The next chapter of Forza Motorsport is still in the concept phase.
Since the arrival of the original Forza Motorsport in 2005 a fresh instalment of the series has appeared every two years, like clockwork, across three generations of Xbox console hardware. However, there’ll be no Forza Motorsport 8 this year from developer Turn 10, even though it’s approaching two years since the launch of 2017’s Forza Motorsport 7.
Forza fans who have been tuning in to the team’s regular “Forza Monthly” streams have likely already surmised that this would be the case (during a stream in July 2018 Turn 10 creative director Chris Esaki stressed that, at that time, the entire team was still working on updates for Forza Motorsport 7, and in a more recent stream in March this year Forza franchise creative director Dan Greenawalt confirmed the team had only just begun shifting to a new project). Of course, the news may still come as a surprise to some folks accustomed to the bi-yearly cadence of the Forza Motorsport series.
“In the last five years in particular it’s become almost acutely clear to me that we’ve really transitioned from a time where we were all about just making products, to a time where we’re trying to build community,” Greenawalt tells IGN. “We say around here in the hall – in fact, I just got done doing a team meeting where I was talking to the team about this – that our ultimate goal is to shape the future of automotive entertainment. And the way we’re going to do that is by building communities of gamers and people who love cars and bring people together in new ways.
So as of right now, Motorsport itself is actually in concept; it’s just something we’re currently building.
“I announced on a stream a few months back that we were shifting the weight of our studio – we were changing our focus – away from Forza Motorsport 7 and towards our next project, but that we were doing it all very, very differently. And that’s very true; we’re taking this fan-first, player-first approach where we’re bringing players in in different capacities to have them help us ideate on what we build next, and prototype new ideas and new thoughts.”
“So, as of right now, Motorsport itself is actually in concept; it’s just something we’re currently building. And this is after supporting Forza Motorsport 7 for longer than we ever have before. I mean, we’ve done so many updates for that game. There was an IndyCar update recently, we’ve done tons of new modes including the Forza Race Regulations. And we even have some more updates going in there, so there’s still some updates going in on Forza Race Regulations. But all this is being done with micro communities that exist in our ecosystem, as well as new gaming communities we’re hoping to bring into our tribe.”
According to Greenawalt the Turn 10 crew was enthused by the prospect of supporting Forza Motorsport 7 for longer than usual and having more time to build what came next, taking the year to work on tools for the team and learn new processes.
“That was a completely different way of operating as a team, and we wanted to take enough time that it would seep into our culture,” says Greenawalt. “I’ve been making games a while; my experience is that ideas flow from great culture. And great games flow from great culture. But if your culture is in a bad spot it’s going to be almost impossible to make really great experiences, and it’s certainly going to be hard to innovate.
“So by taking a step back and not only working on our culture of innovation internally but also on how we innovate – how we put the player in the centre of everything we do – it allowed the team to work through, ‘Well, is this about cadence?’ No. It’s no longer about any of that anymore. It’s now about the player, and then act that way. It’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to act that way for a year and really let it seep into your culture and how you do development.
“Now at this point, working on concept for what we’re doing next, the team is just in that headspace. How are we building rapid, quick prototypes? How are we bringing players in? Getting feedback on our ideas and building this with the community. It’s gonna be a long game but it means we’re not looking at the date so much as much as we’re looking at the delight – how much we can excite our players?”
Despite having no release date for the follow-up to Forza Motorsport 7 (“We don’t have one,” Greenawalt admitted), the team is still feeling the pressure.
“Pressure is always on,” he chuckles. “I mean, it’s a big team. There’s always going to be pressure because the team holds itself to a very high standard. We’re always looking to attract rock stars into this space, and we’re not going to attract rock stars with small ambition. Our ambitions always have to be really high, pushing the boundaries for Microsoft and Xbox and for the racing space in general. So we have to always push ourselves really very hard.”
Greenawalt sees plenty of changes coming for both the games industry and the car industry and reckons Forza is “right in the sweet spot of where these two things meet.”
“The car industry is looking at a new generation of car buyers and are really worried about how to get them excited about cars,” he says. “Meanwhile there’s esports and streaming; gaming culture is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We sit right in the middle of there. I think we hold the key to creating the new, passionate car lover in this younger generation, but we’re not going to do it by telling them how to think or trying to get them to feel the same way about cars that we do. We have to create new experiences to get them excited about cars in this new environment, where streaming is just a way of socialising.”
Greenawalt believes they have the ability to create something entirely new, agreeing that yearly sports games are an interesting analogy.
“I would say that, to date, our esports looks a lot like traditional racing, but to create something entirely new for a new audience means taking advantage of what we can do in the digital space,” he explains. “There are things we can do in the digital world that can’t be done in the real world. As long as we’re thinking about how we replicate a real world style of race, and we limit ourselves to that, we won’t invent something that breaks beyond it.
There are things we can do in the digital world that can’t be done in the real world.
“So, again, I feel like we’re in the perfect spot as a team in that we love motorsport and that we have that authenticity in our DNA, but we want to push for something for a new generation. So our hope is to have enough familiarity and enough authenticity that car people just love it, while meanwhile approaching a new player type that really didn’t understand racing – they didn’t grow up with cars – and now they start thinking about it in a different way. Because the sports game analogy is a perfect one. Like, Rocket League is a sports game, right? There are sports games that mirror a real world sport, and there are sports games that are actually a new type of sport. I don’t know where exactly this new world’s gonna be, but I think my team is the one that can figure it out.
“That’s why we’re doing all of this; you see all these changes in the industry – we can make a difference. And I love that. For me it’s incredibly charging to come to work every day and think, ‘This isn’t just about making great experiences – though we will fail if we don’t – it’s also about really making a community that can last. Last for another decade.”
Of course, if you’re bricking it at the prospect of no Forza Motorsport 8 this year, maybe Forza Horizon 4: LEGO Speed Champions will help fill that void. The wild, second expansion for the acclaimed Forza Horizon 4 was revealed today during Xbox’s E3 presentation and will be available later this week.
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter every few days @MrLukeReilly.