the only ‘official’ 24 Hours of Le Mans Race run on a virtual platform. This has led to countless jokes when referring to Circuit de la Sarthe, such as ‘That racetrack made out of public and private roads in North West France’, and ‘a racetrack located next to a KFC near Mulsanne’, and some league owners running 23 hour and 59 minute races in defiance of what is alleged breach of copyright and trademark. Outside of the special event, this really only impacts league owners when coming to broadcasts and reporting, but it’s enough of a hassle in terms of scheduling etc.
I make the comparison with Simraceway for good reason. The licensing approaches are almost identical, and in both cases, its seemed to have financially crippled the company. I assume in both cases there was the idea that by having an exclusive license to either WEC, IndyCar / BTCC competitions, they would see an almost immediate movement of more die-hard sim racing fans in that arena to the ‘provisional’ product on offer in anticipation of these licensed titles, but this failed to emerge, as there was no immediate ending to the ability to use similar cars / tracks on other platforms. There may also have been some ideas about sub-licensing back to other parties, and the future value of these rights when coming to sell off, like Motorsport Games did in selling off the NASCAR Computer game license to iRacing. In both of these cases though, the ideas have failed, often combined with potential mis-selling of ideas to corporate executives who may not fully understand the impact of their actions.
In terms of IndyCar as an example, when Randy Bernard signed his name on the dotted line with SimRaceway in 2011, I don’t think he fully realised the implications on actually stifling Sim Racing >> Viewer engagement of IndyCar. SimRaceway was indeed able to launch the DW-12 before anyone else, but their Indy 500 broadcast didn’t have 33 drivers. It didn’t have any of the big Sim Racing IndyCar teams. It didn’t even have the Indianapolis Oval Trim. It had 14 drivers, a road trim, and 1 commentator. To quote Emptybox:
Or you could enter a Indy 500 that has 33 cars on the grid and at least a config that runs on ovals… Yea, missing the DW12 is more than easily replaced by actually having stuff right.
14 car Indy 500. Are there only 14 drivers who race at SRW? That’s a joke.
Meanwhile, the much larger IndyCar sim racing communities on rFactor and iRacing had to wait for 3 years until the exclusivity license lapsed, meaning that for this time they were using the older iR-05 / 09 in their feature races. Twitch / YouTube comments were often filled with questions as to why these races were not using the DW-12, leading to bad press for the sim, and the series. Similar money via licensing =/= good press and promotion approaches applied to endurance racing with the ACO / Motorsport Games license, and to some extent elsewhere SRO and ACC. It’s still illegal to mention SRO / Blancpain on an iRacing broadcast, which makes talking about their first endurance championship particually difficult.
I was able to find the ACO / Motorsport Games K8- Form thanks to our friends at the SEC (Government, not NCAA College Sports, which is even more of a financial scam). This outlines the need for Motorsport Games to pay €8 Million towards development of a video game product to in effect run the series, which we can assume was rF2, and now Le Mans Ultimate. There’s also wording about loans and repayments, and there is another document which explained how revenue in terms of the Joint Venture would be distributed, but I can’t re-find that on a New Year’s Eve whilst watching NFL Redzone sadly. However it did slightly melt my brain in terms of how it was broken down into specific amounts to specific parties and then ratios after a certain amount.
So… What Next?
Assuming all goes well, Motorsport Games will be launching Le Mans Ultimate in exactly 52 days from the writing of this article, which will bring itself some natural hype and new members to the platform. One thing that my research can’t find though is a price. One thing I also noticed was the level of content available on day #1, which talks about Hypercar and LMGT3 cars was the following tweet and response:
Are you going to add the new 2024 Hypercars and LMGT3 cars ?
— Reece Kersten (@reece_kersten) December 19, 2023
Saying “We will be looking to add those post release in 2024” when this is effectively the key content needed for a Le Mans game / sim is confusing at best. Elsewhere on X / Twitter, they say that all cars will be available in Early 2024, so either certain teams aren’t speaking to each other, or they don’t know the answers universally!
Truth being told, this is pretty much an ‘all eggs in one basket’ moment for Motorsport Games. Although the IndyCar game is on hold and not officially cancelled, it even occuring at this stage would rely on the success of Le Mans Ultimate. If the launch goes awry, or it fails to live up to expectations, it could be a nail in the coffin for Motorsport Games. There are some in the community already writing obituaries for Motorsport Games, but if things do turn out as planned, then it’s perfect timing for the game, and Motorsport Games as a whole. The hype around Endurance racing at the moment hasn’t been seen since the Group C days, and if the virtual product works, then the winners will go far beyond the game itself, and will open up the doors potentially for deeper integrations with WEC / ACO, including perhaps more linier TV partnerships and sponsorship opportunities. There is honestly a really good opportunity for Le Mans Ultimate being the cooler cousin to F1 Esports in terms of swag and output, but it needs to have a good launch, and decent rhythm in the first 6 months post-release heading into the next season of the Le Mans Virtual Series. If that all works well, then every other major Sim Racing competition in town will need to sit up and take notice.
Thinking wider about Motorsport Network, regardless of what happens, it won’t impact the mothership thatmuch, although their print division isn’t having the best of times either, especially with the way Autosport Magazine’s been treated over the past few years (Remember when the price went up to £10?). I think it’s important to think about Motorsport Games in isolation to the mothership, as whilst there is still overall wealth in terms of the parent company, they seem to be happy to cut off dead wood when needed, instead of thinking about more medium to long term thinking. That is why I mention a 6 month upward curve. This is likely enough to keep management happy, and allow checks and salaries to be paid moving forward.
After the Le Mans Virtual Series and 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2023, one could argue that it is last chance saloon. To some, it may well be, but key to success isn’t the keyboard warriors who’s known rFactor since the Image Space Incorporated days. It’s about utilising Steam, Endurance racing growth, and hopefully getting the basics right. Do that, and the future can still look amazing for Motorsport Games, especially if they keep up the broadcast quality of the Le Mans Virtual Series in studio and on track. If things go wrong on the 20th Feburary though, especially as Rennsport gets closer to a public release and iRacing’s about to get rained upon, there may not be a way back.
Thank goodness I don’t have to advise on buying or selling of stock.