Exclusive: Why Le Mans Ultimate Moved to Early Access

Why Le Mans Ultimate moved to Early Access

Why Le Mans Ultimate moved to Early Access

After months of anticipation, Le Mans Ultimate races into Early Access tomorrow. But that wasn’t the original plan. Developed by rFactor 2’s Studio 397, Le Mans Ultimate was set for a December 2023 release before being delayed to February 2024. Then, the official WEC game abruptly switched from a full release to Early Access just a few weeks before launch.

Le Mans Ultimate will launch with all cars and tracks from the 2024 WEC season along with a race creator and ranked multiplayer. Features like VR and the highly anticipated coop multiplayer will be missing at launch.

Le Mans Ultimate going early access is “a softer landing for us”

“We’d been talking about it for a while,” Motorsport Games CEO Stephen Hood told RacingGames when asked why Le Mans Ultimate moved to Early Access. “Projects never go to plan. I’ve never been on a project that goes entirely to plan.”

“We were originally launching at the end of 2023 and pushed that out slightly because a few things needed refinement and polish. A big milestone for us was incorporating all of the cars and tracks getting the first round of balancing. That took a bit longer and we were working with a lot of external people like professional drivers and sim racing drivers.”

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“Instead of pushing it out the door at a full price, charging a premium for it and declaring that everything was done and we were happy, we thought it was fairer to call it early access because we’ve got all these features in there but we’re taking some things out like the cooperative mode because it needs a bit more polish,” Hood continued.

“Because we took some things out, we could lower the price, which I think is very favourable at £25. We thought having all the cars and tracks would be a steal for the end user and a softer landing for us. Externally, it looked like a last-minute change, but I think it was the right one for the company and the product.”

"We’re going to get a ton of feedback"

As well as setting player expectations, moving to early access will help Studio 397 shape Le Mans Ultimate from community feedback. For Studio 397, getting feedback on the “behaviour and drivability of the cars” will be crucial.

“We run a number of simulations internally. We have overnight machines running the AI and different strategies and getting feedback on how the AI manages the tyres,” Hood explains.

“We’ve got multi-class racing and single-class class like the Hypercars. There are some modern and fast Hypercars and some that are slower but have a bit more character. The AI we’ve applied to these cars drives them differently and that’s been fascinating for us. We drive a lot of internal races as well.”

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“But once it goes out into the wild and people are handling these cars, we’re going to get a ton of feedback from that. It’s important in the early phase to massage the car behaviour, the new tyre model, the fuel usage and the virtual energy usage – all these things will play a major part in refining Le Mans Ultimate.

"We think it’s pretty decent out of the box, but we know there are areas where we can improve. I think there will be some really dedicated people who will assist us in rounding off the edges. Then, it will be a case of what content and features people want to see."

"We have an idea and a roadmap but it doesn’t beat working with the community to establish the overriding sentiment of where we go next: Are we too hardcore? Should we make it more casual? Are there loads of pad controller players or is everyone playing Le Mans Ultimate on $1,000 rigs? It will be interesting and varied.”

No timeframe for Le Mans Ultimate roadmap

As for when Le Mans Ultimate is likely to leave early access, Hood wouldn’t give a timeframe, asserting that the full game will be out when the team is confident it will live up to player expectations.

“I don’t have a roadmap for the time and date – that’s not the approach we’re taking. It’s more about when we feel all the features have been incorporated, when we feel it’s a 1.0 full release, and when the community will buy into that concept.”

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“We’ve got a good idea of where it’s going and we’ll put a roadmap out there, but I would like some feedback from the community to make sure we’re on the right track.

"It’s less about time and more about when 'does the feature set feel mature enough for us to call it a 1.0'. It’s not a race against the clock for us. When it’s right to come out of early access, I’m sure it will come out, but we’re not putting a timer on it right now.”

Le Mans Ultimate being played on a variety of systems and configurations will help Studio 397 will gather vital feedback for working on bug fixes. After that, the focus will be on expanding the core game with new features. Hood sees the first stage as a “refinement process,” with “big ticket items” to follow from “summer onwards.”

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“Some things are already underway. For us, it will be about incorporating the features that we needed to drop towards the end because they didn’t meet the quality bar,” Hood tells us. “Some things are not automatically carried over from rFactor 2 even though it’s the underpinnings of Le Mans Ultimate.”

“For us, it was about ensuring that the quality of things going into Le Mans Ultimate is very different and distinct from rFactor 2, which is a sandbox simulator that’s been around for a long time, and the quality is variable. Setting the bar higher meant some things didn’t make the cut.”

One feature that didn’t make the cut in the Early Access build is VR, despite rFactor 2 supporting virtual reality headsets. Hood confirmed that VR support for Le Mans Ultimate is “definitely on the radar” but “it’s got to meet the Le Mans Ultimate benchmark.”

Sadly, coop multiplayer also “wasn’t quite ready” for the early access launch. Powered by RaceControl, players will be able to race as a team in stints at times that suit them, simulating a full 24-hour race against AI.

“I think it will blur the line between playing online and offline in a controlled environment with one or two buddies against the AI. It will be interesting. Maybe the community will want to race against other players,” Hood said, hinting at potential updates in the future.

2024 season content “probably won’t be drip-fed”

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The 2024 WEC is set to be an exciting season, with new manufacturers like Lamborghini joining the coveted Hypercar class grid and new locations added to the calendar. For the Early Access launch, Le Mans Ultimate will feature all cars and tracks from the 2023 WEC season.

This means the game will soon be outdated, with the Prologue event in Qatar set to start on 24 February just four days after the early access launch, ahead of the opening round on 2 March. Going forward, Hood assures us that 2024 content is in the pipeline to keep Le Mans Ultimate current.

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“Yes, definitely,” Hood said when asked if cars and tracks from the 2024 season will be added to Le Mans Ultimate, adding that “incorporating all of the 2024 content has been a huge effort on Studio 397’s part.”

“There’s some great teams and manufacturers coming into the sport now. It’s the next logical step, but I don’t put an immediate timeline. We’re offering everything on day one: we’re not starting out with a single car and a single track.”

“We’re offering a suite of content on day one that will probably keep people entertained for a long time. In time, we will add the 2024 content. It probably won’t be drip-fed, but maybe in content packs when it’s right to do so."

"We’re starting to work with the teams on what they’re doing for 2024 and still need to conclude those negotiations, incorporate the data, and finish building the models. Meanwhile, there’s still a lot of work to do on refining the 2023 content to make it as good as it can be.”

“We’re going to be a 1:1 replication of what happens in the WEC every year thereafter. Great tracks, great cars and manufacturers coming to the sport is an obvious go-to for Le Mans Ultimate. It’s the official product of the WEC, so we need to remain current.”

Le Mans Ultimate will be an "evolving platform"

Rather than churning out yearly releases with incremental updates like the F1 series, Hood sees Le Mans Ultimate as an “evolving platform.”

“It’s less about a yearly version of the game. A year takes too long for major updates. We should be rolling them out sooner rather than later, so I see it as an evolving platform even outside early access.”

“I don’t see us as a comparison to the F1 games. The media talks about F1 all the time – you can’t escape it in the motorsport world. But if you want to look at the second biggest race and the second biggest audience, it’s going to be everything around Le Mans.”

Le Mans Ultimate will be the first dedicated Le Mans game in over 20 years. With the new Hypercar class renewing interest in the endurance race, Hood thinks now is the perfect time for Le Mans Ultimate to launch.

“There’s a real love and affection for endurance racing right now. For us, it’s a dream. There’s so much attention on Le Mans and endurance racing suddenly at the right time when we’re launching a game.”

Do you think Le Mans Ultimate going early access was the right move? Let us know in the comments below.

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