Operation Sports: Starting with the vision of iRacing in 2004 to now what it has become today, is the core group happy with where they stand and their growth over the years?
Steve Myers: We are actually thrilled. We started the company in 2004, and essentially were in development for four years. Then we started a very limited release in 2008, so basically we are on our three-year anniversary of our doors being open. The great thing is that the product is never going to be done as every three months we are rolling out new enhancements, so the product is constantly evolving. I would have to say that we are absolutely ecstatic where we are right now because we don’t really spend money to market the product at all. We have essentially grown to where we are today by word of mouth. Our customers are our best sales force as they come in and love it. They realize it’s not a situation where, 'Hey, I am going to play this for 30 hours, and then I’m done with it.' They realize that it’s truly a community, and they can race with people all around the world -- even at 2 a.m. in the morning.
OS: How big of an impact do you feel like the rollout and release of iRacing 2.0 will have on your current members, as well as potential new memberships?
Myers: We have already seen the impact, which has been fantastic. We basically have just released the beta version of 2.0, which includes the new Nationwide model of the Chevy Impala and the new tire model. Our numbers have actually skyrocketed just by word of mouth; members are mentioning how terrific it is and how it truly has changed our simulation. I think that what is so terrific about our model -- as we are going to roll this out through August on all the cars -- is it’s going to completely change the entire product. Every car is going to be different now, but I think the higher speed cars, such as the oval cars, will feel the biggest impact. This new model is going to set the bar so high, and the amount of time and money that we have committed to this will really be felt by our members. Dave [Kaemmer] has essentially been working on this model for three years, and we feel it’s truly going to be a game changer.
OS: For someone who is thinking about joining, about how many members will they be able to race with.
Myers: We actually have about 30,000 active members right now, and we have had over 55,000 thousand members create accounts. Active member numbers kind of fluctuate depending on the time of year, but as I mentioned earlier, with the release of iRacing 2.0 we have seen those numbers jump up dramatically.
OS: What is the next logical step in adding a new series or two for iRacing and its members?
Myers: Actually, we are pretty much always in talks with adding new series. There are actually two that I have been looking at adding for some time now that could potentially be coming out for it. What is terrific though is that we have got to the point where people are coming to us about having their content added. I just read an article in which simulation drivers are now referred to as 'iRacers', so we slowly have become the Coke of simulation racing. It’s great now because it seems every day I get an email about people wanting to get their track or vehicle into the service. It’s a complete 180 degrees from where we started. In the beginning, we were pounding on a lot of doors to get started, but now we have so many opportunities that we actually have to tell people no sometimes.
OS: Has iRacing ever considered a chat system that would allow for real-time communication between its members?
Myers: With iRacing 2.0, we are actually going to roll out something very similar to what you would see on something like Facebook. As long as you add someone to your friends list, you will be able to chat with them in real time, just through our website.
OS: Besides Iowa and Suzuka, which are close to release, what other tracks are a possible? And why have Kansas and California not been offered to members yet?
Myers: Well, we just got back from a scan-trip from Lucas-Oil Raceway [formerly IRP], and we just finished scanning Kentucky as well. Our plan with the re-scanning of Daytona was to let the new surface bake in the sun for about a year and get a couple of races under it. So hopefully the surface has kind of settled to what it's going to be now. Our scanner does not work well with really black pavement, so it takes twice as long to do a scan when it has really dark pavement as opposed to one that has a little wear to it. So along with the road course at Daytona, it’s probably going to be at least a two-week scan. We actually have Auto-Club and Kansas under contract already, but the reason we have not done Kansas Motor Speedway yet is they are doing a bunch of infrastructure changes there, and also adding a casino and a road course. So instead scanning now and then going back out in a year to do it again, we decided to wait until they are finished.
We are currently working on the Twin Rings of Motegi, and that track has a beautiful road course on it that’s not even attached to the oval, but we are going to build both of those so when it’s released it’s like two tracks for the price of one. As far as Auto-Club, I don’t know what direction they are heading. I keep hearing they might repave it or change it into a super speedway. There are a lot of rumors, and nothing I can confirm, so we are not a fan of going there and collecting a bunch of data that essentially becomes worthless. We are also going to make a trip back Phoenix International and re-scan that once the track is completed.
OS: Could you talk a little bit about the direction iRacing is going in terms of track dynamics, such as real-time rubber being laid down, marbles at the top of the track, and weather conditions changing and their effects on the track? Also is there a possible day-to-night transition?
Myers: Out of that list, I could see the next thing us attacking would be the dynamic track stuff, and the reason we haven’t done anything in that area yet is we wanted 100 percent focus and completion on the new tire model first. Dave wanted to complete the tire model first and then move focus. It would have been a waste of time and resources to create that and then implement the new tire model -- all of that work would have been a waste of time. As far as the day-to-night transition, that is a bit tricky. We have never done that with our engine, and it’s a very big project. I could see it being something we definitely want to do someday, I just don’t see it as being one of the short-terms items we do. There are so many other things that we can devote engineering time to right now that it would make more sense to knock out five things, as opposed to just one.
OS: Has iRacing ever considered looking at the way the safety rating is handled?
Myers: We are always looking at it, seeing if there are adjustments we want to do to make it easier or harder to lose points. I honestly think that we are really happy with where we are with it right now though. You know what we are doing here is different; it’s not what people are used to. I also think that eventually you wrap your head around the fact some days you are going to lose some points, and some days you are going to get lucky and miss the wreck.
We feel like it truly represents what really happens at a real track, as well as what real professional drivers go through every weekend. We feel like it all evens out, and in the end, a member is going to end up with the point rating he or she deserves. It’s the nature of auto racing though: If you’re a terrible driver, you can really ruin the day for a lot of other drivers. Overall though, I think we are very happy, and considering we have spent over seven years looking at it, we feel comfortable with where it is at right now.
OS: Do you feel like iRacing's financial membership model may be alienating too many would-be customers?
Myers: I think the price-point discussion is interesting because I think that a lot of the people that are afraid of it may not understand it that well. Once you actually start adding it up all together, and you truly look at what we put in place to keep the cost down, it really is a fair model. We offer bulk-purchase discounts, participation credits and referral credits. You can’t look at this product and compare it to going to the store and spending $63 on a game, and then asking what is that product going to give in return over the course of three months. I think when most people look at the subscription model, they realize that they aren’t buying this product once a year like some other yearly console releases.
For the customer who does do that, they are essentially buying the same game every year with maybe a new game mode and a few new features. When you look at our model, we are essentially updating the software every three months with new features, new graphics and new sounds. Although we keep releasing new updates and content, once you buy it once from us, you never have to buy it again. In fact, a new member can sign up for iRacing and never have to spend any money other then the membership fee, but it would be just lower-class racing. You’re not just paying for 30 hours of gameplay, but rather for 24 hours and seven days a week of racing, as well as 365 days of service.
OS: If you could convey one message or idea to people that are thinking about joining iRacing, what would that message be?
Myers: I think it would be that it’s not as expensive as you think it is, and that it’s just a really fun racing simulation. We try to make it as realistic as possible, and the community is a lot of fun to be part of also. Instead of viewing it as a game and 30 hours of gameplay, you actually have to think of it as a hobby and a community. We have very active forums, and with our new chat system coming it really is a community -- not just a product. It’s accessible to all, and I love that you can’t hide behind some screen name. I mean Steve Myers is Steve Myers on the account, same goes for Dale Earnhardt Jr. If you jump in a race and see Dale Earnhardt Jr., that’s the real Dale Earnhardt Jr. It’s a hobby; it’s a community; and it’s a great place to hang out with like-minded individuals.
I really enjoyed my time with Steve. While talking to him, you could really feel his excitement and passion not only for the product they provide, but the overall community as a whole. The group that created iRacing not only loves the idea of developing, but jumping in and racing in it as well. There are many professional drivers that have made the leap and have nothing but great things to say about the service.
If you would like to try out iRacing for the first time, Steve and the rest of iRacing will be providing one-month free service to all OS members. Just send a message to bluengold34_OS here on Operation Sports to get the necessary info.