Feature: How computer games are driving interest in the trucking business

10 January 2018

It’s not just young people who want computer games for Christmas – there’s been a huge growth in truck-themed gaming of late. But while they may appear to be entertainment, there’s a genuine business element, as many go beyond the driving simulator aspect and challenge players to run a virtual haulage company.

That might not fire up your average gamer as much as the latest Call of Duty release, but megahits such as The Sims and Minecraft prove that there’s a huge appetite for games which focus on strategy and building – not to mention the number of business simulators already on the market.

One of those is the Euro Truck Simulator franchise, the first edition of which was released in 2008, followed by Euro Truck Simulator 2 in 2012, which remains on sale and has shifted over 4.3 million copies. It’s a driving game first and foremost, but the longer you play, the more entrenched in the truck business you become. Pavel Sebor, CEO of Czech firm SCS Software, the game’s developer, explains, “The core is driving the vehicles. You are initially a hired driver, but over time you may buy your own vehicle. You can tune the truck, add cosmetic elements like extra lights, chrome or a better engine, or buy multiple vehicles and start building a fleet or logistics company, with drivers, vehicles and garages in different cities. Gradually, the game transforms from just a driving simulator into kind of company management.”

Some games forgo the driving element completely. German developer, Deck 13, released TransRoad USA in November 2017, which focuses purely on the aspect of running a haulage firm. “You’re not sitting inside a truck,” says game designer Andrea Fricke, “you play the manager of a logistics company and you buy trucks, you buy trailers, you hire drivers. You manage and plan your fleet and you can take on contracts and grow and expand all over the country.”

Prior to trying its hand at trucking games, the company produced the TransOcean series, which is a similar premise but for the shipping industry. Fricke says such games tend to develop a following among real-world employees: “A lot of the time, it’s the people that work in those industries that are interested in these games [and] it opens up your mind to what happens in these business sectors in real life ‘how is my luxury object coming from India to here, from China to my place’, and so on.”

SCS even has genuine truck drivers on hand for feedback during development: “We have a big group of volunteers that we use as beta testers, who get access to early versions of the game before the general public,” says Sebor, “many of them are actually truck drivers, or former truck drivers, who tell us that this or that little detail needs improvement.

“We had a case where the new Scania, which has come into the game, used the sound of the direction indicator from a different vehicle. These people spotted the difference and told us ‘you have to replace this sound effect with the proper one’. Many of them understand the topic much better than we do.”

That demand for detail has led developers to get more hands-on with real-world trucks as the games have grown in popularity. “A decade ago we would just look at some pictures on the internet and try our best,” says Sebor, “these days, we try to be as connected to the industry as we can. We go to photo shooting sessions with truck companies and we’ve been to Scania, in Sweden, for three days just to record the engine sounds and get detailed photos of their new truck.

“We sometimes get 3D data files from the engineering department to get the shapes right, and we go to locations to take photos of architecture. As time goes on and as our fans expect more and more of us, we have to get better at this, so there’s a lot of research actually going into making the game as realistic as possible.”

Trucking games are typically popular with older players, according to Fricke, who describes TransRoad USA’s audience as “more male [and] around 30 or 40.” Sebor agrees, though he adds that the Euro Truck series is also popular with young people: “We see two groups of players: one of them is younger teenagers – let’s say kids who are under fifteen years of age – [because] every boy wanted to be a truck driver at some point in his life.”

As well as the Euro Truck series – and some US themed titles – SCS also has games such as German Truck Simulator, UK Truck Simulator and Scania Truck Driving Simulator in its line-up, and although such games are sold internationally, they have a strong following in mainland Europe. “It’s definitely popular in Germany, where we develop the game, and in other European countries,” says Deck 13’s Fricke, “if you look at city building games, they are niche as well, but they are more popular in Germany, for example. Maybe the Europeans are more interested in business stuff.”

“The games are played pretty much worldwide,” adds Sebor “we have a huge following in Brazil, for example, which has a huge economy based on road transportation, because their trains are pretty much non-existent. Lots of players are also recruited from places like Turkey, Australia and Canada – and again, in Canada, maybe it’s because trucks are kind of part of that country’s life, and people consider the job kind of exciting or interesting.”

So influential are the games that they have, on occasion, caused players to actually become lorry drivers. “Several of our testers, who have been playing our games for years, have changed career to become truck drivers,” says Sebor, “we also have a photo of a magazine, from somewhere like Indonesia, with a guy grinning on the front page. He was a winner of his grade in a truck training school, and he was actually boasting about learning all his skills through our game, before trying for the commercial driving licence.

“In fact, some 10 years ago, one European association of learning centres and driving schools gave us an award that said we were an inspiration for new drivers to come to the industry. So people have recognised repeatedly that this game can influence young people, as well as adults, to consider the career.”