If there’s one series that dominated my growing up years in terms of gaming, it’s Polyphony Digital’s jewel in the crown, Gran Turismo. A bounty of tracks, assortment of races and garage of cars that could put Jay Leno’s to shame was a banquet I could never pull away from. The thing I loved above else, though? Unlockables. Lots of wonderful unlockables.
There was such a thrill to it – you complete challenges, you advance in the game, and along the way the carrot leading you up the racing ladder dropped rewards, mainly ones with four wheels attached. Anyone who’s ever unlocked a rare gem in the series knows that feeling, and it not only satisfies the perfectionist in us, but just as importantly the collector.
So when I found out about Porsche’s reveal strategy for their first Formula E racer, it was like I’d been thrown back into my childhood, in front of a PS2 slim. At least, that was how I originally felt. Formula E’s never been averse to taking marketing strategies from gaming’s back catalogue – the slew of Mario Kart-esque videos an obvious example – and here we had a much more imaginative use of the medium, a technique rather than a reference.
I’ll lay out what this is about: on August 28 at 6pm CEST, one of motorsport’s most fabled brands is throwing the traditional route of a plain videoed reveal in the bin, instead roping in their two confirmed drivers, Neel Jani and ex-Techeetah star Andre Lotterer for a very special gaming experience. Viewers will interact with the drivers, guiding them through challenges for several hours until their Season Six chariot is revealed to the public. Oh, and it’s all on Twitch. The name? Formula E Unlocked. Gran Turismo ain’t ready for this heat.
Truth is, they ain’t ready for this heat for a reason – it’s not exactly like what my nostalgia first had me believe. This isn’t so much thirty laps on the edge in Seattle street circuit as it is a school team-building exercise, except instead of whatever chocolates the Asda discount aisle had left we get the thrill of seeing the next chapter in a blossoming series, and with it feeling natural among the playful media representation the series so often angles for.
Interactive entertainment isn’t a new platform – not even in the world of motoring. I remember a broadcast advert for the outgoing Mercedes A-Class, where Twitter voters were able to decide the fate of the driver piloting their new hatchback through a series of path choices. And as I noted before, we’ve had the exhilarating rush of unlockables for decades in a virtual space. But combining the two, within a wholesome interaction with not just other fans but the drivers themselves? It’s a stroke of genius.
It’s exactly the focus on engagement the series has done so well, regardless of how people may reckon it’s translated to on-track happenings. FanBoost, while it’s starting to feel redundant, has done wonders for the series’ scope and reach, allowing fans to give their favourites a push beyond their flags and encouraging screams, and the social media output has been exemplary in asking the fans for their thoughts, their feelings and their hopes for the future. Getting the fanbase involved, however they can do it, has been core to the values of Formula E.
And to see new entries make good use of the trail that’s already been blazed? It’s marvellous. Not only for Porsche, who’s imagination could well do for them what the likes of McLaren are reaping the rewards of in F1, but for Formula E as a whole. Above all else, though, it’s yet another win for the fans, who on Monday will be able to smell the presence of Season Six on the horizon. I know it’ll be a win for me, and a welcome return to the days of getting excited over a good old racing unlockable. Just remind me when the BST schedule is.
You can access the launch and register to take part on Porsche’s official Twitch account by clicking here.