Has the arcade driving game market died?

I was sad to read about the commercial failure of OnRush, which has resulted in layoffs at Codemasters. OnRush reviewed really well, but that clearly didn’t translate into sales – apparently it sold only around 1,000 copies in its launch week in the UK. It reminds me of the failure of Split/Second and Blur: both were fantastic driving games, but both died a death at retail and resulted in layoffs at the developers.

It made me wonder whether there’s a market for arcade-style driving games any more. Simulation-style games, like the Forza titles and Project Cars, seem to be surviving ok, but car games that veer off into less-serious territory generally don’t seem to do so well these days.

Above is an interesting graph showing how the number of driving games released per year has dropped off recently. The graph was created back in 2012 by a reddit user who data mined 24,000 games. Like sports games, the driving game market seems to have consolidated around a handful of titles. For example, there used to be armfuls of football games during the PlayStation 1 era, but now it’s basically just FIFA and Pro Evo, each of which sees yearly updates. The same thing seems to have happened with driving games, with the main couple of titles receiving yearly or nearly yearly updates, and consumers sticking with their favoured titles.

It looks like there’s a stable market for serious driving games – ones that attempt a realistic simulation. But driving games that attempt to do something a bit different, like OnRush with its vehicular combat and lack of traditional racing, seem to be struggling. I wonder whether that’s due to the Grand Theft Auto Effect.

GTAV is now the best-selling game of all time, and it’s predecessor was no slouch, either. So if you own GTAV, with its huge amount of content – including all the races, stunts and endless online modes – why would you buy another game that is narrowly focused on driving? In GTAV you can race to your heart’s content, but you can also do tons of other stuff like bank raids and flying – so suddenly buying a game that’s just focused on driving doesn’t look like great value. Unless, of course, it’s a super-serious simulation – or something completely different from everything else, like Rocket League.

I wonder whether the rise of GTA and similar open-world games has killed off the arcade driving market. I’m playing Mad Max at the moment, and it’s basically a fully-fledged driving game, but with layers and layers of other amazing content piled on top. It’s fantastic. And with amazing open world games like this, why would you want to go back to a game that ‘just’ does driving?

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