The biggest effect of COVID-19 on motorsport is that – except the fact that all races were being cancelled of course – there is a massive rise in interest in Sim Racing. With professional teams and drivers taking part in those as well, livery designers are increasingly commissioned to translate real-world designs into the digital space or creating new designs from scratch.
We spoke to some designers, including berzerkdesign, Andy Werner and Brandon Seaber, about the implications of that and if creating liveries for racing simulators is a discipline that's here to stay.
The possibility of modifying racing games and creating liveries for them is by no means new. The almost 25-year-old game Grand Prix 2 by Microprose still has a quite active modding scene to this day and it's almost unimaginable for new racing games to be released without the chance to modify its content.
The games being used for the recent events replacing real-world racing are mostly rFactor 2 and iRacing, both enabling players to create custom designs for cars and helmets, race suits.
Taking part in the recently organized Sim Racing events are a lot of well-known drivers of the real world of motorsport, including many of the 2020 Formula One grid who basically grew up playing racing simulations – the best example being McLaren driver Lando Norris.
Sim Racing also started attracting drivers of older generations like Rubens Barrichello and Johnny Herbert. And then there are Jean-Eric Vergne who co-founded the Veloce E-Sports team and car manufacturer Porsche who collaborate very closely with the Coanda Simsport team.
”Sim Racing is much more the center of attention now“
Sim Racing also enabled many established livery designers to turn their pastime activity into a full-time job. One of them is the founder of berzerkdesign who started designing liveries for racing games in 2010 and by now works with many racing teams in Germany and Asia. ”Sim Racing is much more the center of attention now, the significance increased massively“, he claims.
The demand for digital liveries is by no means new, but the topic has really taken off for him with recent developments. ”Already before Covid-19 I got requests for Sim Racing liveries but we didn't have the capacity. Not least due to the Corona break there's now an increased interest.“ Andy Werner adds: ”Corona is the best thing that could've happened to E-Sports.“
Sim Racing liveries are in a way a whole different matter than their real-world counterparts. For example, it's much easier to play around with shaders to create different materials and by and large, designs are much faster and simpler to apply on the chassis. For more complex designs though, it's much harder to align between the different fractions of the texture as opposed to a real surface.
It doesn't take much experience to do an ok job and people will be taking advantage of that.
Let's talk money
And then there's the money topic. The problem is that the amount designers can charge for a Sim Racing livery are significantly lower because the audience and interest – especially that of sponsors and paying partners – are just not as big as in real motorsport. Most designers we talked to confirmed that their work on Sim Racing liveries is less profitable. Brandon Seaber said: ”For me personally, I could probably only charge 25% or 50% of a standard livery. I don't think there's a huge amount of money in it. It would probably be just the very top teams and drivers with backing for E-Sports that pay decently.“
Additionally, as much new talent as Sim Racing yields, largely due to its low entry barrier, it's likely that those who are new to professional design lower the price of the service as a whole. ”It doesn't take much experience to do an ok job and people will be taking advantage of that“, Brandon reckons.
I could probably only charge 25% or 50% of a standard livery.
Is creating Sim Racing liveries a discipline that's here to stay?
As with almost anything these days, it's even harder than usual to predict what's going to happen next. What's certain is that sooner or later we will go back to seeing real cars on real race tracks again. But does that mean the Sim Racing hype curve will flatten? Andy Werner certainly reckons it might actually be here to stay. ”Time will tell if it is just a filler. But for sure it has caught the attention of some who haven't cared about Sim racing before.“
The races don't offer what the public at large demands.
Looking at the viewing figures paints a different picture, though. While the F1 Virtual Grand Prix featured highly prominent participants, the video generated ’only‘ about 1.8 million views on YouTube within two days after the event, incl. the live stream. Real Formula One races usually generate about 50 times that audience. According to Liberty Media, the 2019 Italian Grand Prix for example was viewed by 112 million people.
Therefore, some designers also doubt that the Sim Racing hype will last. As berzerkdesign explains, he's actually afraid that the market will be burned out in the long term. ”Everybody is leaping for Sim Racing at the moment – more or less professionally. But in some ways, the races don't offer what the public at large demands. It all seems beyond the limit.“
Depending on how long the Corona crisis will last, it might for sure become more likely that Sim Racing can be a proper alternative – at least in the short-term.