Despite showing so much promise, what happened to Driveclub?
These days, gaming is full of lots and lots of games with promising beginnings that came and went without really realizing their potential as a franchise for one reason or another, and it’s likely that they will sink further and further into the void of obscurity as time goes on. One of these many games is Driveclub. Developed by Evolution Studios under the publishing umbrella of Sony Computer Entertainment themselves, Driveclub seemingly had everything going for it when it was announced back in 2013 at the PS4 reveal press conference.
After all, Evolution Studios had a decade of racing games under its belt, most recently including the excellent Motorstorm series on the Playstation 3. What could go wrong? The game looked great and sounded great, although among the titans like Forza and Gran Turismo, it was hard to figure out exactly where it fit in. That’s not to say many players weren’t interested though, as Driveclub’s generous controls with a simulation look did climb up the sales charts to be one of the PlayStation 4’s best selling games for quite a while afer the time of its launch. This was probably helped by the fact that this was so early in the PS4’s life and there were so many PS4’s being sold with a relatively small library, but nevertheless Driveclub ultimately sold well. So what happened? Why haven’t we see more of this game that impressed so many with its visuals, sound design, and controls? What the hell happened to Drivelcub?
To answer this question we need to go over two major blunders with some smaller mistakes within them. Lots of things happened to Driveclub, but it does boil down to two major things: first and foremost, as we touched on earlier, it was kind of hard to explain who Driveclub was for. At first glance it looks like a competitor to the driving simulation behemoths Gran Turismo and Forza that have defined that genre for their respective consoles for a long time. But why would that need to exist exclusively on Sony’s platform in the first place?
Gran Turismo has had that audience more than satisfied for a long time, and if you’re not going to beat them, whats the point in competing for that audience? Well, eventually, when developers would speak about Driveclub, they started describing it as a simulation arcade racer hybrid, featuring the best of both worlds, but again, who really wants that? If you want an established arcade-style racing franchise with great presentation and high production values, there are already several Need For Speed style games out there. And for fans of that genre, the style of tracks that were available in Driveclub didn’t really have the imagination or character that they would typically expect in those games.
The tracks and cars looked great but more like something you would see in a simulation game that was focused more on realism and immaculate detail than the lively amusements you would find in arcade racers. The controls were said to feel more arcade-y though, and admittedly they did turn out to be more accessible and have a much more shallow learning curve than the typical simulation game, but again, not quite arcade-level accessibility either. So the identity of Driveclub was never very solid or easily explainable, and while that didn’t interfere much with initial sales, it definitely had an impact on Driveclub’s longevity as other more well-defined racers chipped away at its fan base.
Next on the list is the disaster of a launch. Lots of games are delayed; it’s a common thing, but few games go through the stages of delay that Driveclub did; with multiple delays and a still being riddled with bugs at launch. This was a terrible start for the game and reflected poorly on Evolution Studios after Sony stuck their neck out for them with the delays. Additionally, to make things even more confusing, there was a special version supposedly available for free to Playstation Plus subscribers that would feature all of the modes but just with a few tracks and vehicles. This mode was intended to be released at the same time as the full version but ended up being postponed until further notice to relax the amount of stress that was being put on the servers, which made things confusing for people waiting for free version.
Some ended up either just buying the regular version and getting to encounter all of the bugs and server issues, while others ended up waiting all the way until June of 2015 to try out the free one, by which time a lot of the hype was gone and with that a major slice what online community it had accumulated. The game was ultimately fixed and working well by this point, but sadly the muddy mess of a launch just made Driveclub’s moment in the spotlight more of a debacle than a capstone for those who had been waiting for it.
Those two major things are probably what happened to Driveclub and stopped it dead in its tracks well before it got a chance to be a real franchise. The sloppy launch of the game, on top of being a somewhat generic racing game in a lot of areas that could have set it apart from others, led Driveclub to have a generally mixed reception with a handful of above average review scores. Many reviewers and players alike praised Driveclub’s excellent presentation, friendly controls and some pretty interesting connectivity features (once they were all working) but those things just didn’t go far enough to make Driveclub get to where it was so desperately trying to be; among the best.
A deadly combination of a confusing pitch, bad launch, and the inability of it to stand out in any meaningful way in a crowded genre full of seasoned franchises with dedicated fans could not be overcome despite the fact that it sold pretty well and ultimately did make Sony’s money back. Unfortunately, not too long after Driveclub started to fade, Evolution Studios was shut down, which is perhaps the biggest tragedy of all in this story. The game does still exist though and it is better than ever with an expansion featuring Bikes and a very nice VR mode. So while Driveclub did eventually turn into something worthwhile and interesting, it taught us all a very serious lesson about the importance of first impressions.
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