I didn’t want this to start this article with hyperbole, I really didn’t, but it’s difficult because, after spending some time with Auto Club Revolution, and chatting over the course of an hour with Dan Robinson from Eutechnyx, I came away having had my preconceptions about Free-2-Play challenged.
On the surface of it, you’d be forgiven for passing Auto Club Revolution by, but as well as being a racing game, it has some MMO-overtones to it. The game is still in open-beta, but Dan knows that they have things to do before they launch in the reasonably near future, but they have the manpower to do so, “Certain elements of the game are very much on the MMO side of things, and we’ve actively recruited people from the MMO space,” Dan continued “It’s a mix of people from games like Runescape, who bring that MMO side of things and the way that an MMO works, both in a game but also from the community perspective. We’ve got people from the online gambling/online poker background, in terms of how to monetise this sort of game, and keep people playing”.
Then of course, there’s people like Dan himself, with a strong background in the racing game genre, having previously worked for Codemasters, on games like the ever popular Grid. Dan knows his stuff, and talks me through some of the aspects of the game that will keep people interested. After all, player retention is key in the F2P space.
Without doing Auto Club Revolution a disservice by comparing it to other games too often, there are comparisons to Forza to be made. A livery allows players to customise their car, and similarly to the Turn 10 series, you can create custom pictures of your favourite plumber by arranging shapes together. The Disney one that a fan has made is outstanding, and shows that there’s already a dedicated following for ACR. It’s no surprise either, as after customising our first car, we were awarded a credit bonus – which is always nice.
Auto Club Revolution features licensed cars and tracks, which – for a F2P browser based game – is pretty shocking. Having always heard horror stories about manufacturers imposing strict rules on developers, it was yet another surprise to hear that most of the companies involved had given them no hassle whatsoever, Dan said “That’s not been a problem for us…you can pretty much put anything on anything”, and indeed, you can customise your Pagani Zonda with all manner of decals and paint jobs.
Realism is also key to these licensed cars: “In terms of upgrades, we’ve got over 150 car part manufacturers in the game, so they’re all as you’d be able to get in real life. There are things you can do to certain cars, and there are things you can’t do to certain cars – so for example, the Zonda has got options available like the force induction. Other cars you can’t change the force induction in real life, and therefore you can’t in-game either.” Each upgrade will change the overall quality of your car, which addressed a concern I had for the game.
There are two forms of currency available: Credits, which you earn from racing, and completing other activities, and E-Bucks, which are purchased with real money. Some cars are only available with E-Bucks, and that made me wonder about pay-to-win. If I can start the game and just buy the best car, that could negatively affect another player’s experience. Some of the top level cars also have a level cap you need to hit before a purchase is allowed, meaning pay-to-win is effectively dealt with, and you’ve got to earn your stripes at the low levels first. So whilst you could buy the best car for E-Bucks, you can also get there without spending a penny, instead levelling up the car through the upgrades system, which you can purchase parts for, with E-Bucks or credits. It’s worth mentioning that some cars are only available for purchase with real money, but this is at the behest of the manufacturer who “don’t want us giving their car away for free”.
Whilst there is no intention of bringing the game to home consoles (they feel the freedom that the current model offers them is true to their vision), mobile platforms are “…definitely on the cards. The discussions that are going on are more about what that game/app/experience will look like. Do we go down the route of doing a full racing game? Do we go down the route of the CSR Racing type game where it’s a basically a timing app, and all about the upgrades and progression? Do we do something where it’s more of a companion app, where the app itself is your upgrading tool, or your social community tool, and the racing all still takes part on browser.”
What of the racing itself though? The game itself is browser based, aside from the actual racing, which is a separate client that will launch when you’ve decided what you’re going to do. There’s plenty of support for input devices, including wheels, with more wheel support to come. While Dan feels they already support plenty of wheels, they’re constantly getting new devices in, testing and trying to get them into the game. Xbox 360 controllers are supported from the get-go, too, and the racing feels simulation-based, but not at the top end of the spectrum. It’s accessible to most people with a passing interest in the genre, and it looks pretty good too, for those that are concerned about that aspect.
You can currently race in good weather, or wet weather, but actual rain is coming soon too. The racing feels solid, responsive and fun – which is all good stuff, but there are things that still need work. Currently a wet track is just that: A track that is wet, after a heavy storm. Once you’ve finished the race, you’re awarded credits and offered the chance to double them up, for an E-Buck fee. It’s not very intrusive, and that’s something that doesn’t change all through ACR. Given how F2P games hit you over the head with the desire to make you pay, ACR really doesn’t; almost to its detriment.
Social is a big thing to Eutechnyx, and they have made it easy to just chat with other users, then get into a race. On top of that, there are multiple leaderboards, including possible sponsored leaderboards (from manufacturers), but they want the users to be rewarded for that product placement (so to speak), and aren’t willing to just throw up adverts for products otherwise. It’s an attitude that pervades ACR, and the intention is to offer future content that you won’t find anywhere else. Full events on long-forgotten driving styles or tournaments that would offer a potential revenue stream.
Clubs could be a big thing for ACR. Amounting to what most people know as clans, you can apply to join any available clan, but it’s up to the owner to vet potential players and choose if they allow them to join. There will eventually be tournaments that give experience (towards the levelling up mechanic) payouts to the players in the club. The better a club does, the bigger the payout, and in phase 2 of clubs (when it rolls out) you’ll even be able to challenge other clubs – it all points to a social experience that rewards regular play and is constantly evolving.
With updates every two weeks, and the passion to make the driving game they always wanted to, it’s interesting that the success of the game really does end up being all down to the player-base. Eutechnyx are using this extensive beta period to get feedback from the community, and to hear them out. So you should pop on over to the game, register and tell them what you want them to do.
Auto Club Revolution is still in open-beta, you can get involved by visiting the site and registering.