I was always a big fan of racing. Quite frequently I supported this love with some carts, but of course, nothing serious came out of it. I always treated it as a side hobby (not even the main one).
Roughly a year ago, when following some of the F1 and GT races, I discovered sim racing. If you did not hear of it (even though you are an avid gamer) no worries, it is a niche in a niche.
Imagine how small is the niche of racing games compared to other niches. Now deduct 90% of that small niche, What you will be left with is sim-racing.
Sim-racing is a segment of racing games that targets simulation rather than arcade. For example, Need For Speed would be an arcade game. While on the completely another side of the spectrum iRacing or Assetto-Corsa would be considered true simulators.
So why we are
So why the sudden interest in sim racing?
There are two factors. The first one is publicity.
With all the racing events canceled, many professional drivers started racing from their homes. Many people actually discovered that most of the top drivers are very active sim racers.
For example, you have Lando Norris (a professional F1 driver) who played iRacing for several years. I will not list all the names but if you do a quick Google search, many of F1 drivers, NASCAR drivers, or GT drivers are also sim racers.
While some of them started to sim race due to the cancelation of the events, many will be surprised to discover that a lot of them were active in sim racing years before that.
Having some of the top names in racing play racing simulators is a huge PR wave that is getting a lot of people interested in sim racing.
This engagement of popular drivers had brought a lot of light on simracing. The number of events moved to the virtual space and gained notable popularity.
The next factor that plays an important role is the equipment.
There are many choices to pick from and many of them are in the price range that is accessible to everyone. Most companies are making their racing equipment to work with both PC and PS4 so the whole range of gamers can participate. For example, Fanatec CSL is considered one of the great wheels out there. Can be used for any platform and the aftermarket price is around a few hundred dollars.
So during the quarantine, many people decided to jump on the sim racing train and join the ranks of virtual racers. Which is great as it has many positive side effects. For example, this also brings an increased popularity for racing streamers and YouTube channels which were overlooked for many years.
Channels like Jimmy Broadbent, SuperGT or Jardier are gaining lots of followers. That is just a small part of the whole sim-racing community. The most important part is that when the public starts paying attention to a particular market segment, sponsors arrive very soon. More sponsors will mean that more people can start playing games as their side hustle, which again grows the overall audience gains more sponsors and the upward spiral continues.
So while in the past we have seen few releases of new racing games, the COVID had shifted the sim racing market. F1, Lamborghini, and other notable brands are starting to officially support the sim racing movement. Creating even more interesting platforms for the players.
On the other hand - more players not only means more fun, but also bigger competition. It can be argued that being a top driver in real racing is easier than being a top driver in sim racing. Because of the number of participants. As real-life racing had a very high barrier of entry (predominantly because of the time and financial investments) you have fewer racers to compete with.
In sim racing, you are competing against a much wider variety of players. A nice example would be a Grand Turismo DLC, featuring Lewis Hamilton (a six-time F1 champion). (*GT Sport is more of an arcade sim than a racing simulator, but still). Lewis created several times trials featuring his best times on the track (that he made on Ps4 with a racing setup)...well after a few weeks there are players who are better than him by several seconds. Sure, in real racing you have G-force, fears, etc. But this is a nice example of what a huge community can do to competition.
While in many cases, if a niche becomes mainstream - it is usually quite damaging to the "true" fan base. Hardcore experience get watered down to engage a wider audience. In this case, I believe it could be different. iRacing was released in 2008 and had grown with the community. So more players will just benefit the platform. While arcade-sims will always have a place on the market - I believe that this ignited interest in esport and sim racing could lead to many new projects and sim racing products that will lure in even more players, creating a more interesting competition and deeper environment.