The harness racing mobile phone game, Off and Pacing, just celebrated the beginning of the in-game 85th season. Players can breed and grow racing stables while entering their horses into races. The game was initially released back in April 2017. Over that time, it has become one of the leading harnesses racing mobile games, with over 50,000 downloads, according to the Google Play Store.
Horse racing is no stranger to being on mainstream console systems. However, the popular Gallop Racer series has been one of the few thoroughbred games. Tecmo, a Japanese-based company, first released the game in 1996, which was only available for the original PlayStation and in arcade form.
The last version of the game came out in 2017 for Nintendo Switch but was only available to purchase in Japan. Gallop Racer provides players with the experience of breeding, training and racing horses similar to real-life things.
The two decades of success illustrate that there is (or at least was) a market for horse racing games. With the growth of technology, it should be simple to have a finished product that features harness racing and the cousin sport of thoroughbred.
Electronic Arts (EA) has been a significant player in the sports video game industry for decades. EA made roughly $1.9 billion in revenue during their fiscal Q2. EA Sports FIFA 23 had over 10 million users playing the game within the first week of its launch. The full-year revenue is expected to be anywhere from $7.5 to $7.7 billion. They have found massive success with games like Madden, NHL, and UFC.
The most significant issues obstructing EA have been re-securing licensing deals with major sports leagues like PGA, FIFA and NCAA. Of course, everyone wants to ensure they receive a fair share of the pie, and rightly so. But would this be an issue for the harness racing community? If profits were through the roof at some point, but if the harness racing community bit the bullet early and signed off on name, image and likeness, it would lower early overhead costs to develop. In addition, having character and track likeness featured would be free advertising for “B” level tracks. Also, it would significantly impact drivers and trainers if they were featured in the game.
A growing trend in sports video games is to have minor leagues showcased on the significant game. For example, EA Sports NHL has not only all 32 NHL teams but all their AHL affiliate teams, plus several leagues from Europe. This could be the technique that harness racing should follow and collab with our thoroughbred cousins. The two forms of racing have always been paired together, which would be a natural fit.
This may seem like a minor priority, but this could be a massive move for harness racing to grow and move up the ladder of importance compared to other sports. The video game market is ever-growing and expanding to new frontiers. No longer are people only playing alone in their basements for casual fun, although that still happens. Instead, many users are playing in ESport leagues, competing against others for cash and prizes. They are now a mainstay in the competitive entertainment scene.
Plans for a $500 million Esports arena in Toronto were announced in the spring of 2021 and designed to host significant gaming events. It is also not expected to take a single penny of taxpayer money to build, something not often heard of in harness racing. Something of this finical magnitude must be addressed. No console harness racing video game makes it impossible for our industry to get into bed with the ever-growing Esports market.
EA is not the only company that has been raking in piles of gold from the surge of video games. For example, epic Games developed the unpredictably popular Fortnite. Fortnite has always been free to download and play, but players can make in-game purchases. These purchases are purely cosmetic to the user’s in-game character and do not influence the gameplay. This business model has reportedly earned Epic Games profits in the billions, similar to EA.
Other major series like Call of Duty (Activision) and Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games) are two of the highest-grossing game titles of all time, and they, too, bring in billions of dollars for the respective companies. So, it is evident that there is severe money to be made in video games, but where does harness racing stack up against other sports that have secured long-term video game deals?
It is hard to compare harness racing to other sports regarding financial gain because they each have a different finical setup. Horse racing revenue primarily comes from gambling, while until recently, other sports like football, hockey and baseball have come from large T.V. contracts and ticket sales. Just recently have, mark betting taken off in different sports and has increased the value of their products.
At first glance, horse racing, in general, might not be the goose to lay golden eggs for video game creators. Most tracks have free admission, and there is only a lucrative TV deal for races other than significant races like the Kentucky Derby and North America Cup. But if video game companies were to consider the amount of money spent on gambling, that may be enough to change their minds.
The NFL is the king of all sports right now in North America. They estimate having $100 billion wagered during this season compared to the roughly $2 billion bet on North American harness racing in 2022. Of course, comparing the NFL to harness racing is a huge stretch, but comparing horse racing to other sports is more easily conceivable.
The 148th running of the Kentucky Derby saw over $179 million in the parimutuel pool alone! The whole day at Church Hill Downs had over $273 million bet on the 14-race card, with the entire Derby Week seeing $391 million in the handle.
Back North of the border, Woodbine and Mohawk Park had record-breaking years in the betting handle department. Woodbine had an all-sources handle of $621 million, while Woodbine Mohawk surpassed the $400 million mark. Combining the two tracks saw over $1 billion in handle in 2023. In addition, harness racing had over $1.4 billion in total wagers in the United States and over $600,000 million in Canada.
Although it is doubtful that a major publisher like EA would start the project, plenty of smaller grassroots companies could do a start-up project. It was not a major global publisher that made the Gallop Racer series, but it was able to find its way to circulate the world.
Harness racing fans will soon enjoy a new game on PC that allows players to jump in the sulky and take the reins on multiple aspects of the industry. The game Sulky Manager is set to be released in December of 2023, and a brief gameplay video can be seen on the video game digital distribution service, Steam.
Players can create a custom avatar and earn trophies, rank and money by competing in races. The objective is to make the best barn possible by purchasing, breeding and training horses that can put you in the best spot to win.
The publisher, Equilon, released a similar thoroughbred version two years ago called Glory Horse Racing. It comes with similar features described as coming to the new Sulky Manager. Although the graphics and gameplay are very modest, the game gives players control over many aspects and makes them the actual manager of the stable. It’s close to being the horse racing equivalent to the sporting games many play today, like Madden, FIFA and UFC, but it could use some improvements that could put it at the top.
We will have to wait almost eight months before the game is released, and there is no guarantee that it will be the next big thing. However, it does show that some video game publishers are willing to take on the project.
Esports has been the next big thing for some time, and harness racing could easily fit into that sphere. In addition, many gambling markets allow for wagering on Esports, and a harness racing game would also be easy to implement.
by Trey Colbeck, for Harnesslink