Red Sox Owner’s Simulation Startup, iRacing.com, Waves the Green Flag
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$20 per month or $156 per year, and come with access to two simulated car models—the Pontiac Solstice and the “Legends” 1934 Ford Coupe—and seven simulated tracks, including South Boston Speedway. As they gain experience, users can buy access to additional cars and tracks.
Another non-game-like aspect of iRacing: the company isn’t engaging in the typical multimillion-dollar marketing blitz. It plans to promote the simulation at race events and at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Orlando in December; beyond that, it will be depending on word of mouth. “The idea is to grow slowly and make sure the experience is top-notch,” says McKee, who expects that the customers the company attracts will be more akin to users of the cerebral Microsoft Flight Simulator than to Xbox addicts. (In fact, McKee says iRacing co-founder Kaemmer is an avid flight-sim user.)
But that doesn’t mean iRacing hasn’t taken pains to give its simulations all the realism today’s graphics processors and CPUs can handle. In fact, one of the main reasons it’s taken four years to launch the system, according to McKee, is that the company takes a laser scanning rig to each racetrack it intends to simulate, documenting the tracks at millimeter resolution to produce 3-D “bump maps” that enable the software to reproduce the behavior of cars passing over the surfaces more accurately. “Next is the modeling of the tires and how they behave at various angles, pressures, and temperatures,” says McKee. “Third is modeling the cars themselves as multi-body systems with moving parts. The number of parts we model and the physical forces we keep track of and calculate every fraction of a second is much higher than what you’d find in any other simulation.”
All this attention to detail results in a different kind of realism from what you’ll see in the latest generation of console-based racing games such as Gran Turismo and Project Gotham Racing, McKee emphasizes. Those games bring an astonishing, almost cinematic level of detail to the PC or TV screen—right down to the reflections in the racecars’ fenders and the puffs of dust and rubber smoke they leave in their wakes. The iRacing experience, by contrast, is designed to faithfully replicate the feel of racing a finely tuned racing car, rather than the look.
“For us, it’s not the graphic modeling but the mathematics behind the simulation that has to be right,” McKee says. “We model so many details and moving bodies so that a 15-year veteran of professional racing can get in and say ‘Wow, that’s driving a race car. In fact, that’s driving that particular race car that I just drove last week, at that track.'”
While iRacing certainly hopes to sell lots of subscriptions to its service, the company makes it clear that casual gamers need not apply. To set itself apart from MMOs like World of Warcraft or Schilling’s project at 38 Studios, the company has come up with a new acronym: MMIS, for “massively multiparticipant Internet sport.” And it has even established a sanctioning body akin to NASCAR to organize quarterly simulation tournaments.
In fact, from talking with McKee, I got the sense that the company sees signing up for iRacing.com as the rough equivalent of enrolling in one of those $1,200-a-day high-performance driving schools. “World of Warcraft has a real appeal, and we’re not in any way denigrating it,” McKee says. “But our system is more serious, frankly. A video game might allow you to master a Formula One car in an afternoon. But if you ever got into the car for real, you’d never even be able to start it. If you are serious about racing, our product is for you, because getting on a track with a full field of other drivers and racing against them safely involves as much commitment and time investment as if you went to racing school.”
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