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Motorsports’ most interesting car reveal was an online game to find Porsche’s Formula E car

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Article by Stef Schrader

If there’s one thing Porsche fans secretly want to do, it’s rummage around Porsche’s offices and see what they can find. Think of everything you would see! Incredible one-off projects! Unannounced plans for new cars! Special editions never seen by the public! That’s precisely what Porsche let us do at the Porsche Digital headquarters when it unveiled its new 99X Electric Formula E race car on an unexpected platform: Twitch.

Twitch is best known as a streaming platform for gamers, although other events occasionally pop up there, too. Players from around the world broadcast gameplay for others to follow along and interact with them along the way. As such, Porsche’s big August 28 Formula E reveal event was set up as a game called Formula E Unlocked. This was the first time an automaker partnered with Twitch for a car reveal, and the first reveal ever made into an interactive online game.

Normally, automotive reveals are straightforward, businesslike affairs that take less than an hour to go through most of the burning questions. Livery reveals that mostly focus on the look of a race car are even shorter, as the technical details are already public. We had known what Porsche’s Formula E car looked like for months by the time Formula E Unlocked was ready to play, as Porsche kept trickling out photos and footage of it testing before it entered the series.

Instead of just looking online for the inevitable gallery of the final livery photos, I tuned into Porsche’s reveal game and soon found myself sucked into it. In the game, the audience guided Porsche works drivers Neel Jani and André Lotterer to find their brand-new race car hidden somewhere inside Porsche Digital’s headquarters in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

The game itself was set up as a live-action “choose your own adventure”-style video stream. Users voted on predetermined choices to guide the two characters around, uncover clues, and solve puzzles along the way. It kicked off with a special Twitch extension that enabled users to vote on a choice by clicking on their desired answer.

Not every possible action within the game was a clue, though. Some of the potential action choices were just for fun, which ultimately drew me into the search a little more. I had other work to do that day, yet I kept returning to the tab where thousands of audience members were instructing Jani and Lotterer to open new Porsches parked in the courtyard, rummage through desks, and even eat a donut.

Many of the game’s details were clever and charming. A notebook on the receptionist’s desk appeared to spell out the word “poop” on a Post-It note on the front, and given that I’m really just a large sixth grader at heart, I chuckled. Finding a phone in the game gave us the option to call a security guard’s mother. Another part of the game led a driver into a workshop full of some of Porsche’s most significant cars, where he had to hide behind a 918 to avoid getting caught.


Above: Comments flow as one of the drivers hides inside a cardboard box, as he was instructed by the audience, to avoid a security guard.

Yet it didn’t always run smoothly, leading to Jalopnik’s Elizabeth Werth calling it “a hot mess” in her write-up of the reveal. Twitch’s chat quickly succumbed to some of the trolling issues that are endemic to nearly every video platform on the internet, with users dropping in everything from spam to swastikas. To the game hosts’ credit, though, offensive users were booted from the chat relatively quickly and the worst chat trolls became less frequent later in the game. 

Its biggest issues, however, came down to good ol’ technical difficulties. Viewers soon tired of the “We Will Be Back Shortly” screen that appeared several times during the game. Unfortunately, the first longer unannounced break happened just 18 minutes in, which no doubt discouraged some viewers from seeing the game through. 

When the voting extension crashed, the gameplay seemed to drag along. Waiting for all the answers to tally up was already an exercise in patience, but when the answers weren’t adding up quickly, the audience started getting noticeably frustrated in the chat window.

The plugin kept selecting the same response, which even frustrated the in-game character we were commanding with our votes. After “hack the mainframe” was selected repeatedly, the player threw the keyboard down on the ground, which felt like a gesture of solidarity with the audience, whose votes weren’t being heard. Eventually, though, we were able to tell our man on the ground to “try a doughnut” from the same set of options, which provided more much-needed humor to lighten up the mood on the stream. That’s the upside of having real people act out the audience’s choices.

Fortunately, the game could continue using the chat responses to vote after the plugin finally crashed for good about two hours in. This made voting take even longer, but at least kept things moving. Yet this last system glitch was its own drag for viewers. The stream took a nearly 30-minute break before it resumed without the voting plugin. Clearly, it wasn’t something they could troubleshoot on the fly, and there wasn’t a backup system to enable. 

Just like a regular video game, decisions got a bit more difficult at the end, with a couple of puzzles required to solve before we could see the car. These felt extremely tedious with the voting system down, and admittedly, I wandered away to get some coffee during the last puzzle. Each movement of a puzzle piece had its own vote, so the audience took a really long time to collectively finish these.

Eventually, we the internet did it! A lighted cage around the car moved out of the way, the drivers pulled off the car cover and we got to see the Porsche 99X Electric Formula E car in its final, ready-to-race form. Unveiling the car took about four hours of game time, but that was four hours of quality distraction from an otherwise regular weekday.  

It’s always fascinating to me to see how automakers experiment with gaming technology, even when they become weird footnotes or one-offs. Porsche’s embrace of Twitch for a livery reveal reminds me a lot of the Ford Simulator multimedia programs from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Computer games were just catching on then, and even though Ford Simulator’s driving controls weren’t too different than the canoe controls in Oregon Trail, it was still a compelling enough idea to last for seven versions and it put Ford’s yearly lineup in front of home tinkerers and game-hungry kids alike.


Above: André Lotterer (left) and Neel Jani, the Porsche Factory Drivers who acted as players one and two, stand next to the Formula E race car the Twitch game's audience helped unveil.

Now we’ve even got automakers like Mercedes-Benz and Tesla installing games in concept and production cars’ infotainment screens. Like Porsche’s Twitch reveal, this weird marriage of gaming tech and cars frequently gets attention outside of the usual car nuts. According to Porsche, nearly one-million people tuned in to its Twitch reveal stream.

Even with the technical issues, delays, and glitches, the gameified reveal is an idea worth doing again. I know I paid more attention to it just because of the novelty of the idea, for one. The motorsport world always bemoans that the number of fans keeps declining, but it feels like too many entities in racing are hesitant to try anything that’s too different to try putting racing in front of new audiences. A refined reveal game where the voting plugin works would be a genuine delight, and it would attract new eyes to the sport. More action would be nice, too, as surely we can get our player-characters to climb some rafters, flip over desks, or take one of the cars in the courtyard for a joyride next time.

Porsche’s reveal stream attracted Twitch die-hards alongside existing Porsche dorks like me, putting the car in front of the vastly different audience they desired.

You can relive the whole thing at twitch.tv/Porsche.

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