NASCAR NXT: NASCAR's Redemption Story



   

 The age of technology has taken over!  The world has changed in many aspects from business to education to entertainment.  I'd like to focus on the latter of those three.  The entertainment world is now being dominated by a new industry.  In 2019, the video game industry brought in over $145 Billion in revenue (statista.com).  This was over three times the revenue brought in by the second-highest industry, movies, which brought in $42.5 Billion.  According to gameindustry.biz, over three-quarters of all U.S. households have at least one person who regularly plays video games.  This stat even includes 61 percent of adults who now say they regularly play video games.  It's safe to say the gaming era is upon us.
   
    One of the most popular genres of video games is the sports video game genre.  These are simulation-style video games that often follow the seasons and patterns of a popular sports organization.  The sports game genre is ranked by masterclass.com as the eighth most popular video game genre currently.  Sports games give the player a feeling of what it would be like if they were truly out on the field for games such as football and baseball or even on the court for basketball and tennis.
    
    NASCAR video games are a bit different though.  While there are those who play the game strictly for a fun time, there are some players who have taken it a bit further than that.  NASCAR drivers even practice on simulation racing games such as iRacing.  Console versions of NASCAR games are a bit more casual than that, but there are still some people who get into the sport and learn it simply by playing the games.  However, NASCAR video games have taken a bit of a dip in popularity over the last decade or so.  NASCAR games have suffered from the lack of a steady company to produce them.  The licensing for the games has been tossed around by multiple companies over the last couple of decades.  There has not been a solid publisher/developer for the NASCAR games since EA dropped the series back in 2009.
    
    However, some light at the end of the tunnel has been made apparent recently as 704 Games has come onto the scene.  704 is formerly known as Dusenberry Martin Racing and acquired the NASCAR license in 2015.  A smaller gaming company than the giants of EA and Eutechnyx, both of which previously held the rights to NASCAR gaming, 704 embarked on a journey to bring NASCAR games to the next generation of consoles.  And thus, the NASCAR Heat series was born.  The NASCAR Heat franchise of games has received its fair share of criticism from the NASCAR gaming community.  The NASCAR Heat series severely lacked in terms of features and physics and overall smooth gameplay, especially when compared to the games brought by the bigger companies in years prior.  One might read this recent past and think, "How does this show any light at the end of the tunnel?"  704 games, like the rest of the world, have gone through a lot of changes amidst this pandemic.  The largest of which is the partnership with Motorsport Games, a company that originated in the UK but has been hard at work expanding their outreach.

    The new NASCAR video game, dubbed by fans as NASCAR '21, has every possibility to completely change the trajectory of the franchise and erase the bad taste left in the mouth of the community after the Heat series.  With a devoted developing and publishing team, a new game engine being used to develop the game, and a brand new generation of gaming consoles at their disposal, NASCAR '21 has all the tools to be a top-tier sports game.  Motorsport Games has gotten acquisitions such as Studio 397, which produces the rFactor games.  NASCAR Games are also looking to be made with the Unreal Engine in the future.  Major games such as Fortnite, Kingdom Hearts III, and Minecraft: Dungeons have all been made with the Unreal Engine.  Motorsport Games director of design and development, Paul Coleman, mentioned that the upcoming NASCAR title has been in the works for over two years now.  NASCAR '21 is getting the attention it deserves and has all the tools to be the redeeming title for the franchise.

    What exactly does NASCAR '21 need to be the great redeemer of NASCAR games?  The answer to that question might be different for different people.  However, there are many features that have been asked for by the large majority of the NASCAR gaming community.  Improvement of graphics and physics should always be a concern for a game developer.  Paul Coleman said that Motorsport Games really wanted to focus on the "simulation" aspect of NASCAR games.  If that is the case, then the graphics and physics do require some improvements, and the Unreal Engine should be able to bring that.  Another feature being asked for is a fully customizable paint booth within the NASCAR games.  Fans want the ability to express themselves on the track and having a fully customizable paint booth would allow them that opportunity.  One of the biggest aspects of any NASCAR game is the Career mode.  This mode has not seen very many new additions within the last few years.  Many fans have suggested adding in NASCAR's silly season, exhibition races, and driver progression/retirements as a way of adding more realism to the game.  The developers could even add in a career clock for a player to make their game more real.  A rising feature of NASCAR games is online leagues.  These aren't like the Pro League guys, but rather the group of guys who meet up and decide to run for some fun, points, and pride.  Online leagues are becoming such a big thing that developers could really help them out by adding in a points/stats keeper.  Also, online fighting games such as Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty have added skill-based matchmaking to their online public lobbies.  This is a system where players are entered into lobbies based on an internal system calculating a driver's skill level.  NASCAR games could potentially implement a system like this.  Drivers could be loaded into lobbies with similar driver ratings and it would avoid those hardcore racers getting put into lobbies with wreck fest racers.

    There are plenty of options on the table to make NASCAR '21 and beyond a redemption story for NASCAR gaming.  Motorsport games and 704 have both shown their devotion and commitment to the franchise.  The new acquisitions by Motorsport games have given the game the internal tools and equipment needed to produce something great.  I am personally excited to see what the future holds for NASCAR games.  We might just look back on NASCAR '21 and think of NASCAR's Redemption Story.