Is Sim Racing Pay To Win?
Whenever I feature fancy equipment on the channel, there’s usually one or two people in the comments talking about sim-racing being pay-to-win. So, today’s video hopes to address that by comparing an entry level wheel and pedal set, against something a little bit more premium.
Hello fellow sim racers. Let’s start by being straight up and answering the question. No, based on my testing, expensive equipment doesn’t make you faster. But, there’s a bit more nuance to the story than that and I’d like to demonstrate a few key differences between a really popular entry level wheel and pedals and my direct drive setup, and more importantly the difference in driving style they promote.
For the video I borrowed a brand-new Logitech G29 set. This is still by far the most popular wheel and pedal combination on the market and as such makes for a great point of comparison. At £200 all in, there are cheaper wheel and pedal sets on the market, but most fall into the ‘so bad it’s not worth bothering’ category.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Open Sim Wheel, direct drive setup that I’ve been using for around 18 months. It’s paired with a set of Fanatec Clubsport V3 pedals with the performance brake kit added, a Sim Racing Coach GT1 Pro button box and the Turn Racing R20 wheel I reviewed on the channel last month. Again, there are slightly higher-end products available, from the like of Leo Bodnar or Heusinkveld, but at north of 2 grand, this is plenty expensive enough to illustrate my point. Moreover, with equipment like this, the law of diminishing returns quickly sets in, but more about that later.
Finally, no other part of the sim rig was changed between tests. And honestly, as long as your wheel and pedals are securely fixed in place, there no difference in lap time between the fanciest carbon fibre cockpit setup and the humble desk clamp.
Rather that talk about it too much. Let’s jump in and take a look at a hotlap I ran with both setups in Assetto Corsa. While neither of these laps are absolutely nailed on perfect, there more than good enough to show that, at least at my skill level, there’s little to choose between the two wheels. I gave myself 30 minutes of practice with each setup and then recorded a quick qualifying simulation at the end. And, as you can see, the laps are very close indeed. In fact, the total time difference of around 1/10th could be more than explained by slight variations in my driving. Ultimately, this isn’t very scientific, but I think it does illustrate that spending 10x as much on one setup doesn’t really yield any lap time.
Where things do get interesting is watching the control inputs. If we take a look at the same lap with the two wheels side by side there are some key differences. First up, I didn’t feel the need to wear gloves to protect the G29, which was a nice change. But, more importantly you can see that in the case of the OSW, I’m making a lot more small movements with the wheel than I am with the G29. The much more powerful, and more importantly faster force-feedback inputs of the direct-drive wheel were allowing me to feel more nuances in the interaction between the car and the road – essentially allowing me to dance the car around on the limit of grip a lot easier. Conversely, with the G29, there are fewer micro-corrections, and that leads me to my biggest takeaway from this testing.
After 18 months of direct-drive use, my sim-driving style has adapted to make use of the fidelity of data that the wheel can provide. When I used the G29 exclusively for a couple of weeks of testing, it took me quite a long time to get back up to pace and adapt my driving to suit. And the biggest adaptation was not being able to rely as much on the data from my fingertips, and thereby having to compensate with visual information. This culminates in having to learn the grip limit and remember it, rather than pushing up to the limit, feeling it and immediately adapting. But, ultimately, once I’d put in the necessary practice I was pretty much always able to get back onto my old pace. Though some cars were much harder than others!
I’ve exclusively spoken about the wheels so far because that’s where all of the visual difference lies. I’ve spoken at length about the value of load cells in brake pedals, and my G29 vacation hasn’t changed my mind at all. Finding the braking threshold is much harder without a loadcell, or perhaps I should say finding it consistently. But as with the steering, it was a case of learning, rather than feeling.
Before I bring things together here, a couple of caveats. As mentioned before, the demonstration in this video is not intended to be at all scientific, and my accompanying words are based off of my observations over the last few weeks testing of testing the G29, and having tested many (many)budget and boutique systems over the years. So, it could all be down to my driving style, my biases or any number of other factors that I failed to control!
So, first of all, to address the video title again. Sim racing isn’t pay to win. In my experience, high end equipment doesn’t make you any faster, and various leader-board challenges that log the equipment used back this up. Furthermore, there are plenty of alien drivers still using old Logitech G25s. However. I still maintain that load cell pedals and direct drive wheels in particular do have some worthwhile benefits from a competition perspective. First of all, the increased quality of feel that you gain from these devices does allow for a quicker learning curve in my experience and perhaps more importantly aids in consistency. I made a lot more small errors on the G29 setup, even after hours of practice than I ever would on my main rig. And that’s one of the big advantages of direct drive wheels, it’s very easy to feel a small change in grip and correct your steering angle to prevent it turning into either under or oversteer that costs you time.
So then, spending thousands on a sim racing rig is a waste of time then? Well, yeah, if your only goal is to drive faster, there are probably better ways to spend your money. But, if you value immersion, feel, feedback and the often underrated influence of gear-acquisition-syndrome then of course there’s a lot of reward in high-end equipment. And besides, I’m in no position to judge!