The Hits Just Keep on Coming

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I don’t like writing about negative things. I’ve always had a thing about the Legions of the Miserable, when it came to those that love to complain about anything and everything regarding the NTT IndyCar Series.

The problem is, since the season ended – there has been a lot more negative to discuss, than positive.

While I’d like to talk about the increased car count for 2023 and things such as that; it has been the scrapping of the new 2.4 L engines, expensive concert tickets that give you a free race and other self-inflicted black-eye topics that have dominated the IndyCar highlights since the checkered flag dropped on the 2022 season last September at Laguna Seca.

In December, IndyCar tripped over itself again by ending the licensing agreement with iRacing, the popular web-based video sim-racing site used by fans and drivers alike. Without getting into the legal ins-and-outs, iRacing members can no longer race Indy cars at IndyCar tracks. There are some technicalities where the DW12 and older Indy cars can race on some tracks, but IndyCar has made things difficult to replicate how it used to be – and fans are furious!

Twenty years ago, I used to play a lot of IndyCar, F1 and NASCAR sims. As I grew older, I found I had little time and got less and less enjoyment out of them. A few years ago, I did a three-month trial promotion on iRacing, and fired up my wheel and pedals set-up. I found iRacing to be a little too realistic, meaning it was much harder for the average bloke like me to drive. When the three months were up, I cancelled the subscription with little regret – so this news really doesn’t affect me personally.

Based on the reaction I’ve seen on social media, I am in the minority. Fans are furious.

The explanation given by IndyCar is that they have entered into a licensing agreement with another developer, which was to go into effect on January 1. That “other developer” is the beleaguered Motorsport Games (MG), which has been sued by its own stockholders. Their stock price has a 52-week high of $46.90 per share. It closed Friday at $4.09 per share – more than a 90% drop in value.

If you Google the company’s name, you don’t see a lot of positive news. Aside from their stock price, it seems that MG has developed a reputation for signing various entities to very restrictive licensing agreements, but rarely actually developing a game itself. If a game does hit the market, it sounds like they ultimately farm it out to other companies to develop a sub-par game that falls way short of what was originally promised.

There are even reports of some employees that have not been paid since October. Those employees are threatening a lawsuit if they are not paid by Jan 25. Stay tuned.

IndyCar signed with MG in the summer of 2021, with the expectation of a premium-quality IndyCar video game being released sometime in 2023. Granted, we are only one week into 2023, but things have gone completely silent on the video game that will supposedly launch this year. Reading through some of the recent corporate struggles my simple Google search produced – things don’t sound like a launch date will be announced anytime soon.

Again I am not in their demographic, but I had never heard of Motorsport Games. Other than what my Google search revealed, I don’t know the first thing about them – good or bad. One tip-off to what kind of company they might be is the design of their logo. It looks strikingly similar to the much more well-known EA Sports logo, which I am very familiar with. I’m surprised EA hasn’t raised a stink over this.

Motorsport Games

EA-Sports-Logo

This latest black-eye has surfaced in the midst of other embarrassing headlines for IndyCar, but this mistake actually took place in the summer of 2021, when IndyCar signed a deal to produce their first video game in almost twenty years with an unproven entity like Motorsport Games. Perhaps hardcore gamers had heard of them, but no one I talked to at the time had. The IndyCar community was skeptical at the time, but the general feeling was that they were going to have an open mind in hopes that MG would produce an outstanding IndyCar video game.

They still might, but that skepticism from eighteen months ago, has turned into downright negativity – when you combine the unflattering press MG is getting, with IndyCar making major and unpopular changes with iRacing.

I will repeat that selfishly, this does not affect me one bit. But I don’t like seeing the series I have followed for most of my life; receive yet another black-eye, in such a small time frame. I wish I could write about something more positive. I’ve been accused before of being a shill for IndyCar, but with what has been happening in the last few months – writing about bunnies and rainbows would prove those accusations right.

For thirty years, I’ve been hearing how IndyCar needs to make themselves more attractive to the younger fans, because they will be our core audience one day. To me; Gene Simmons, expensive concerts, a knock-off Drive to Survive on an unfamiliar network and movies about snails wanting to run in the Indianapolis 500 are not the first things I think of on how to attractive young fans – video games are. Dropping a popular video platform like iRacing, in favor of a shaky company that requires a very restrictive and exclusive licensing agreement, is not a good way to get the attention of young fans.

At least the restrooms at IMS have a new paint job.

George Phillips

14 Responses to “The Hits Just Keep on Coming”

  1. Matthew Lawrenson Says:

    Not sure this IndyCar racing sim game will ever happen, but this whole situation is crying out for an IndyCar management sim. Development costs would be minimal – the whole thing will pretty much write itself.

    • As someone pushing 70 whose last video game experience was pong at a strip club I have never understood grown men spending hours on end playing video games. So like you George I have no dog in this hunt. What does concern me is the second guessing and whining about decisions being made by Penske Entertainment. Granted I seem to be more excited about the upcoming IMSA season than IndyCar due to new teams cars and technology, however once the IC season gets underway I will likely forget about the old ugly cars being run and just enjoy the competition. I have confidence Penske Entertainment has a plan to advance the growth of the IndyCar series . Some ideas will succeed and some fail, some I will like and some I will not, but what is my alternative, NASCAR, I think not. Currently IndyCar appears to be a niche motorsport which is being overshadowed by F1 worldwide and NASCAR domestically. But I have ,do and will continue to follow ,enjoy ,attend and support IndyCar racing come what may. I will continue to persevere.

    • billytheskink Says:

      It would be a game you can’t win, you would just hope to do a little better each time.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    Someone in Indycar management has made some big blunders! It’s been hard for me to understand a Penske run organization keep fumbling the ball??

  3. Davis Brewer Says:

    Indycar marketing is lost at sea far away from safe harbors and calm seas.

  4. Lars Buchweitz Says:

    3 things brought my attention to Indycar in the Mid-90ies (as an very young european F1 addict). Nigel Mansell, Mercedes-Benz and Papyrus Indycar Racing I & II video games.

    Yes, overall media and motorsport landscape changed a lot, but I truly believe, a good video game landscape can help to gain future fans.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    While I think there is some overestimation of the popularity of iRacing among hardcore racing fans, this is definitely a mess and almost surely an avoidable one.

    I don’t blame Indycar necessarily for being interested in what Motorsport Games surely promised: a casual fan-friendly game, marketing of said game, availability on major consoles as well as personal computers. Frankly, these are things that, if executed well, would have more of an impact than the series’ continued presence on iRacing. But, like more than a couple would-be street race promoters beforehand, it seems Indycar did not vet their partner very well.

    And granted, I say this as someone whose most recent racing game played was Final Lap Twin on the TurboGrafx 16. More racing games should have an RPG “quest” mode…

  6. idididone Says:

    Back when I was a lonely bachelor, in my pre-qualified meowner days, I played the Papyrus game a lot. No Indy, (closest thing you got was Michigan or Milwaukee,) graphics were stone age, and it will ride with peripheral hardware sometimes. It did feature Paul Page and a whole load of car “tweaks” that could send you spinning off into the nearest wall unless you used the “right” combination.

    In short, I kept waiting for something to come out that was more realistic AND featured Indianapolis. Frankly I got bored waiting. Other things like jobs, home ownership and such pushed gaming wayyy down on the list of priorities.

    I just want the series to succeed. NASCAR has shot itself in the foot so many times it should have been an ideal opportunity for IndyCar to rise back toward the dominance it enjoyed in the 60’s and 70’s, but, for whatever reason, they have failed to take much of an advantage to the point that both series are looking suspiciously like a circular firing squad.

    I do think Mr. Penske can’t be blamed for the awful timing of buying the whole deal at the very outset of a worldwide pandemic, but I suspect he’s recovered substantially from the financial beating he took. Now is the time for GOOD news, rather than more blunders. Show us a plan we can get behind, rather than things that fly in the face of growth.

  7. CurlingRacer Says:

    I’m with you George on this subject, but I’m also coming at this from two distinctly different mindsets. (1) The Indycar fan hates to see ANY negative news about the series. I’ve always said that if they raced refrigerator boxes on furniture dollies I would still show up in May at the Speedway…so I’m a fan. But, Indycar is definitely at the rear of the Motorsports scene except for 1 week plus in May. This MG deal I’m sure they have already cashed in on and had to sign the exclusivity clause to get that check. MG has done this with other properties, primarily the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the end, it’s probably not a lot of people who are affected by this. But, with all things controversial, people can scream bloody murder now that Social Media is a thing. The series is still recovering from the Split no matter how hard people wish to deny that. It’s getting better as shown with larger car counts and great racing. But, that is a tenuous position as we all know too well. Any negative press just adds to the other side of the scale. Once it reaches the tipping point, IndyCar becomes a 1 event sport. The Captain will never let the 500 go away. I have to believe that.

    IndyCar could use a good console game for Xbox / PlayStation to aid in getting some younger fans on board. Us old ones, aren’t getting any younger! My hope was that this announcement in 2021 was going that direction.

    (2) The avid iRacer in me is incredibly disappointed. IndyCar was the reason I decided to try iRacing rather than the new F1 simulation that was coming out in 2011. Twelve years later, I’m still “racing” and love every second of it. It allows us who had dreams of racing in real life achieve some of that in a much cheaper and safer environment. (Though I have sprained my thumb on the wheel before hitting the Turn 1 wall, but that’s another story…) I realize that most do think it’s just guys wasting time playing a game. But, it can also be therapeutic…don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

    The iRacing platform with laser scanned tracks and cars provide some of the most realistic environments available in a video game. (simulation…so iRacing purists don’t send me hate mail) iRacing was there for the sport during the Covid lockdown showing races on TV with IndyCar drivers and Dale Jr. participating. It was successful with NASCAR as well. The pulling of all their “official” property was a gut punch to us and I’m sure to iRacing who probably thought they had a long term partner there. We can still run the U.S. Open Wheel car in the game, but there can be no official Indianapolis 500 and none of the races using the Dallara cars can be livestreamed. So now, we have our own little version of “The Split”. Many iRacers suggested a US 500 at MIS in May which made me laugh quite a bit! The more things change, the more they stay the same….

    In the end, it’s just a move that has upset another group of fans and eventually, some people will go another direction for any of their racing, whether it is in person, on TV, or in the video game realm. I just wish there would have been more consideration given to us as well as the folks at iRacing, who have been incredibly gracious during this period, rather than the bottom line. Chipping away at the fan base, no matter how small the chips, will eventually see the foundation fail.

    (Sorry for the novella…)

  8. Lynn Weinberg Says:

    You’ve made a lot of good points. When I heard about the iRacing issue, I wasn’t sure what to think about it. I am also not in their target demographic. When I read the comments on social media, I realized this was a big disappointment for a lot of younger folks. I have to just shake my head in disbelief, as IndyCar has made yet another puzzling choice. Everyone knows they need to bring in younger fans. It seems they have shot themselves in the foot again.

  9. Nice piece sir. I’m a lot like you, older and not really into gaming of any sort really. But I fear the gaming debacle is just another sign of a company whose leadership is both out of touch with next gen promotion and steadfastly will only spend and operate as a business with quarterly and year-end horizons. It is also concerning that the recent VP Mktg left after a short stint. What is most frustrating is that in Penske I think we saw someone who WOULD invest in the series without requiring an immediate payback. This series needs a 5-10yr horizon but he — and I say he alone — is not the person who loved IC so much he would MAKE IT WORK. I know they said they have a larger marketing budget this year and we are about 60 days out from 100 Days to Indy. I hope 100 Days isn’t the whole kit and kaboddle. The leadership needs to take a very hard look at itself, its place in the market, its competition, its partners, and make some $$$ decisions that could help this series grow. Without it, with secular forces against ICE, racing, even DRIVING a car and this thing dies on the vine. Don’t think it can happen? Ask the Ottoman’s, the Soviets, boxing, Sears catalog, horse racing, and on and on. Hey, great new year to you and Mrs!

  10. quote:
    “….it was much harder for the average bloke…”
    to understand how these recent decisions
    will have a positive increase in anything.
    the negative is already apparent.

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