The medium of gaming has not been particularly kind to American open-wheel racing. You have to go back almost 20 years to the last time IndyCar got its own dedicated title. We’ve received Formula 1 games every year without fail, but IndyCar hasn’t garnered the same kind of attention from developers. That will soon change.
On Thursday, Motorsport Games announced a partnership with IndyCar, with the expectation of launching its first fully-licensed game in 2023. At the moment the only ways to drive those cars in a virtual setting is through Forza Motorsport, Project Cars 3 or iRacing.
Those three games feature Dallara’s spec chassis, but they don’t aim to recreate the entire season, with all of the teams, drivers and circuits. Simulation quality aside, by replicating all of those elements, Motorsport Games’ effort figures to be the most faithful digital IndyCar product in a very long time.
Before this, you had IndyCar Series from 2004, developed by Brain In A Jar, published by Codemasters and released right in the middle of “The Split.” As for the CART side of things, Sega’s Flag To Flag launched alongside the Dreamcast in 1999, and the following year gave us the incomparable CART Fury. And boy, was CART Fury something special. Just behold this masterpiece for a minute:
It’s almost like the gaming equivalent of Driven. Which is ironic, because Driven got its own game that somehow wasn’t licensed by CART, even though CART teams and drivers were plastered all over the film itself. The early 2000s was a really weird time for tie-ins, and an even weirder time for American open-wheel racing.
Anyway, back to the present. I asked a Motorsport Games representative what development team will be heading up the new IndyCar game, and he told me that information couldn’t be disclosed yet. Motorsport Games houses a number of studios, including NASCAR Heat developer 704Games and rFactor maker Studio 397. A Studio 397-fronted IndyCar game seems like a match made in heaven, but we’ll have to simply wonder for the moment.
So that’s all the good news, and I’m sure it will excite IndyCar fans who’ve waited ages for a game to authentically capture a series that, let’s be honest with ourselves, is way more exciting to watch than F1 on a regular basis. It just is.
The not so good news is that as part of this agreement, Motorsport Games will also inherit “exclusive esports rights.” Those rights “may kick off as early as this year.” Having seen the way that Motorsport Games recently made it very difficult for iRacing to run a 24 Hours of Le Mans-type event, I imagine iRacers who prefer to drive IndyCar in that sim are going to be sceptical of this news. They have every right to be.
Of course, there’s a lot we don’t know yet. But iRacing has cultivated a consistent, rewarding platform for accurate sim racing many people have flocked to over the years. At the moment, there’s no reason to think a new game developed by another team could deliver an experience of similar quality. That in and of itself wouldn’t be a problem, if it didn’t become the only game in town.
Maybe it won’t be. Motorsport Games has been strangely cooperative with its stewardship of the NASCAR licence, allowing the eNASCAR iRacing series to coexist alongside its more console-targeted, casual-friendly Heat series. If this IndyCar partnership goes down in a similarly harmonious fashion, everyone will benefit. If not, you can add it to the long list of sports exclusivity deals that shareholders love and fans loathe.