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Armando Marini, Blogger

March 18, 2009

4 Min Read

As a fan of racing games, I am acutely aware of the lull in the genre.  Recently, some comments made by Peter Moore in an interview about the future of EA sports shocked me somewhat.

What he was speaking of was how EA's NASCAR game for next gen wasn't doing so hot (I'm paraphrasing) but that their kart racing game was doing well.  He added that it seemed "circuit based" games were not doing as well as games such as Burnout out or Need For Speed.

So what was shocking?  It was the reason that he was implicated.  He mentioned that  people weren't shooting at you, or similarly adrenaline inducing elements were missing from circuit racing and therefore its popularity is in decline. 

It seems to me that, although a completely plausible reason, a similar arguement could be applied to any sports franchise without credibility.  No one shoots at you in FIFA, but it sells well.  Could it really be that the folks at EA sports are actually out of touch when it comes to the racing crowd?

So what's my take?  Let's look at NASCAR first.  I'm not simply a fan of racing as a genre, I'm an avid follower of the sport and all things internal combustion.  As a child, I loved watching NASCAR and waiting for the BIG WRECK! 

As an adult though, I find NASCAR to be somewhat lacking.  My opinion is obviously not shared with the throngs of NASCAR fans who've made it one of the most watched series in sports.  I'm making an inference here, but I'm willing to wager that the majority of NASCAR fans are not the same folks who own next gen gaming consoles. 

From what I know of NASCAR fans, of whom many of my friends are included, they are definitely more a Wii group if they were to own a console at all.  So, it stands to reason that a kart racer would perform better.

This is in stark contrast to the NFL, FIFA, and NHL fanbase.  Many of my friends who are avid fans of those sports have gone out of their way to get a next gen console specifically to experience the corresponding games.

Let's look at other forays by EA into circuit racing, namely Formula 1 and World Superbike.  How shall I put this?...umm...they sucked.  EA's Formula one games were consistently off the mark in regards to capturing the experience of Formula 1. 

EA's Formula 1 was never a good experience.  It had an identity crisis and it never ever came close to having the same sort of attention lavished upon it as the other EA sports brands seemed to get.   World Superbike is an interesting example as well.  Around 2000, the series was in decline, but the real killer is that the game was lackluster in production value and even game control. 

The developer, Milestone, have released annual updates through other publishers never having the requisite budget or expertise to produce anything worth owning.  Some reviewers give it a passing grade for being "realistic", but believe me..it isn't.  It simply controls poorly. So should it be a surprise if a consistently poor game has consistently poor sales?

Circuit racing fans are the same folks buying Madden, and FIFA, and MLB09 The Show.  They are also buying Gran Turismo, God of War, Assassin's Creed, etc.  They expect only the best.  Their hunger is unsatiated.  Games like Grid, although a nice appetizer fail to deliver the full meal that racing fans expect.

With all their experience and insight into the games industry in general, could it really be that the folks at EA sports are simply looking at results without asking the all important question "Why?"  Are they phoning it in? 

In my humble opinion, if they really want Madden and/or FIFA results from a racing franchise they need to put in at least comparable efforts.  They must invest in an initial offering that is incredibly mouth watering to the user.  That, is the kind of game that will build the kind of large annual fanbase that EA is known for.

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