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How Popular Are Our Favourite PC Racing Sims?

Racing simulators tend to have more longevity than most sports games, but how many people are still playing some of the bigger titles?

Using SteamDB, we can get a reasonably accurate gauge of how many people are currently playing a particular game through Steam. Below I’ve noted the all-time peak concurrent players for some of the more popular titles here at RaceDepartment, plus the 24 hour peak as taken on November 23rd, 2021.

NOTES: SteamDB of course excludes console players and those who might be using an alternative launch method such as Epic. There is also some level of error both in the statistics gathering, and the times when the data was collected. So, please don’t treat the figures below as an absolute value of how many people are playing the title, but rather an overall barometer of how many people are enjoying it on Steam. iRacing statistics are harder to come by, but I will add a footnote if I can gather an accurate player count.

Assetto Corsa
  • All Time Peak – 11,691
  • 24 Hour Peak – 6,824
This modding monster continues to enjoy success eight years after it was first released to the public, thanks in no small part to the great community of creators that keeps AC relevant with new and classic cars and tracks, plus the latest skins of our favourite drivers and teams.

Assetto Corsa Competizione
  • All Time Peak – 6,926
  • 24 Hour Peak – 3,959
The official SRO simulator has been another success for Kunos. On the eve of the release of another major update, thousands of players are still enjoying this GT sim two and a half years after its release on Steam.

Automobilista 2
  • All Time Peak – 1,150
  • 24 Hour Peak – 372
Reiza Studios are hard at work on their biggest physics update so far for AMS2, which is set to be released to the public this month. The title has had its share of doubters, but Reiza has kept its ear to the ground in the sim community and has made major strides since the first release version and will hope to see the number of people enjoying the title continue to climb.

BeamNG.drive
  • All Time Peak – 13,572
  • 24 Hour Peak – 7,932
Known mainly to the layperson as a crash simulator, BeamNG is perhaps better summarized as a physics playground with a huge modding community. This simulator has more players than even Assetto Corsa, and likely owes much of that popularity to the huge selection of car and track mods on offer, much like AC.

F1 2021
  • All Time Peak – 24,513
  • 24 Hour Peak – 11,400
The official game of F1 has enjoyed mostly positive reviews once again this year. And unlike recent years, updates to the title have included new content. Three additional tracks have been added post-release, which seems to be having the effect of sustaining the interest of players, as over 10,000 people on Steam alone are still enjoying playing F1 at any time.

Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • All Time Peak – 61,081
  • 24 Hour Peak – 37,635
This is obviously not a racing sim, but for perspective on the other titles, check out the impressive numbers behind ETS2. Apparently the allure of a chill drive across some of the most beautiful areas on the continent of Europe holds great appeal to gamers.

Most Popular Racing Sims 03.jpg

Forza Horizon 5
  • All Time Peak – 81,096
  • 24 Hour Peak – 37,924
Forza Horizon 5 has broken every sales record for a racing game, and even ignoring the massive player base on console, the concurrent player count is staggering. FH5 continues the series’ open world, consequence free feel, and appeals to the fun-chasing side in racing game fans.

NASCAR 21: Ignition
  • All Time Peak – 323
  • 24 Hour Peak – 42
NASCAR 21’s launch was marred by bugs and bad reviews. As such, the game is off to a slow start. This is the newest title on this list, and should be enjoying its “honeymoon” sales phase, but most of the major complaints about the title have yet to be addressed. The good news? It’s now playable for me since the latest update, so my overdue review should be coming soon.

RaceRoom Racing Experience
  • All Time Peak – 2,630
  • 24 Hour Peak – 1,057
There’s a case to be made that RaceRoom is the most complete racing sim on the market. As such, its popularity has remained strong since its early 2013 release. Content releases have slowed recently, but a well-built multiplayer system keeps players coming back.

rFactor 2
  • All Time Peak – 1,652
  • 24 Hour Peak – 747
rFactor 2 has been praised since its 2015 Steam release as the pinnacle of simulator force feedback and vehicle physics. Either opinion is debatable of course, but there’s no doubt that the driving experience in rF2 can be a pure pleasure. The title is also the preferred sim of many major eSports series, which keeps it relevant and popular with both casual and professional players.

Obviously there are countless other titles that could have been included in this article, so if I missed any titles that could provide interesting data, be sure to share the name and user stats below.
About author
Mike Smith
I have been obsessed with sim racing and racing games since the 1980's. My first taste of live auto racing was in 1988, and I couldn't get enough ever since. Lead writer for RaceDepartment, and owner of SimRacing604 and its YouTube channel. Favourite sims include Assetto Corsa Competizione, Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, Automobilista 2, DiRT Rally 2 - On Twitter as @simracing604

Comments

I don't understand the doomsday or nihilistic views about ets2 or forza horizon being popular. Those games are made with large audience in mind. In the case of forza it is a system seller with tons of marketing behind it. Ets2 has huge huge userbase because it appeals to almost everybody. There are simply a lot more people who "want to drive a truck" than there are who "want to drive physically advanced racing sim".

That being said it is also wrong to say popularity is inversely correlated with physics quality. The game has to offer something the users enjoy. If your numbers are relatively low in that niche bracket of yours then the game or sim is doing something wrong because people are not finding it enjoyable. The fault is in the game, not in the users or in the people.

There is no sim that deserves more players. Big player numbers are earned by doing the right development and marketing decisions. If you get those wrong you can have a huge sales success like rf1 but if you make bad decisions you don't just carry those big numbers to your next project. Sometimes that good or bad seed is planted early in the development.

Look at live for speed for example. Go back 15 years and it was one of the most popular sims on the market. One of the best too. What happened? Nothing. Literally no development happened and the game died off. Is lfs good or bad? Was lfs good? Is it bad now?

Numbers say lfs is bad because so few play it now. But when you compare that to rf2 or raceroom numbers they are all "bad" because so few play them. But they are also bad in very different ways. They all have their pluses and negatives - like all games do. But to treat the numbers just as some kind of inverted metric of most bestest sim is just plain dumb. We all know it is more complex than that. Good online systems, ease of use, interesting content, potential and fresh experiences... Lots of reasons why or why not.

It also helps being good at what is the key selling aspect of the title. Live for speed was pure gold when it was actively developed. It had future potential and it was a solid platform. But that development then died which killed it. Look at rf2. Modding focused online sim with horrible moddability and paid online system that literally killed its online playerbase. How wrong can you get it? Look at netkar pro. Small independent sim focused on online racing. Had attrocious start with tons of bugs and issues that plagued the only things it focused on. Raceroom? A game designed to sell dlc with the most attrocious dlc selling scheme out there by far.

Then look at ac. A driving sim focused on interesting cars and modding with good physics. It did all of those things exceptionally well. And a lot of other things poorly. Look at beamng. What is its key focus and what does it do well? Ets2? Forza zyx? Iracing? An online only sim that allows you race your dlcs in set schedule. Does that really well. Is it really surprising to see the numbers?
 
Sorry not had chance to read all the comments.

I'm assuming the numbers are for concurrent users, a proportion of which will be the regulars who play every night and others who play that title a few times a month. If that's the case your player base could be bigger than what the baseline numbers suggest so it may not be as bad as it seems for some of these. You've also got the people who buy all the content but aren't regular players, I for example haven't played Raceroom for a month or so but still own pretty much all the content.

I think this does help to show us that for some of the smaller developers its probably very fine margins they are working with and that they haven't got tons of money or resource to work with. We may enjoy having a moan at them but without them we probably wouldn't have a lot of choice.
 
I don't understand the doomsday or nihilistic views about ets2 or forza horizon being popular. Those games are made with large audience in mind. In the case of forza it is a system seller with tons of marketing behind it. Ets2 has huge huge userbase because it appeals to almost everybody. There are simply a lot more people who "want to drive a truck" than there are who "want to drive physically advanced racing sim".

That being said it is also wrong to say popularity is inversely correlated with physics quality. The game has to offer something the users enjoy. If your numbers are relatively low in that niche bracket of yours then the game or sim is doing something wrong because people are not finding it enjoyable. The fault is in the game, not in the users or in the people.

There is no sim that deserves more players. Big player numbers are earned by doing the right development and marketing decisions. If you get those wrong you can have a huge sales success like rf1 but if you make bad decisions you don't just carry those big numbers to your next project. Sometimes that good or bad seed is planted early in the development.

Look at live for speed for example. Go back 15 years and it was one of the most popular sims on the market. One of the best too. What happened? Nothing. Literally no development happened and the game died off. Is lfs good or bad? Was lfs good? Is it bad now?

Numbers say lfs is bad because so few play it now. But when you compare that to rf2 or raceroom numbers they are all "bad" because so few play them. But they are also bad in very different ways. They all have their pluses and negatives - like all games do. But to treat the numbers just as some kind of inverted metric of most bestest sim is just plain dumb. We all know it is more complex than that. Good online systems, ease of use, interesting content, potential and fresh experiences... Lots of reasons why or why not.

It also helps being good at what is the key selling aspect of the title. Live for speed was pure gold when it was actively developed. It had future potential and it was a solid platform. But that development then died which killed it. Look at rf2. Modding focused online sim with horrible moddability and paid online system that literally killed its online playerbase. How wrong can you get it? Look at netkar pro. Small independent sim focused on online racing. Had attrocious start with tons of bugs and issues that plagued the only things it focused on. Raceroom? A game designed to sell dlc with the most attrocious dlc selling scheme out there by far.

Then look at ac. A driving sim focused on interesting cars and modding with good physics. It did all of those things exceptionally well. And a lot of other things poorly. Look at beamng. What is its key focus and what does it do well? Ets2? Forza zyx? Iracing? An online only sim that allows you race your dlcs in set schedule. Does that really well. Is it really surprising to see the numbers?
Nothing wrong with your analysis, just an omissis.
While being racing games, they're all very different gaming experiences.

My experience of FH4 is a game full of shinies and grind, bland scenery, phony dialogues, copy and paste physics, manga liveries, full-contact-racing (on both AI/MP sides), wasting time on freeroam when you just wanna race, forgettable tracks, the search of the sacred meta for 90% of the players base, and I'm probably missing some more (oh, yeah, proper wheel support). I paid for it, I tried to enjoy it, I got my own punishment and not going to repeat that.

Physics are fun, even if exagerated. Virtuosism on both developer's and player's side, wash that away and you have...an RPG?
To each his own, back to pinball simulators. ;)

p.s.: if it is you, thanks for Horsma. I simply love it.
 
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When exactly did that occur? Rebooted my own iRacing subscription September 2020 (after nearly 10 years hibernation now with a new account starting from rookie scratch, but cancelled extension of my yearly subscription after not being so active on iR since late summer 2021, though having great races in higher classes) - to my memory the Miata I drove by that time was indeed with H-shifter support of which I always prefer, to me it was still easier with a natural feeling compared to the paddle drive.

I don't quite understand this change from iRacing? Is it due to some sort of upgrade of the real world SCAA Spec Miata, now driving with paddles (I don't know)?
iRacing moved to paddle shifting on the Mazda this year to match the real cars.
 
With your H-shifter, I am not surprised. Is there anything left in iRacing you can use it with, time to explore AC maybe? ;)

There are plenty of other cars that use an H shifter. Just not that car for competition. I can still run AI races with the Miata and stick all I want.

I uninstalled AC a long time ago, so I doubt that is in the cards.
 
I know a lot gamers in real life but only one simracer.
I have shown them all and tried to convince them how great simracing is.
No Chance - nobody interested

It’s like the hole World is playing fifa and MMOs

I think they all miss so much.....

But they all think i am kind of freak beeing simracer
When my friends show up at my house and see the wheel mounted they want to give it a spin, most of them get bored 15 minutes in with the "difficult physics" and "car setups", most people want Forza Horizon or NFS i have no doubt.
The one guy who didn't get bored, is still brainstorming(for more than year) wether he should buy his own setup or not... he recently had a kid so i don't think its happening.
 
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There are plenty of other cars that use an H shifter. Just not that car for competition. I can still run AI races with the Miata and stick all I want.

I uninstalled AC a long time ago, so I doubt that is in the cards.
With the addition of the great Content Manager i would recomend to install it again.
There are cars and tracks coming out, that look and drive much better than the orignal content.
The community behind it is raising bars.
 
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Only thing that makes sense with FH5 and success is marketing. If you really look at it you realize there are tons of cars but they are badically all the same. Hypercar offroad? No problem. To me personally once i realize this is the case everything got a bit "grey".

I also thought i would experience what i found fun in GT2 (i think) to start with a cheap crap car, race and make money, upgrade parts to do better and make more money, buy a bit better car, upgrade. Basically fight your way to the top from humble beginnings. Thats not the case. I span the fortune wheel and instantly got a hypercar, lol. I also see the kids saying they want it all instantly so i guess that explains that.

Hey i still fire it up for a few minutes now and then and drive like a maniac.
 
This shows participation levels of some of the "major" sims. The area under the curve is the "participation-hours" for each sim which is actually a better measure than just how many are connected at any one time.
It is intresting to see a bit of a shift in the Iracing trace as to when peeple are on it most, that makes me think it is the USA that is causing this double bump and shift.
 
Really happy to see BeamNG not only being mentioned (it still miss its section on the forums!), but also being so popular!

I find it the absolute best simulator for rallying if you don't care about beating "fake" AI times, and the integration with automation is the most innovative thing i've seen in any sim since decades!

The fact that most people only know it as a crash game or physics sandbox probably helped in its early days, but now i think it deserves much more recognition by sim racers too
 
Really happy to see BeamNG not only being mentioned (it still miss its section on the forums!), but also being so popular!

Might also be a good game along with Wreckfest to introduce people into sim racing. More sandbox to play around and forgiving arcade respectively.

With me the first time, after 2 cars in AC and then 2 cars in PC2 (back then) (both in VR), they wanted to basically only hotlap each other in the Mercedes-Benz 190E (as it was the first one they tried with an H-shifter)
 
Really happy to see BeamNG not only being mentioned (it still miss its section on the forums!), but also being so popular!

I find it the absolute best simulator for rallying if you don't care about beating "fake" AI times, and the integration with automation is the most innovative thing i've seen in any sim since decades!

The fact that most people only know it as a crash game or physics sandbox probably helped in its early days, but now i think it deserves much more recognition by sim racers too
I want some good freeroam offroad. Is Beam good that way?
 

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