Truck simulators. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea are they? Yet at Midlife Gamer we think that they – and especially the people that keep the Truck sim scene alive – are rather special. After speaking to Pavel Sebor a few months back, we wanted to go in at the ground level and talk to the people who keep the communities alive.
In our interview with a member of the team behind one of the largest simulation communities in the World, we discover that the social and political landscape of Truck sim fans is far from a quaint group of individuals mutually co-habiting the same online space; it’s a world of rampant plagiarism and competition, limited budgets and company closures. But it’s also one of passion and dedication, of like minded gamers that really aren’t all to different from their core gaming cousins.
So if you’ve ever wondered what the biggest debates in simulators are, what the best title to get started with this unique hobby is or why Truck sim players are really just big kids at heart, you’ve come to the right article!
Xero: First question for you, who are you and what do you do?
Waldi: Well, my name is Michał, but everybody call me Waldi. I am 24 years old and I am the editor of HardTruckSite. I am a big fan of trucks and narrow-gauge railways but unfortunately girls don’t understand my passions, so I’m still single :-). A few weeks ago I left my job and now I can spend much more time extending our website about truck sims. Of course it can’t endure forever so I am still looking for a new job.
X: Next, is something we ask each person we talk to here at Midlife Gamer, it’s a subject very near and dear to all our hearts; what is your favourite beverage and what is your favourite biscuit (or “cookie” to those outside the UK)?
W: Unfortunately many people in Europe use invidious stereotypes thinking what Polish people like to drink. They think that citizens of our country are alcoholics who never sober up… It’s not true. As many adult people in Poland I like to drink something from time to time but I cannot tell you that any type of alcohol is my favourite beverage. To be honest, my favourite beverage is the mineral water bottled in one of the most beautiful Polish spas – Muszyna.
I don’t like the taste of sweet biscuits but I used to eat them when I was much younger. My favourite ones were waffles with toffee filling.
X: So I suppose one of the most important questions I should ask is, why do you love Truck sims? What is it about the genre that piqued your interest to begin with?
W: I think that every truck sims fan has his own history and his own reasons for being interested in that genre. There are a few main reasons. Probably every small boy dreamt about being a truck driver. These games give people the possibility to be one for a moment. Some people are simply fans of simulators and big machines like trucks, trains, planes. They are people who prefer imitating real life and real machines than running through a virtual map with an AK-47. The third group are people who want to be a real driver, and it’s their plan, not just a dream. Most of them have a truck driver in their families and want to follow in this tradition.
I’m a mixture of both. It’s obvious that I was dreaming about being a truck driver when I was very young, but my serious interest began many years ago when I found one of the oldest truck sims in a local shop. I thought ‘the price is low, it would be nice to pretend to be a truck driver’. Now I am a typical truck fan :-)
X: The community surrounding truck sims seems to be really passionate, certainly a lot more so than many other fan bases out there. What is it about the genre, do you think, that facilitates this enthusiasm?
W: Unfortunately only a few of the truck fans will be allowed to drive them for real in the future. These sims give them possibility to try it. You must know that when you sit in front of truck’s steering wheel you can feel like the king of the road, you can experience that beautiful feeling and emotion of uninhibited freedom and independence. Probably every small boy dreamt about being a truck driver. You will understand what I mean only if you try it!
Most of the truck sims are produced by the Czech developer – SCS Software. Their games have one enormous advantage: they are easily edited. Players can easily make their own trucks, trailers and maps. Polish truck fans prepared two big maps of Poland for 18 Wheels of Steel: Pedal to the Metal and 18 Wheels of Steel: Haulin. This group of enthusiasts is preparing now one for German Truck Simulator. To be honest this Polish map for GTS looks much better than maps prepared by the developer.
These games are not the ones which finish in 20 or even 50 hours and then put back on the shelf. Every day you can download new trucks prepared by fans, you can download new maps. You can also prepare your own paint jobs.
To sum up, people are passionate because they are truck fans and because SCS games have a kind of life after life.
X: What was it that motivated you to begin a website specialising in this fairly niche area of games?
W: HardTruckSite was founded in November 2003 by one of my best friends. It was a completely different time, intermittent areas with access to broadband and web domains were very expensive, consequently there were no sites offering free web forums. Now everybody can set up his own site for free. In 2003 our decision was quite clever. We all were playing Hard Truck 2 and King of the Road. We wanted to show player’s point of view about those games and create a social place for all Truck sims fans. A few months later we decided to try our hands as game modifiers. We made Polish Pack for 18 Wheels of Steel: Pedal to the Metal. It was a revolutionary and pioneering project which became popular across Europe.
X: Are there any particular challenges that you face in the day to day running of the site? What are the rewards?
W: Every day we take part in a market share gamble with opponents who prefer quantity, not quality. Now most sites are only forum based, on one of most common engines when they create a download section. They put add-ons shared on well known, free file hosting services and many up linkers are not checking them, they are simply copying them from other sites.
We are going against the flow. We focus on editorial activity. We search for interesting news, we prepare articles about games, and we write manuals on how to modify truck simulators. Unfortunately there are next-to-nothing-people in Poland, who are copying our work. We must fight therefore fight this plague of plagiarism as every week we find our news copied word for word without any reference given. Sometimes we find our articles and manuals accredited to someone else! Once we found a site with an owner who was copying all of his news from our site. Unfortunately he hadn’t seen that there is a “read more” button in most of them. He had therefore only copied half articles…
Now we must challenge the difficulty of rebuilding our portal. It doesn’t mean only changing engines and themes. We are also re-organising our team and preparing next surprises for our guests.
Rewards? The only one is satisfaction. We are doing all of this because of our passion.
X: Are you in contact with the main sim developers? Are they particularly communicative to fan sites?
W: The best known market player is SCS Software. They are a tiny company so they don’t have a big marketing department but I tip my hat to Pavel Sebor, their Managing Director. He is in charge of finances, marketing, negotiations with publishers and contacts with fans. He is very dedicated to his work and when it’s necessary he is geared to answer emails long into the night. Our marketing specialist works with him frequently.
We were also cooperating with TopWare Poland, SCS’s games publisher in Poland. Truck simulators were their main base of existence. Actually, one of our people was working for them as a kind of “fan base relations manager” but unfortunately the company collapsed a few weeks ago. At the moment we are also working with Cenega, the polish publisher of Rig’n’Roll.
X: Simulator games, in wider press at least, tend to have certain stigmas automatically pressed on them and their surrounding communities. Why do you feel this is, are any of these stereotypes particularly true, and is it something that you are concerned with at all?
W: I don’t think that there are stigmas. On the other hand simulators are extremely boring for most players. Typical gamers will spend a maximum of two or three evenings playing core games. Then he will put it back on the shelf, and never come back. Only simulator fans and children can feel pleasure shuttling through Europe with different cargo loads. Unfortunately many players are growing out of the genre very fast. It’s why truck sims are an extremely niche area.
X: How far do fans go to replicate the authentic Truck driving experience? Would you say the hobby is expensive?
W: In my opinion it isn’t an expensive hobby. It’s connected with buying a steering wheel, which is useful in all racing games. The rest could be done for free. People drive observing Polish law, they listen to country music or use internet versions of CB-radio.
X: After speaking with Pavel Sebor from SCS Software, he noted that his company and Truck sim fans in general, have a very large presence in Eastern Europe. Being a Polish orientated site, why do you feel the genre had taken off in a big way in your part of the world as opposed to others?
W: One of the biggest reasons may be piracy. Despite low prices of truck sims, many people are downloading them from the web. Fortunately, a few weeks later, some of them are going to shops and buying original copies. Most of the buyers are from those three groups that I described before. What is more our part of Europe has big traditions in modifying these games. People play them because they know that after a few days there will be the first add-ons released and a few months later the first maps. SCS had an easier beginning in Poland because their first game had the “Hard Truck” brand in the title.
X: As a defining voice in the community, which titles would you say are the best in the field? Are there any that you would strongly recommend to beginners or those interested in getting involved?
W: I can recommend all of the games developed by SCS Software. Each of them has special features unseen in the next titles. Everybody can find something suitable for themselves among their titles. It’s extremely difficult to say which one is the best in the field. We suggest Rig’n’Roll developed by 1C Software as the best choice for beginners.
X: Finally, what would you say were the biggest disagreements or points of contention for truck sim fans? Are there any Sonic Vs Mario style debates for example?
W: With the release of each next game people argue as to which one is the best. But the biggest debate is about the future of truck sims. People discuss if they should become more and more realistic (in the way that an instructional fighter simulator for army use is a simulator) or become more like arcade games (such as 18 Wheels of Steel: Convoy).
In the first case fans will be delighted, but they will be the only buyers. In the second, the demand will be much bigger, but the fan base will be disappointed.