Why Horse Racing Has Yet To Be Welcomed By Video-Game Fans

Photo by Glen Bowman

Whilst jockey Alan King may be the favourite to take the Grand National in 2015 with West End Rocker set to make a comeback at Chepstow, it would be generous to call horse racing an outsider in the race for videogame domination.

Whilst the sport has galloped to great success upon the sliver-screen, as King will be hoping to achieve at the National itself in April, in the world of video gaming it has barely got out of the starting blocks.

Admittedly, within the niche setting of Japan's arcades, horse racing simulations have thrived. Sega's 'Derby Club Owners' has been dominating this arena since the early 21th Century and has released several popular entries in the series thus far.

However, outside Japan, there has been little to no traction for horse racing games within the crowded, but successful, sports-simulation market. Since the era of the Atari, there has been a smattering of titles for each generation of consoles. However, even this trickle of offerings has further dried out in recent times.

It is not even that sport-simulation titles, in general, have struggled to have an impact within video gaming. FIFA 12, the 19th entry in the series, sold over 32 million upon its release in 2011 and was at the time the highest-grossing game of all-time for developer EA Sports. Moreover Sega's Virtual Tennis, which has also spawned a successful franchise, was recently ranked in the Top 100 games of all-time.

Whilst it is undeniable that horse racing does not have quite the international audience as either football or tennis, the sport still consistently attracts spectators, money bets and television audiences. Yet, for whatever reason, this audience has failed to seek out, and support, videogame versions of their favourite sport. So, why is this? To try and answer this question, we have conducted a few theories as to why horse racing has yet to be welcomed by videogame fans.

The Wrong Demographic

Horse racing is undeniably a predominately British sport in many respects and one traditionally enjoyed by the older generation. Whilst it does exist within the primary videogame market of the US, it is a much less popular sport and is largely eclipsed by the big four of American pro-sports, which consists of the NBA, NBL, NHL and NFL. Moreover, even within its primary market of the UK, the sport's audience is generally outside the key younger demographic that videogame audiences largely consist of. Therefore, it is understandable why, in terms of creating a big-budget release, a horse racing game could prove problematic for publishers in terms of potential demand within a wider audience.

Lack of Star Power

Many sport-simulations have sold based upon their featuring of star players who transcend the sport's hardcore fans. A prime example of this being Tiger Woods' association with the EA franchise of his name, which ended in 2013. Woods' brand, and endorsement, is far more reaching than the sport he plays. Therefore, the series appealed to casual golf players, and viewers, who would not be enticed by an in-depth simulation of the sport, but who admire Woods' achievements. This usage of universal sportsmen, such as the ATP Tour's Roger Federer and FIFA's David Beckham, has been used extensively across all sports-simulations. However horse racing, due to the constant changing of jockey's and relatively short professional career of the horses themselves, has not been able to create such defining figures of which a game could be built around.

Uncertainty of Gameplay Dynamics

One problem that many horse racing games have suffered from is an uncertainty involving what type of game it wishes to be. Often the gameplay dynamics of these titles is awkwardly split between the business simulation and racing genre. These two opposing genres tend to erode each other and create an experience which doesn't satisfy on either level. The racing elements rob the business simulation of depth and immersion, whilst the business simulation dynamics prohibit the racing sections from having the pin-point controls and realistic physics required.