Industry trends

How video games shape the cars we drive

Andrew Evans | 23 Dec 2019

How video games shape the cars we drive

Andrew Evans | 23 Dec 2019

In this article:

With the feedback of millions of gamers, the virtual world is becoming an essential tool for car manufacturers to test the vehicles of the future


The modern racing video game is a marvel, offering realistic graphics and physics, meaning real cars can be replicated in an authentic virtual form. For gamers, this gives the opportunity to own and drive exclusive, expensive, and rare cars they might never get the chance to try in the real world. Who doesn’t want to take a Bugatti Chiron around the Nürburgring Nordschleife?

But it isn’t only gamers who benefit. Manufacturers can present future models digitally in advance of the real thing. With the most popular games reaching sales figures of over 10 million, brands can preview cars to a huge audience that’s eager to generate feedback. It’s also possible to see how the car behaves dynamically to gather data before going to the expense of an engineering prototype.

Designing in-game

Sony’s Gran Turismo series has a special programme for creating concept cars in partnership with vehicle manufacturers, called Vision Gran Turismo (VGT). Through this project we’ve seen more than two dozen cars over the last six years, with some very direct influences on models further down the line.

The project’s genesis came in 2008. Takumi Yamamoto, a designer at Style Citroën, created a supercar concept car - the “GT by Citroën” - for the brand. Yamamoto was a childhood friend of Kazunori Yamauchi, creator of the Gran Turismo game series, and the two worked together to bring it to life in the game. This set the seed for the VGT project.

When Sony announced Vision GT officially in 2013, the first brand to release a car was Mercedes-Benz. A lot of what went into the AMG Vision GT has since seeped into the brand, including other real-world concepts such as the Maybach 6. The AMG GT bears more than a little resemblance, and details such as the in-grille lighting have carried over to the EQ line of electric vehicles.

Some cars have been a little more direct in their influence. Bugatti revealed its Vision GT car in 2015, and essentially unmasked the Chiron six months before its real life debut. It even built a fully functioning version of the VGT, which it sold to Prince Badr bin Saud.

Audi too created a working version of its VGT, running it as a taxi at Formula E events, while Fittipaldi plans to build and race its VGT. Some brands, such as Aston Martin and Nissan at Goodwood in 2014, unveil their VGT cars to live audiences just as they would with the real thing.

The stars, the cars

Many of the world’s most famous car designers have penned a Vision GT, including BMW’s Adrian van Hooydonk and Marek Reichmann at Aston Martin. Even Paolo Pininfarina and Andrea Zagato have designed cars for the project.

Cars such as those on the Vision Gran Turismo project commonly look a few years - or more - into the future. Some use technologies that don’t exist today, and in some cases may never exist, thanks to the freedom that gaming allows. But the virtual environment remains a test bed.
 
Toyota announced a worldwide competition driving the brand’s new Supra - itself previewed as a VGT called the FT-1 - in Gran Turismo, three months before the first customer deliveries. Tetsuya Tada, the ‘father of the Supra’, revealed that Toyota would be using the millions of game miles and player feedback to guide further development of the car. By 2021, the Supra’s real world behaviour could be directly influenced by what virtual drivers think of it.

So if you want to know what your car will look and drive like in 2025, chances are you’ll get a glimpse in a game right now.

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