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by Peter Read on December 19th, 2009
One of the most well-known personalities behind the scenes at iRacing.com Motorsports Simulations, Steve Myers, has been generous enough to sit down and answer some interesting questions that most of the community would love to hear about. Would like to thank Steve as this would have taken three decades to write, and I know with his newborn that would have been hard. Thanks Steve!
Q1. How did you get into Sim-Racing? What made you want to be apart of it?
From as far back as I can remember I was into cars and racing. My old man had a ’63 TR4 that he bought new (and still has) and he used to do Solo racing in it and was into racing in general and that obviously trickled down to me. I was pretty much glued to the TV anytime racing came on and I was the type of kid who actually took care of his matchbox cars and imagined owning real versions one day (still have the matchbox cars and unfortunately none of the real versions!).
As I got older my dad and I would jet off to a race here and there and I was really lucky to go see some terrific F1 races in Canada from the Paddock Club, and we really loved going to the Toronto IndyCar races as well.
I can vividly remember the first time my dad took me out for driving lessons when I had my learners permit and I swung out wide across the oncoming lane and late-apexed the first turn on my street and getting an earful about it. My response was “that was the proper line wasn’t it?”
I was pretty lucky to grow up really at the beginning of home console video gaming. I started out with an Atari 2600 and literally played Pole Position so much I would wear out controllers. I absolutely loved video games and racing games in particular. I would master everything that came out and played everything and still do. Some of my favorites would be Pole Position, Gran Turismo series, Forza, Dirt. I have really been enjoying the new Forza and Dirt this year, and I am waiting patiently for the next Gran Turismo to finally be released.
My first real exposure to more of a “sim” experience though was the Arcade version of Hard Drivin’. I absolutely loved this game and would literally spend hours on that machine and for a long time had all the highest scores on the machine near where I grew up. To this day I can’t pass one of these machines by without jumping in and I would love to someday have one in my house.”
I actually was somewhat late to the game in trying an actual PC Sim. I think it had to be ’93 or ’94 that I happened to stumble on to the first Papyrus NASCAR Racing game. Ironically, one of my friends’ dads had it installed on his computer with a joystick and he showed it to me one night and I was instantly hooked. I was not even really a NASCAR fan at that time. I pretty much focused on F1 and IndyCar during that point in my life. I became so addicted to this game that I would go over to my friend’s house and literally say hello to him and just go to his dad’s office and start playing. To this day I remind him every time I see him that his introduction to this sim changed my life.
Eventually I got tired of having to go to my friend’s house to play this sim and finally got my dad to get a newer computer that could handle the software. My first PC Sim was actually IndyCar 2 which I absolutely loved. I tried Crammond’s F1 games and enjoyed those and I eventually got GPL (Grand Prix Legends) which I have to admit I never got fully into until later in life.
GPL is significant though in that it was with this game that I somehow noticed on the box that Papyrus was based in Massachusetts which is where I lived. It’s crazy but at that moment my entire life changed. I quit my job and went back to an intensive PC training course and got a job doing tech support for a software company with the sole mission of getting a job at Papyrus. It took me two years and sending my resume to Papyrus once a month to start and weekly towards the end until I think they finally interviewed me so I would leave them alone. A week later they offered me a QA testing job for almost no money which I immediately accepted. Long winded answer to that simple question . . .
Q2. How did you come to develop NASCAR 2003, and eventually end up being a somewhat powerful staff member/president of iRacing?
I say all the time that I have to be one of the luckiest people in the world to get to do this for a living. When I joined Papyrus I think we had about 50 employees and I was pretty much the last rung on the ladder. I really busted my ass and tried to do anything I could to help the company and product succeed.
As I stated in the previous answer, I was not really a NASCAR fan at this point in my life which changed pretty quickly considering at that point Papyrus only made NASCAR products. I came on board during the development of NASCAR 4 and literally spent hundred of hours driving and really started loving it. When NASCAR 4 shipped there was a round of layoffs, which often happens when a title ships in the games industry. I was lucky to make it past this round of cuts and was given more responsibilities for our next title which was NASCAR Racing 2002 Season. Again, same deal after NR2002 shipped, another round of layoffs.
At this point there were really only 20 or so people working on the product and essentially three of us left in the Production/QA department so we essentially had to do everything. I just took the ball and ran with it and filled the more managerial role of Producer for this product while Greg Hill took over as more the Art and Design Producer and Eric Busch took over as the build and data Producer. Ironically Dave Kaemmer left Papyrus right after NR2002 shipped but when he did I made him promise me that if I was to get Goodyear to give him tire data and an actual NASCAR engineer to help with development he would come back as a contractor to work on NR2003. I was able to get that to happen and Dave came back and, well, the rest is history.
As for my role here at iRacing and how I got it . . . well I think I was just lucky to be at the right place at the right time. I had become friendly with John Henry starting back in 2002 when he became a fan of Papyrus and I think I proved to Dave that I had a reasonably decent head on my shoulders. So when Papyrus shut down and Dave and John started iRacing they asked me to be part of it. Dave and I literally started building iRacing from a one room office in his former Papyrus partner’s (Omar Khudari) office in Lexington.
Q3. What have been your highest enjoyments out of sim-racing? What have you been thrilled about the most over the years?
This is a really tough question as I have had so many great moments over the last 10 years. I am particularly proud of NR2003 because it really was the benchmark for the industry and it was so few of us that made that happen. I was also really proud the day that iRacing launched publicly because we literally built an entire company at the same time as we were building what I consider a truly incredible product, and to see people start paying to use it was special.
I have also been really lucky to meet and get to know some really terrific people because of this job, not to mention getting to see and do things I could have never dreamed about doing as a kid playing with my matchbox cars.”
Q4. Do you ever want to put a team of sim-racers into a real car? What about the John Prather experience, do you ever have a wish you could do that again?
As I said at the time that John Prather got to drive in the VW TDI Cup series race at Road America, it has been a decade long quest for me to get that to happen. We were really lucky to develop such a great relationship with Clark Campbell and the folks at Volkswagen North America to make that happen. Watching John in that race gave me a real understanding as to what it would be like to be a team owner, it was more stressful than probably being out there myself!
I am continuously working on ways to try and make things like this happen more often and I have a few irons in the fire in that regard.
Q5. OK This one you can skip if you want, but what’s planned for release in the next build?
I generally don’t like to talk too much about what is going to be released in the next build until closer to the actual release, but I will talk quickly about some of the things we are working on.
The biggest project we are working on is the NASCAR Hall of Fame project. It’s really shaping up to be a slick modification of our software to meet the needs of the Hall. It will be the exact same software that we run on the member site but it allows the Hall to essentially run on its own. The reason this is a big deal to our existing customers is because our branding is all over this. Every person who tries the simulator at the Hall will be walking away with a sheet of paper with their lap times or race results and that directs them to visit our website to sign up for a discounted membership to our service.
One of the projects involved with the Hall of Fame project is creating a replay client that allows us to connect to a race and not impact it in any way, which will ultimately lead to us being able to broadcast races.
We are working on a more realistic transmission model and updating as many cars as we can with a new aero model and a tweak to the tires similar to what we did on the IndyCar, ‘Vette and Star Mazda last season.
One project that is a much longer term project is we are going to replace our sound engine with a new one. This may not even make it into the build after next but we will have a much-improved system released in the next six-eight months.
Dave continues to work on a new tire model, some of which may make this next build but the more significant changes are still a ways away.
We will also be putting in place the ability for our customers to use third party painting applications to create their own paint schemes exactly like we used to do with our Papyrus products. It will be up to the members to share these paint schemes—our system will not do that.
We also have a significant amount of work to do to crown our first World Cup of iRacing-winning club in the beginning of next year, which should be very exciting.
Q6. What are your thoughts about endurance racing? Do you feel that endurance racing could be a major selling point in iRacing?
We definitely plan on having endurance races in iRacing in the future. I won’t make any promises as to when that will happen, but I expect it will be in the next year. We are going to start planning to have more special events this year and at some point we definitely want to run 12 and 24 hour endurance races complete with driver changes.
I know all those endurance racing fans are thinking, ‘Does that mean day to night transitions?’ In our dream world, yes we will have this one day; but it’s a long way away. I think to start everyone will just have to be thinking that we moved Sebring to Alaska during the time of year that it’s light out for 24 hours a day…”
Q7. How often do you go off and start browsing the forums? How much do you feel like you could answer questions in topics that are posted but don’t?
I probably spend at least two or more hours a day reading the forums and I can say that I have probably written and deleted twice as many posts as I have actually made. If I read something and I have a definitive answer I will generally post a response.
Believe it or not though, I often like to just read the forums and not weigh-in because I get a much better sense of how important an issue is to what percentage of our customers by seeing how the discussion goes. I often find that if I post in a discussion I directly influence the outcome and it’s often enlightening to see how the community would solve a problem or work out a feature idea. I think it’s pretty obvious that your discussions do influence what we work on by this point even if it takes us longer to implement than our customers believe it should.
Q8. What’s your opinion as towards the staff members? Do you think your staff size should double to give the iRacing members more in their simulation? Also, how well do relationships flow down in that office at Boston?
Thanks to the vision and leadership of John Henry, Dave Kaemmer and Tony Gardner, our president, I can honestly tell you that we have assembled the most incredible group of people working here at iRacing that I have ever been around. These people are so passionate and proud of this product it really makes it easy to come to work. I swear that this group could go head-to-head with any organization in the world and come out on top on designing and building just about anything.
As for a staff size, that’s really an unfair question. This is still a business and we have a budget and long term goals to attain, so doubling the size of iRacing is just not realistic or practical. I read a post in the forums today by Lincoln Miner that perfectly sums up software development. “You can throw 100 musicians in a room and ask them to come out when they’ve created something as impressive as the White Album by the Beatles, but they might never come out. You don’t need 100 mediocre musicians; you need 4 really good ones.”
Sure, in a perfect world we would love to be able to produce features and content quicker than we do, but we need to make sure we do things the right way as well. We have such short windows to make significant updates in between seasons and we just can’t continue to develop right up to release windows because the software and systems need testing. Even with careful planning to try and test things as best as we can still leaves us in situations were we need to fix things after they’ve been released.
Q9. What’s your thoughts as towards driver hardware? Any plans/ideas to create a wheel/pedal/shifter set that competes heavily with the Logitech G25 and Fanatec Porsche wheel?
There is some terrific hardware on the market right now. I think the area that we have seen the most growth is in pedals actually. I think the Logitech G25/27 is a really nice consumer grade wheel and does the job about as well as anything on the market. The pedals that ship with it are decent, but there are some really great third party offerings out there. I personally use Ball racing pedals at home and I have a set of the VPP pedals here at work. I also really like the Cannon pedals which we use on most of our racing pods.
I really don’t see iRacing getting into the hardware business. There is already plenty of work we need to do just on the product we are building and it really does not make much sense for us to spend resources building hardware at this point.
Q10. How satisfied are you with the current website system? Do you think you can do a lot more to attract a larger member-base? How satisfied are you with the current member base?
I am really thrilled with the work the web team has done. I think it is often forgotten that we are charting a pretty unique path with the way our service operates. I have not come across anything on the market that comes close to serving all the functions our website and infrastructure supports. It’s also incredibly difficult for our web team to balance new web-only features and trying to develop in parallel with the software team to support their work. It is mind blowing to actually see how difficult it is to plan and execute these roll-outs so things don’t get broken. I am constantly amazed at how terrific the team is at accomplishing this.
There is always more we can be doing to attract a larger customer base and, just like every other company in the world, it’s all about time and resources. We have a pretty good plan for the next year on how to expand membership and we are tracking pretty nicely with the membership numbers we expected to have at this point.
There is no question though that we need to continue to build our membership, and we often find that our customers are our best sales people. I believe we will be kicking-off another referral contest again shortly, so start thinking about those friends out there that have always wanted to drive race cars and you can win some cool goodies from the prize vault.
Q11. How will the iRacing Drivers World Championship be broadcast? Will iRacing use professional commentators to call the action from the race, or are we going to use sim-racers using a 3rd party chat program?
As I mentioned in a previous response, the first step in broadcasting races is creating the client piece of software that will connect to these races. We don’t have any specific plans yet on how we will go about executing the broadcasts, but we have had preliminary discussions with a few parties on how to accomplish that.