When NASCAR 21: Ignition released late last year, it was immediately apparent something wasn’t right with it. This was NASCAR’s first video game developed from scratch by Motorsport Games, the upstart publisher that’s gone on a tear in recent years to snap up a bevy of exclusive licenses — from the pinnacle of stock car racing to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, IndyCar and the British Touring Car Championship. The product was, fair to say, suboptimal. And now NASCAR’s reportedly trying to run from Motorsport, according to an industry insider.
Motorsport Games began its acquisition of NASCAR Heat publisher 704Games in 2018. That series was developed by Monster Games, which iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations acquired in January. With NASCAR 21: Ignition, the series moved to a new rFactor 2-based engine, with glitchy results.
The sport is reportedly dissatisfied with the game, as were many players — the PS4 version is currently sitting at 53 on Metacritic. That, in addition to financial struggles at the publisher, has reportedly convinced NASCAR that it needs to vacate its current agreement as soon as possible. As Sports Gamers Online’s Michael Straw writes:
Multiple sources have told SGO that NASCAR is actively looking for ways to get out of its current agreement with Motorsport Games. The sources say that NASCAR would like to bring its license to a different publisher and developer within the next couple of years.
“NASCAR isn’t happy,” the source said. “There’s a reason they don’t even promote their own game on any broadcasts. It’s because they don’t want to be associated with a game as broken as what NASCAR 21 is.”
If you want a better understanding of how “broken” NASCAR 21 is — or, at least was at launch — consider that one streamer was held hostage in a looping pit stop for nine and a half hours, after being transported from the track to the pits at random. The game also launched without support for stages, a key necessity for any modern NASCAR title. That’s since been patched in a post-release update, but it nevertheless left a rotten first impression for players.
Straw writes that as NASCAR’s exclusivity deal with Motorsport Games barely started and expires “late in the decade,” breaking free of it won’t be easy.
While NASCAR may want to get out of the agreement, it’s not going to be that easy. It’s not a case of one side just deciding to cancel and move on. NASCAR is going to have to — and has been working on — building up a case to present to warrant early termination.
While Motorsport Games will simply point to the existing agreement that expires late in the decade and use reasoning such as the transition to a brand new game engine for the problems with NASCAR 21: Ignition, NASCAR itself will have to present more than that.
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2021 was not a bright year for Motorsport Games, which belongs to the wider Motorsport Network media empire that includes Motor1 and Motorsport.com. The gaming division lost $33.7 million and admitted in its latest financial report two weeks ago that it didn’t “believe the existing cash on hand will be sufficient to fund its operations for at least the next 12 months.”
This should and will concern the likes of IndyCar and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest that operates the 24 Hours of Le Mans, both of which recently minted collaborations with Motorsport Games. The prospective IndyCar game is targeting a 2023 release, as is the Le Mans title. All of these games are the first iterations of annual franchises too, which means it’ll be a tall effort to get them out the door in a short amount of time and in polished form, as NASCAR 21 has illustrated. Jalopnik has reached out to NASCAR for insight — though, as this is a report, we wouldn’t hold our breath for confirmation.
Update April 15, 2022, 2:34 p.m. ET: NASCAR responded to Jalopnik’s request with the following comment:
“NASCAR and Motorsport Games have a long-standing relationship in place and the status of our partnership remains in good standing.”