Project CARS, Just Like Many Real Cars, Can't Match The Media Hype
Project CARS is probably the most hotly-anticipated automobile-related video game to “drop” in the past few years. It’s ridden a positively Kanagawan wave of media hype and compensated “viral” marketing to its release – but at least one well-informed source is saying that this new emperor is decidedly trouserless.
The site is called Pretend Race Cars and although its “Community Assisted Review” of Project CARS is well into TL;DR territory for all but the most committed, here’s the money shot:
I don’t know what to say, other than we told you so. It sucks that a large portion of the community was turned into viral marketers for a game described as “middle-of-the-road” and playing with a traditional controller “borders on impossible.” We pointed out the abundance of bugs mentioned in the WMD forums several times. We pointed out the internal discussions of poor controls. We had others confirm performance issues. We called the lackluster driving physics and shoddy AI. It’s a flop, guys.
If you’ve followed the so-called “GamerGate” controversy over the past months, you already know that gaming journalism is under precisely the same sort of close community scrutiny that is applied to the autojourno biz only once in a while, and that the results of that scrutiny have been disturbing to say the least. It’s been shown that the vast majority of new products aimed at the “gamer” market are reviewed by people who have nontrivial reasons for promoting many of those products and ensuring their success, and that those reviewers are often actively hostile to, or contemptuous of, the gamers who are supposed to be the audience for their reviews.
Does that sound familiar? It should. We’re fighting the same problem here in automotive journalism. Our founder, Robert Farago, created this website because he wasn’t comfortable following the manufacturer-provided narrative. Years after his departure, we’re still trying to bring you the truth about cars, regardless of how unpopular it makes us at the auto-show dinners. So I’m not surprised to see something like the screenshot at the top of this piece that shows Kotaku publishing the same basic promotional article over a dozen times. Just substitute “new Mustang” or “Cayman GT4” for “Awesome Screenshot” and you’ll have a microcosm of the world of auto media. What did the Apostle say? And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.
But the problems with Project CARS go beyond a merely compliant gaming media. The business model followed by Slightly Mad Studios has been utterly fascinating to observe; the more you paid, and the earlier you paid it, the more say you could have in the development of the game. This is brilliant for multiple reasons, but perhaps the most pertinent is the tendency for people to have a bias towards their own purchase decisions. Speaking personally, I wonder if I would have been able to evaluate the BRZ/FR-S twins honestly had I managed to succeed at getting into the “First 86” early release. The more you spend for something, the less likely you are to call it a piece of shit in public.
The exception to this, by the way, would be the Superformance S1 that I purchased new in 2001. I’m perfectly willing to talk about what a piece of shit that was despite the fact that I handed over nearly forty grand in cash to make it happen.
The large number of people who had bought into the Project CARS, er, project took even the mildest criticism personally:
Reading this and other comments, I can’t help but think of the people on the various GT-R forums who openly wished for my violent death after I suggested that Nissan might have been gaming the so-called “Nurburgring record”. None of them were Nissan engineers, and none of them were on the Nissan payroll; they were simply emotionally invested in their prospective purchases. You cannot buy the kind of rabid loyalty that your own customers will award you simply for accepting their money.
The combination of a see-no-evil media and a large group of pre-purchasers intent on justifying their credit-card bill can be a powerful one when it comes to swaying public opinion. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more automakers adopt a long-lead strategy of getting customers for new automobiles on board early with small deposits and constant communication. It’s what Elio Motors has done, and if you could see the behind-the-scenes statistics for TTAC articles, you’d know that Ronnie Schreiber’s articles on Elio are extremely popular and controversial even months after they’re written. It isn’t because the man on the street knows or cares about Elio; it’s because the average Elio “intender” is far more involved in the fortunes of the company than the average man or woman who just wanders onto a dealership and buys a Camry is in the fortunes of Toyota.
The end result appears to be an underwhelming product released to overwhelming acclaim. Does that sound familiar? It certainly does, but it might not be the last word on the subject. In the modern release-now-and-fix-later mindset, Project CARS might yet be whipped into shape by its developers. Software is much easier to revise post-sale than a real car is. For now, however, those of you who haven’t yet handed over your money might want to follow the same advice that used to be given to potential purchases of GM cars: wait until they get it right.
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