Awesome on one hand, disappointing on the other is EA’s Real Racing 3 for iPhone and iPad. To date, it’s the best looking racing game on mobile. But great graphics and excellent playability aren’t enough in today’s free-to-play world. The game must continually engage players and create revenue through player in-app purchases or advertising. And that’s where the game fell short.

Note: This is a late review, as this is a new blog. I had the benefit of time to play more and distill earlier reviews. I prefer not to flippantly criticize without offering solutions. As a product manager, my approach of a review here is via SWOT analysis. Though I make criticisms and suggestions, I also still play this game. At the end of this post you can chime in too. I’m interested in what you have to say.

Real Racing3 Car DamageStrengths

  • Realism and Control – Great graphics and just the right amount of realism. The car damage feature is woven into the game play really well. I’ve read too many gripes about how the realism didn’t meet expectations. Really? C’mon, it’s a game. If it were totally realistic, it wouldn’t be as fun to play. The fun of driving games is the fantasy of driving faster than in real-life, often on the brink of disaster. In real-life, leaving the track at over 150 mph would result in such a loss of control that players would become a rolling fireball.
  • Easy to Play – The great thing about racing games is it’s intuitive game play and everyone fantasizes of driving fast, exotic cars. Personally I liked the auto-assist controls. I could pick up and play and it played equally well on my iPad and iPhone. Actually I would prefer the onus of leveling up be based more on player skill and less on impatience and a deep wallet.
  • Time Shifted Multi-Player System (TSM) – While several reviewers criticized it, I feel it’s an adequate solution to a ridiculously difficult problem. How do you seamlessly integrate the route taken in a previous race with all the AI computing in the current race and make it game relevant? Plus, having to continually update this data. 99.9% of all other challengers will be players they don’t know anyway. Remember…it’s a mobile game.

Real Racing3 Wait ScreenWeaknesses

  • Free-to-Play Forever – As a player I love unobstructed free play. But from a design viewpoint, this is just wrong. At least serve ads, because selling cars that are only for rent just doesn’t work.
  • Economy – Given EA’s recent commitment to all games to include micro-transactions, I feel as though it was thrust upon the team late as opposed to a game being driven by a monetization strategy at concept.
  • Waiting or Paying for Repairs and Upgrades – While waiting for upgrades to be installed, the game told me to basically “go away” and come back in a few minutes time. And sure, I can pay for instant upgrades. While some games have an all or nothing approach to waiting, it’s not necessary here. When one car is in the shop and if I own multiple cars, direct me to them. When it permits, I should always be presented with a car to drive. But if I just gotta drive that one car and can’t wait, then surely encourage that method. By all means, make the attempt to keep players engaged in the game.
  • Variety – The game has a great variety in sheer number of cars and repeating tracks, but most players don’t appreciate the subtleties between a BMW M3 GTS and a BMW Z4 M Coupe. At least not in a game. There’s too much that is overlooked and goes under appreciated. The average player isn’t a car aficionado. Where variety would be more obvious is in course conditions (day, night, rain) and types of racing (Indy, Nascar, Off-road, Rally, Formula 1).
  • Trouble Syncing – I experienced problems syncing progress between my iPhone and iPad. Even with a better user experience on a larger screen I favored play on my iPhone because of further progress I didn’t want to make up. If the game rewarded me for higher finishes, I’d go back and play them again if it mattered. One important feature of Candy Crush Saga is the syncing of my game progress across all my devices – iPhone, iPad and desktop. And I can play it offline.
  • Few Notifications – Keep players engaged in the game. Invite them back to play and win more races, not only when repairs and upgrades are complete. And, not just to advertise the high-ticket specials of the week.

Allow players to sell their carsOpportunities

  • Keep Me Playing Longer – While one car is in the shop, guide players to other cars they own and races they’ve yet to race. Use gamification strategies to encourage players to strive for 1st Place in every race. Give each race more replay value.
  • Allow Players to Sell Cars – It’s transparently greedy to sell players a car only to use in a few races. Selling a car (i.e. Gran Turismo) acts as a “down payment” to trade up to an exotic and higher-priced  car puts players earned and purchased currency to work. This would drive the purchase of more R$ . This way I feel the whole economy of buying upgrades and cars would actually be worth it.
  • Create a Used Car Market –  Cars sold with more upgrades and in need of fewer repairs will fetch a higher price. A prospective buyer can be presented  the three best cars available at the time. In the marketplace, good offers don’t last long. You snooze, you lose! There’s also a huge social component opportunity here.
  • Insert Ads – Dare I say this? I am not a fan of ads being inserted between races, after repair or the like. But, after the game has told players they have to wait however many minutes, players have disengaged, this is the one place built for an ads. Barter wait time for watching an interstitial ad.
  • Improve Presentation – Showing the front grills in a line up of cars doesn’t tempt me to buy. As in the weekly specials, offer views from more stunning angles and the user-controlled camera to better entice players.
  • Innovate, Test, Evaluate with Monetization – When players select “Buy,” show exactly how many R$ are needed, and show the “Best Value” (stretch purchase) next to it. Psychologically speaking, this pricing strategy may drive more sales (pun intended)  than the current method. It’s worth an A/B test.

Threats

  • Challengers – There’s little chance any game soon will eclipse Real Racing 3 in terms of graphics and playability. Good games get people to play, great games keep them playing. In mobile, the challenge is keeping players engaged and retained. The brain trust at EA should know better than to release a game with such a flawed engagement and monetization strategy to what otherwise is a great game.

Do you buy cars and upgrades in Real Racing 3? How do you like the design? Please post your comments and share the post with your friends.

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