Le Mans Ultimate Going Early Access is the Right Move

Le Mans Ultimate Going Early Access is the Right Move

Le Mans Ultimate Going Early Access is the Right Move

With less than three weeks until launch, Le Mans Ultimate has made an abrupt U-turn. In a last-minute change of plan, the official World Endurance Championship game will still be released on 20 February following a delay from December, but will now enter Early Access. This will be disappointing for fans who were looking forward to playing the full game this month.

Reverting from a full release to early access so close to launch is unprecedented - but it’s ultimately the right move.

Tempering expectations

To say a lot is riding on Le Mans Ultimate is an understatement. After losing the rights to make officially licensed NASCAR, BTCC, and IndyCar games, Le Mans Ultimate is Motorsport Games’ only remaining IP. That puts enormous pressure on Studio 397 to deliver a game that not only lives up to expectations but saves Motorsport Games, which is running out of money. 

Le Mans Ultimate early access screenshot
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From the little footage shown, Le Mans Ultimate looks unfinished. Performance issues can be seen in the trailers, while several cars and circuits still haven’t been shown.

As Forza Motorsport and EA Sports WRC have shown, releasing a game riddled with bugs and glitches to meet a deadline and advertising it as the final product can seriously damage a franchise’s reputation. Several months after launch, Forza Motorsport’s fundamental issues still haven’t been addressed, causing community uproar.

If Forza was released in Early Access and Xbox Game Preview, the backlash may not have been so ferocious. Launching Le Mans Ultimate in an unfinished state and advertising it as the final game would be similarly disastrous.  

As well as helping Motorsport Games raise funds at a precarious time for the company, releasing Le Mans Ultimate in Early Access will temper fan expectations.

Le Mans Ultimate early access
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What will the Early Access version include?

Early Access doesn’t mean you’ll get a barebones package with a small handful of cars and tracks. Early Access players will get to drive every car from the 2023 FIA WEC season, 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans (except for the innovative car), and the top Hypercar class.

All seven official circuits will also be available, including the fabled Circuit Le Sarthe, which hosts the gruelling 24 Hours of Le Mans. An offline Race Weekend feature will allow players to set up multi-class races and configure weather conditions, but there’s no career mode yet.

Ranked online multiplayer powered by RaceControl will also be available at launch, with Daily Races to enter with other players around the world along with Driver and Safety Rankings. Sadly, cooperative multiplayer, one of Le Mans Ultimate's most touted features, won’t be ready for the initial launch.

Le Mans Ultimate early access screenshot
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“Whilst we do have a working prototype, this innovative game mode is not quite ready for release and such we are working hard on this feature with the intent on making it available in the summer during the Early Access phase,” Studio 397 explains in an online FAQ.

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Delaying the game was another option, but that would make Le Mans Ultimate miss the 2024 WEC Season. Launching on 20 February means Le Mans Ultimate will launch a few days ahead of the opening 2024 season race in Qatar, which kicks off on 24 February.

Working with the community

By switching to Early Access, Studio 397 can be transparent with the community about the game’s progress rather than mislead players and release an unfinished game at full price.

Early Access will allow Studio 397 to test the game with players and work with the community to make improvements, add requested features, and shape the final game. In a welcome move that fairly reflects the game's current status, the Early Access version will be sold at a cheaper price of £24.99 / €29.99 / $32.99, with incremental increases planned as the game evolves.

Le Mans Ultimate early access
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Other sim racing games like Assetto Corsa and Assetto Corsa Competizione have found considerable success in Early Access. But with Motorsport Games' ongoing financial troubles, there's a danger that Le Mans Ultimate will get stuck in Early Access indefinitely.

Worryingly, there's no clear timeframe for when Le Mans Ultimate will leave early access: “We have clear internal requirements and quality standards we need to meet for the game to be considered full release," the online FAQ reads. "These include functionality as well as content with community sentiment playing a significant role in our decision making."

But the more the game sells, the better chance it will get the full release it deserves. If it’s successful on PC, Le Mans Ultimate has a better chance of coming to consoles, giving PS5 and Xbox Series X|S players the full 24 Hours of Le Mans experience.

Early access is the right move for Le Mans Ultimate initially – but only if Studio 397 and Motorsport Games can deliver the vision players were promised in the full release.

Do you think Early Access is the right move for Le Mans Ultimate? Let us know in the comments below.

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