With EA recently stating its intentions on what it wants to do once its $1.2 billion takeover of Codemasters is complete, we can get a vague idea of what to expect from its racing games in the future.
There’s clearly a strong intention to expand the audience for the licensed Formula 1 games and attract a more global audience, realising the potential EA believes exists in the series.
EA fully intends to heavily market its future racing games and put in the same level of commercial effort it has done with its Need for Speed games.
What exactly this will mean in terms of the games themselves remains to be seen, but the talk of introducing live services to all of Codemasters franchises, not just the F1 games, implies the games will become much more online-focused.
That’s not to say that will necessarily be the case or even that it will be a bad move. Rockstar Games’ open-world action game Grand Theft Auto V continues to be relevant over seven years after it came out due to the constant free updates, and in a more relevant genre Sony’s Gran Turismo Sport has had a prolonged life-span thanks to the free and near-monthly addition of new cars.
But extending the active lifespan of a game isn’t possible for yearly releases such as the F1 games, which therefore means the possible alternative is a micro-transaction heavy Ultimate Team mode in the style of what already exists in EA’s FIFA, Madden NFL and NHL games.
Amid the doom and gloom felt by many fans of Codemasters’ games, it is worth remembering that EA was the king of arcade racing games as Burnout and Need for Speed were colossally popular during the PlayStation 2 era.
Need for Speed games still continue to be made to this day with a new one released every two years, although the reviews for the recent games have generally been lukewarm at best.
The most recent game in the series, Need for Speed Heat, has cross-play which means players on different consoles as well as on PC can all play with each other online.
Whilst it wouldn’t be a groundbreaking addition to Codemasters’ racing games, it would still be a welcome feature and would likely improve the popularity of the online modes by allowing anybody to race against anybody else, regardless of platform.
With the acquisition of Codemasters, EA’s CEO and Director Andrew Wilson claims EA will have “most of the great racing talent in our industry.”
Initially, that may seem like a bold claim but it’s not that ridiculous a statement when you consider how few other racing game franchises there will be outside of what EA produces.
The PC racing market, with games such as rFactor 2, iRacing and Assetto Corsa Competizione, will remain relatively unaffected as they are much more hardcore simulators that attract a particular subsection of racing game fans.
But once you consider EA already makes the Need for Speed games, still has the IP to the Burnout franchise and will have all of Codemasters’ game series, it’s clear there won’t be much in the way of competition in terms of console-based racing games.
EA will subsume the F1 license along with the Grid, DiRT, Project CARS, Onrush and Micro Machines franchises along with WRC game rights once Codemasters takes over the reigns of that from Kylotonn in 2023.
Suddenly, most console racing games will be produced by EA, with Forza and Gran Turismo the two big ongoing series that will act as exceptions.
Milestone will still be unchallenged in the bike racing niche and there will be a few other non-EA racing games; one example is a new entry in the Test Drive series – Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown – and there’s still the possibility of sequels to Ubisoft’s The Crew 2 as well as the banger racing and destruction derby game Wreckfest.
However, EA producing such a great proportion of the future arcade and sim-cade racing games could have knock-on effects that lead to genre-wide changes.
For example, EA’s dominance of the sports game genre and the unsubtle implementation of extra revenue generators eventually filtered its way into Codemasters’ games.
F1 2019 and F1 2020 had microtransactions in the form of customisation options for your driver and car, plus the most recent entry introduced podium passes that encourage people to re-buy VIP status in exchange for more unlockable helmets, car liveries and podium celebrations amongst other things.
Grid and DiRT Rally 2.0 both had season passes that meant you either had to get the more expensive version of the game at launch or buy the season pass separately.
In the case of DiRT Rally 2.0, even if you got the Deluxe Edition, that only gave you access to the cars and locations from seasons one and two, with players having to pay extra for the final two seasons worth of content.
EA will already have pretty concrete internal plans for the direction it wants to take Codemasters’ racing franchises in, and it clearly thinks it has the commercial might to increase the profile and popularity of these products.
Ultimately though, EA will have a dominant place in the genre with few other companies producing rival games, so whether or not the changes prove popular may be irrelevant when competition in the racing video game scene will likely be at its lowest point ever and there are few alternatives for gamers to turn to instead.