What The Heck Happened To Real Racing 3?

It was going so well for Real Racing 3. Prime time at last year's iPhone 5 keynote. A massive injection of events (900!), cars (45!) and visual splendour. The inspired addition of time-shifted multiplayer. Unfortunately, for developer Firemonkeys and publisher EA, the story has been all about the poorly-executed freemium model.

The most recent criticism doing the rounds is that Firemonkeys has tweaked the wait times for oil changes and repairs, which you can pay to shorten, though it appears the latter change was temporary.

According to the company's Twitter account, the limited release in Australia, New Zealand and Canada is part of a "soft launch" to pave the way for a "smooth global rollout". It's quite possible that part of this trial is to get the balance between wait times, spend and gameplay right for the more important markets of the United States and Europe, which will get the game on February 28.

There's nothing particularly unusual about this. In fact, it's intelligent use of EA's distributed corporate entities, located in various regions, to create a "beta" environment within the constraints of Apple's publishing platform.

The bad news is, the internet does not adhere to the same boundaries. The bigger mobile sites such as TouchArcade and PocketGamer are reporting on this experiment, despite the game not being available to large segments of their readers. The alterations to the wait timers are being described as "stealth[y]" and "silent", with all the negative connotations such words carry... especially to gamers who thrive on trashing mobile games, regardless of their innovations or pedigree.

And it's not just the media that's having a go — users have not been kind rating the title on the App Store. The game currently sits with a 3/5 on the Australian store, with reviews calling the game "a disaster", "unplayable", "a pathetic corruption" and "an exercise in frustration". On the other hand, others praise the "ghost racing concept" (time shifted multiplayer), downplay the annoyance factor of waiting times and marvel at the excellent visuals.

But, overall, the reception pales in comparison to Real Racing 2 or SPY mouse. Even the freemium-orientated Flight Control Rocket was better received, though it can be argued the game's audience is more accustomed to micro-transactions.

So, how did Firemint — now Firemonkeys along with Dead Space iOS developer Iron Monkeys — go from the elegant simplicity of Flight Control to the polarising freemium construct that is Real Racing 3? You could heap the blame on EA, sure, but I feel that's a cop-out. Ultimately, it comes down to the implementers. If there was pressure from above to make freemium work for what has always been one of the most hardcore titles available on iOS, there has to be a compromise between business and design. Anything else is irresponsible to your players, for which the designer must always be an advocate.

I'm not ready to give up on Firemonkeys or Real Racing 3 just yet. The developer has time to get the formula right for the international release later this month, even if it costs local goodwill in the meantime. That said, it'll likely deploy the freemium bomb more cautiously next time.

And yes, before you ask, that is Donald Faison of Scrubs fame playing the game on iPad. Count me jealous.


Comments

    "You could heap the blame on EA, sure, but I feel that’s a cop-out. Ultimately, it comes down to the implementers. If there was pressure from above to make freemium work for what has always been one of the most hardcore titles available on iOS, there has to be a compromise between business and design. Anything else is irresponsible to your players, for which the designer must always be an advocate."

    Spoken like someone who has never worked in this environment? It does not come down to the "implementers". I can bet there were weekly conference calls to EA where they would demand more aggressive freemium. Sure, designers can make their case, but the client managing the project gets the final say.

      Spoken like someone who doesn't get that Logan worked for Firemint.

        Sounds like Logan doesn't realize Firemonkeys also make sims freeplay, another freemium game that seems to be successful...

    Is that Turk? (Donald Faison)???

    Crap I just saw the comment after... LOL

    Last edited 16/02/13 12:08 pm

    This is what happens when you design your game around microtransactions, instead of making a fun game and then adding convenience related microtransactions later on.

    I've heard stories from people that worked there which suggested that they actually brought in people as designers who completely focused on the monetization aspect of the game, (these people replaced other designers who were let go if I recall the story correctly), this was back then they were working on Flight Control Rocket

      This is what happens when you design your game around microtransactions, instead of making a fun game and then adding convenience related microtransactions later on.

      I've got to disagree, that's just as bad a way to go. You end up with poorly planned microtransactions that are jarring, tacked on and unbalanced. If you want to sell the game this way you've got to build microtransactions into the core of your game. It's the reality of the business model and there's nothing unethical about having day one discussions about how the product will generate an income stream.
      What they appear to have done wrong in this situation however is they've brought in people specifically to develop the microtransaction side of it who have no idea how to do their job. It's about creating a symbiotic relationship not chasing the theoretical maximum profit levels on at all times.
      It's about creating a balance so that the bulk of the serious spenders feel like they want to spend money rather than feeling like they have to. I think the current attitudes within EA's upper levels are going to cause them to spend a lot of time struggling with the concept of charging $2 for something players don't strictly need when market research shows players will (begrudgingly) pay $4 for the same thing if you make the item mandatory.

    'Insert Coin' no seems preferable...

    Home consoles were originally based on the fact that you didn't have to pay any more money after you bought the game.

    Also known as 'Free Play'

    I actually enjoy the game.
    Haven't paid any actual money, but have unlocked 3 cars (choosing ones that cost a little more but unlock more competitions).
    There seems to be an imbalance with the 'service' options, as sometimes they drop drastically, compared to other times, for no apparent reason. And it can be annoying to slam into another car, or wall because you couldn't see it properly, and know you're going to have to have it repaired to compete at the best your car can.
    However, you can keep racing with damage, and even win races. I do basic repairs while playing, and have used my earnt coins to instantly repair, but still, it's usually only 2 minutes. When I go to sleep, I set all my cars to fully repair, and the next time I'd play, they'll all be set up and ready to go.

    I just tried it out, and I'm already sick of it. Every single thing takes time or you speed it up with whatever they want to call the paid currency. It doesn't seem too bad at first since you have 20 of them, but you'll burn through them within a few races.

    This is yet another case of "I'll happily pay $10 to buy this but since you insist on doing this I'm giving you nothing." There's been an increasingly large number of these types of games lately.

    The graphics are quite good though.

    Wasn't this the game that people were using as a poster child for proving "Tablets and Smartphones are valid gaming devices"? Kinda disappointing that an Australian company fell to the pressures of corporate greed and tuned the game to be a moneymaking exercise rather than making a game that redefined perceptions.

    Is anyone else noticing excessive oversteer in FWD cars and basically zero understeer? Particularly in the Ford Focus? I understand this is an iOS racing game but for one that bills itself as 'hyper-realistic' it's just not acceptable. This isn't even remotely how 'real' cars actually behave.

    Dat turk face!

      I thought Firemonkeys will be the first studio to make a game on mobile that feels like a console game! Until I herd about this freemium crap!

    This is the mobile gaming market. Freemium or die. Wake up Australian game dev industry, or continue to languish behind everyone else. They made a smart decision with this and it will make millions.

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