Exclusive licenses suck, but they pretty much run the world. Last year, Motorsport Games announced it was acquiring the IndyCar license from 2023 onward; it also announced it would release its first IndyCar title in 2023. Since the news broke in July 2021, we have seen all but a handful of very bare screenshots of a Dallara chassis from within the game. Nevertheless, iRacing, which has operated a virtual IndyCar series of its own for many years, will reportedly have to shut that down starting in January. Streamers won’t even be able to broadcast sessions featuring any of the Dallara machines from the game.
Streamer Pablo Araujo publicized this development on Wednesday, tweeting a communication from iRacing Associate Producer Greg West to players and streamers.
“While we are still working on finalizing a new license with IndyCar, it is clear there will be some notable changes to the way we are able to present IndyCar racing on iRacing,” West’s note reads. “Most significantly, we will no longer be able to run an official IndyCar-branded series and there will not be an iRacing Indy 500. You will also see the removal of the IndyCar logo from our sites.”
Another iRacing communication Araujo shared mentions that “per our announcement this morning, broadcasters are no longer permitted to broadcast races utilizing the following three cars effective January 1st, 2023.” Those cars are the Dallara IR18, DW12 and IR-05 — the last three major revisions of the IndyCar chassis dating back to the mid-aughts.
Jalopnik reached out to iRacing personnel for comment, who only confirmed the news and reiterated the previous statements. Similarly, Motorsport Games referred Jalopnik to its earlier legal disclosure of the IndyCar deal when asked for details about the terms.
I don’t have to explain how awful this is for sim racing, but we shouldn’t be surprised. This sort of thing already happened between a real-world racing body and Motorsport Games before, as Araujo alludes. It was last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans virtual event, run in rFactor 2, a title Motorsport Games acquired in 2021. It prevented iRacing from running its own Le Mans race in the usual way, instead relegating the event to a six-round series of 24-hour endurance races. iRacing was forbidden from promoting its unofficial Le Mans as it would have in years past, lest it provoke the ire of Motorsport Games’ legal department.
At least iRacing could still offer its community something in that instance, though, while Motorsport Games held the official event in rFactor 2. In this case, we are staring at what basically amounts to intellectual property squatting — Motorsport Games’ IndyCar game isn’t due until a to-be-determined date next year (if it ever comes out at all) and iRacing can’t run it’s own race in the interim, or even allow the relevant cars to be streamed. It’s egregious, and journalist RJ O’Connell explains it well:
Of course, IndyCar deserves a share of the blame here too, as does NASCAR. Facilitating these airtight exclusivity deals with an unproven publisher attracted plenty of skepticism in the sim racing space at the time each was announced, and pretty much the worst case scenario has bore out since. NASCAR 21: Ignition was downright unplayable at launch, forcing the team to take a year off to get the franchise on track in 2024.
It’s the comprehensiveness of these licensing terms that have made them so worrying. Licenses around sports are nothing new in video games — the most infamous is Electronic Arts’ ongoing exclusivity agreement with the National Football League, which kicked in in 2005 and knocked 2K Games out of the market. 2K snapped up the third-party console rights to Major League Baseball a few years later, but has long since bowed out of making baseball simulations.
But those were just games. Motorsport Games is wrangling licenses for that purpose (its 24 Hours of Le Mans and British Touring Car Championship products are still missing in action, by the way) and restricting how and where relevant content can be shown. The racing genre is especially at risk for this, because historically a game might license a car and track associated with a prominent racing series — allowing players to run an unofficial version of that event — but without requiring the event’s license. Those days may be over.
The Indy 500 is one thing, but forbidding iRacing players from streaming gameplay involving IndyCars in any context is the draconian extreme of the litigious environment brands and publishers have created together. Deals that will hurt all parties in the long run — maybe even Motorsport Games — and IndyCar and NASCAR are fools for agreeing to them.
Correction 5:10 p.m. ET, December 22, 2022: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Motorsport Games’ IndyCar title was delayed until 2024. The title is still scheduled for release in 2023, and has not officially been delayed. We sincerely regret the error.