Hood: "No Shortage Of Ideas" For Le Mans Ultimate, But Patience Is Needed

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Image: Motorsport Games / Studio 397
As Le Mans Ultimate has received its first pieces of 2024 content, sim racers are still missing certain features - but there is a reason for their absence, as Motorsport Games CEO Stephen Hood explains.

Waiting for new features and content in sim racing can feel like an eternity to some. In Le Mans Ultimate's case, this could be even worse, as the title has not really seen much progress since its Early Access launch in February - on the surface, that is. The first batch of updates and hotfixes focused on resolving numerous bugs and improving smaller elements that were not ideal out of the gate.

The game's June update is the first to also add new content and features, albeit smaller ones. Sim racers are calling for proper VR support, online play outside of the Race Control system, or elements essential to endurance racing, such as driver swaps. And they will come - it just might take a while.

The reason behind this is simple: Motorsport Games and Studio 397 want to avoid releasing undercooked features that are below expectations. This is also the reason behind the last-minute change to an Early Access release - the team felt like the game was not ready for a full release. And for everything to work together in a coherent way, the cornerstones need to be firmly in place first, as Motorsport Games CEO Stephen Hood told OverTake.

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Image: Motorsport Games / Studio 397

"The things we are rolling out now like better restarts, a replay system, even things that are not seen as particularly attractive like netcode updates - it sounds very nerdy, but we are excited about them. It does not mean that the experience is dramatically different in LMU today, but our intent is to build that framework for the features that we know need to be there", stated Hood, meaning elements like driver swaps, a better VR function, or performance improvements. Simply transfering elements from rFactor 2, which does serve as the base, without changes would not work for this purpose.

All of this also plays into plans that may be even further in the future, such as eventually releasing Le Mans Ultimate on consoles "if there is enough demand for it", Hood said. "You cannot do that overnight by just taking rFactor 2 as it used to be. There is no shortage of things and ideas that we want to bring to the table - the hardest thing is to say 'no', and we keep saying 'no' to things so that we can, as a team, focus and deliver the best that we are capable of."

The MSG CEO, who rejoined the company in April 2023 after over a year away from it following termination of his position, continued: "We are still a small team. We are not Electronic Arts or Take Two, but it is a labor of love for the team. They are trying to craft something despite the product now being live and demands coming in from all over the world. We have got to tick them off one by one."

"Pleasantly Surprised" By Feedback From European WEC Tour​

Feedback is plentiful for the LMU team, particularly since the World Endurance Championship started the European portion of its eight-race schedule at Imola in late April. Le Mans Ultimate has had simulators available in its own tent in the fan zone there, as well as Spa-Francorchamps, and they will also be present at Le Mans for fans to try out the game.

And try out they did. Usually, the LMU stand sees long queues forming for racing fans to get their hands on the title. "It is interesting to see the attention the product gets. We were more than pleasantly surprised by the reception, because it could have gone either way", said Hood - because of the reputation Motorsport Games has.

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Imola marked the first of three European WEC events where fans could try Le Mans Ultimate directly at the track.

"We are not hiding the fact - and are very conscious of it - that LMU is still attached to Motorsport Games", continued Hood. "I came back just over a year ago - I am well aware of the reputation of Motorsport Games, but it is under my direction and control now, and we are doing things very differently. Hopefully people are starting to see that with LMU."

On the other hand, the current boom in sportscar racing seems to also rub off on Le Mans Ultimate, as both WEC's and IMSA's popularities are soaring. "The World Endurance Championship and Le Mans, multiclass racing, all the manufacturers coming back, the cool Hypercars - it feels like it is on a real high at the moment, and that, I think, resulted in a real interest in LMU", Hood stated.

"Not only at the events themselves where people get to sample it, but also those that have very kindly purchased it in Early Access so far. They did not need to, everybody could just wait, and some people are waiting. But it has been a real confidence booster for the team - but we know we are not finished, there is a lot more to do.
"

Driver Feedback Balances Science & Character​

To achieve this, feedback by real WEC drivers proves invaluable. Ahead of the June update, the LMU team released a video featuring BMW works drivers Sheldon van der Linde and Raffaele Marciello giving sharing their thoughts on the incoming BMW M Hybrid V8 for the sim.


The duo's feedback was positive overall, but also featured some advice for improvement - which may go against the approach of properly simulating everything by the book, as Hood explained:

"Because we go so far into trying to understand the model of the cars from a simulation perspective, we do not really take shortcuts here. The drivers themselves are really interesting for us, because we got a lot of data from the teams. Some are willing to share a great deal of their secrets, and we are very thankful for that, which means we can model the cars in a scientific form."

However, science does not always match the subjective experience of the drivers. " Sometimes, it can be a case of "the model says this, but I can tell you from driving the car it does this here", elaborated Hood. "And that is the thing we are still trying to capture in some areas. Fundamentally, we are trying to capture the personality of the car as well as the data."

Considering the size of the 2024 WEC grid, this also explains why it will be a while until the full line-up of cars will be available. Not only does 2024 see two all-new Hypercars in the Alpine A424 and Isotta Fraschini Tipo 6-C, as well as the extensively-reworked Peugeot 9X8, there are also nine different GT3 cars to be recreated, as the class replaced the GTE class.

Free Content Alongside DLC To Continue​

Some sim racers did take issue with the fact that unlike in the June update, future content will also come as paid DLC while LMU is still in Early Access. While there will be freebies for those who purchased the game in Early Access (Hood: "There is going to be lots of free stuff coming as well"), MSG and Studio 397 do not really have another choice, according to Hood:

"We are building very expensive content. We have got a very talented team. Everything that we build in terms of track content is laser-scanned, because we care about the fidelity of it, and there is an expense associated with gathering and building this content", explained the CEO. "We want to go down that track, not take shortcuts. So we are trying to tread a very fine line, and I am not sure we will always get it right, we try to."


"The entry point to the Early Access was very cheap in our mind, and to keep rewarding those people that were huge supporters, we will give some free content with these updates. And some of it is going to be paid content - it is the only way that we can really balance the books. Some people will dislike us for it, some people will understand the approach."

The latter is not a surprise considering the earnings reports of the last few years, which were in the headlines for their significant downward trends - although revenues looked significantly better following LMU's launch. However, with MSG slimmed down (Hood: "About 90% of our workforce are Studio 397"), the company hopes to turn around its fortunes by a patient, methodical approach in Le Mans Ultimate's development.

Hood is convinced that this is achievable: "I am looking at the longer-term picture. I want the best content in LMU, I want the best people working on it, and I think it will deliver the best experience."
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

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This is my main take away from this article:

"However, science does not always match the subjective experience of the drivers. " Sometimes, it can be a case of "the model says this, but I can tell you from driving the car it does this here", elaborated Hood. "And that is the thing we are still trying to capture in some areas. Fundamentally, we are trying to capture the personality of the car as well as the data.""

Some might take it as bad news, but I see it as a sensible approach.
Looks like patience is the key word, no issue here, I am not going anywhere. :)
 
Great interview and I am overjoyed by CEO Hood's words despite the ridiculous criticisms of the project. They have confidence and continue quickly, knowing that they have taken the most difficult path and obviously it will take patience.
I look forward to the next content while enjoying the BMW V8 Hybrid! :D:D
 
The usual talking points:

Small team ...... check
Cornerstones must be built first ..... check
Be patient ..... check
Labor of love ..... check
Long term picture .... check

By the way ... it doesn't look great when an update is released and the first thing in the patch notes is warning people of multiple things that they broke with the new update. It also doesn't look great when this is the second or third time this has happened in a 4 or 5 month lifespan of an EA game that costs money to beta test.

If rf2 didn't exist (under s397 care for 7 years), they at least could legitimately play this talking point game and it not totally appear like corporate slimey BS ... but considering rf2 is still unfinished after 7 years ........ well, there is a sucker born every minute.

Also still no mention (from interviewer which is disgraceful nor voluntarily from Hood) about the performance issues and the apparent need for 32 Gb of memory which is preposterous.

And don't forget that Motorsports games is still selling Nascar ignition which is immoral and reprehensible.
 
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"The reason behind this is simple: Motorsport Games and Studio 397 want to avoid releasing undercooked features that are below expectations. This is also the reason behind the last-minute change to an Early Access release - the team felt like the game was not ready for a full release."

Isn't that a contradiction in terms? They want to avoid undercooked features but at the same time delivered a product in Early Access which is the very definition of "undercooked" because it still needs a butt ton more...well...cooking!

It's clearly very obvious MSG needed a cash injection and fast what with recent fiascos of the BTCC & IndyCar licenses, so they obviously went the EA route to accompany that, so spouting about features coming when they're "ready" even though they've released the product as "un-ready" is a bit laughable really.
I mean the whole idea of an EA is that you release those features undercooked, users then help with issues, ideas, bugs and you continue to improve the product over time until you're ready to come out of EA with all those features and the game itself "cooked".

So yeah nah yeah I'm not buying it....literally....until I see some cooked features, but the rate other Sims are progressing I may well never end up buying LMU, period.
 
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Looking forward to LMU's evolution. Has a solid foundation to build upon, challenging to drive in many great ways. Fingers crossed that they can get official VR support off of the backburner in the near future so I can give the full experience a run through.
 
The usual talking points:

Small team ...... check
Cornerstones must be built first ..... check
Be patient ..... check
Labor of love ..... check
Long term picture .... check

By the way ... it doesn't look great when an update is released and the first thing in the patch notes is warning people of multiple things that they broke with the new update. It also doesn't look great when this is the second or third time this has happened in a 4 or 5 month lifespan of an EA game that costs money to beta test.

If rf2 didn't exist (under s397 care for 7 years), they at least could legitimately play this talking point game and it not totally appear like corporate slimey BS ... but considering rf2 is still unfinished after 7 years ........ well, there is a sucker born every minute.

Also still no mention (from interviewer which is disgraceful nor voluntarily from Hood) about the performance issues and the apparent need for 32 Gb of memory which is preposterous.

And don't forget that Motorsports games is still selling Nascar ignition which is immoral and reprehensible.
I am not sure if you watched the whole video but performance issues and stability problems are one of THE aspects for them to keep the game in EA as long as they haven't ironed out those problems. It seems to me that people are very selective when it comes to filtering information.

And how is adding Known issues to a release log a bad thing? As with previous updates there have been hotfixes so I guess it won't take them long to fix those problems and still keep people informed in the mean while. I have the feeling those guys will never have a fair chance no matter what they do.
 
"Patience is needed." I think they should excercise patience as well. I'm still not on board with the paid DLC's rolling out on an Early Access title, while the whole game is a bit half baked, and entire game modes are missing. However, what they have here, could very well be the next Assetto Corsa Competizione. With all the real world hype surrounding WEC and IMSA, the new golden age of sportscar racing, will be basically free advertisment for the game. Just look at how ACC and SRO worked together to create an "empire". I believe that game had an impact on giving exposure to SRO events, and SRO used that free audience from simracers to expand their buiseness. Maybe GT2 wouldn't exist without that partnership, cause there won't be anyone to care. So what I'm saying is they need to be really smart about this game, with a focus on creating a finished product first, as a solid foundation. Not alienating people with tons of paid content early on, and a promise of an ever expanding platform of a sim, that one day will be finished.
 

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