Has the Low Cost Steering Wheel Damaged Online Racing?

Despite the issues with F1 2010’s release, a huge number of people have bought it and enjoyed it. ShopTo.net tempted many gamers away from the standard controller with a bargain bundle deal with a low cost steering wheel, offering people an entry level route into a more accurate driving experience.

Gran Turismo 5 will, undoubtedly, also provide a fantastic experience for those with a steering wheel to hook up with and offer accurate force feedback, inch-perfect lines and smooth cornering. Naturally, with this improved control and more subtle steering ability, those with a wheel will be taking their cars for a spin several seconds a lap quicker than those with a controller.

Over a long race, with tyre wear simulated this could take its toll, as one forum poster on PlanetMGC describes having played F1 2010 with a controller:

The main issue though is it is clearly meant to be played with a wheel. It’s impossible to drive as smoothly with a dualshock and as a result your tyres wear much more quickly. After a few laps I’m skidding out on every corner whereas the wheel drivers online just keep on going. Very biased towards those with a wheel.

This is exactly as you would expect. The reason Jenson Button can often stay out longer on old tyres is his smoother driving style. Those who hack at the wheel (as if they were using a controller in the car) tend to slow down a bit after a few laps as their grip levels suffer. In this respect, Codemasters have nailed the realism in F1 2010. And whether you’re using a wheel or not, players have a dilemma of whether to stay out longer and get some free track, or pit earlier for fresh rubber and lose track position as JunkieGamer point out:

…looking at the track on the bottom left of the screen I can see that a traffic jam has started to form behind me, and the roar was from an overly eager Hulkenberg. I knew if I pitted I was going to lose a lot of places, but if I stayed out any longer on this failing rubber it was inevitable anyway. So reluctantly I veered off and pitted.

But this is a far more common and urgent problem for those without the delicate touch of a steering wheel. As the first quote pointed out, players who had a wheel were able to keep their tyres fresh for longer, keep their speed up in corners for longer and generally stood a far better chance of winning.

It’s not a one-way party; getting used to using a wheel after years of “normal” controls is tricky, and many gamers say that for the first few weeks it’s far slower to use the wheel until you get the feel of things. But there are too many reports of wheel users being massively faster in online games to ignore this suggestion.

What bugs me the most isn’t that the wheel is quicker, not at all. If you’re willing to put the time and effort into learning to drive with one then it’s only reasonable to be rewarded for your trouble, but developers need to adjust their online lobbies, allowing people to just join other controller users if they prefer. It’s usually not until a couple of laps in that you realise you’re in a race with others who have a more natural method of control, by which time you’ve already been lapped and have no rubber left on your tyres.

To that extent, wheels aren’t killing online racers at all. But the emergence of lower cost deals and the increased numbers of people who use them means developers have to take note of this and redress the balance and offer non-wheelers a chance to compete fairly. Without this, there’s every chance that many many people will be put off from taking their racing online.

Sources: PlanetMGC.com; JunkieGamer.com


  1. Great write up Iain, you sure do have a point. The ease at which you can accelerate and brake with the pedals make a massive difference. But having said that, in my expereince the time differences between using the wheel and the controller is vast… in the other direction.

    Using the wheel playing the AI in forza 3 i can compete with expert difficulty, however, playing against chaps using a pad online, i’m toast. This is also true when i do time trails, i’m nearly always 4 seconds quicker a lap using the pad vs the wheel.

    However, some games are made for the wheel, and its almost pointless playing them without it. NFS Shift is a prime example, almost unplayable with a pad, but a delight with the wheel. I haven’t tried F1 2010 with the pad yet, but i can’t imagine it being anyway as much fun without grasping the wheel.

  2. good article and comments, i however find it the other way around maybe its because I play on forza 3

    i find if i want that perfect lap the wheel is great but if i have a little wobble and go into a skid its much harder to correct with the wheel where as with the pad your a lot more dexterous and can quickly go left right left try to correct the misstake where as with the wheel a quick left right left dont exist, you have a split second to correct and if you fail its all over

    so when i play online with other racer cars on the track its a lot harder to race around other drivers that will often block and bully you (not necessarily ‘cheating’ just racing like in real life) so when this happens on the wheel its VERY hard to make these quick little adjustments especially if they bump into you

    so i so wheel is great for best lap times, pad is better for the hostile online racetrack with one exception! nascar rings are horrible on a pad trying to make those REALLY tiny little adjustments and just swerving all over the place when someone is playing a nascar track online and is winning by a mile everyone (well all the american nascar fans that just do nascar) start fuming at the guy and boot him out for cheating!

    o and final forts this ‘kinect’ driving with no wheel is ment to feel REALLY accurate and i think you could move your non existent wheel a lot quicker than a force feedback one so maybe this will be the best in the future?

    ps some games play better with the wheel or pad heres my list:

    PGR4 much better on a wheel
    Dirt 2 unplayable on wheel
    Forza 3 as discussed above

    now i want to see your lists please!

    also if u have a wheel try playing with the in game wheel settings to find something that works for you!

  3. o and also force feedback can give much better feedback as to what the back end of your car is doing than a pads vibrations can. however sometimes that feedback catches me off guard and pushes the wheel by its self making me crash out 😀

    so i think pad v wheel is a lot more than if its .. or as i liek to think ‘pad > v < wheel'

  4. Great reply D9K, and really good points about the merits of using the wheel (or not) in various game modes and individual games themselves.

    Also interesting what Brian said about Forza times and some games only being suited to a wheel, not a controller…

    Great discussion though, loving it 🙂

    • That says it all about how ‘realistic’ GT5 is, than anything else. Just consider for a moment how far you’d get in your car, if you were driving it on a PS3 pad.

  5. Good read. Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already Wish the damn game would come out already

  6. I hate how people who play Guitar Hero/Rock Band using the actual instruments are better than me when I use the controller. How terrible is that?

    • Ok I can feel the sarcasm bursting out of that comment, but if you played online with a controller against someone with the real instruments you wouldn’t stand a chance. That’s what the article is getting at.

  7. Too bad so sad, as I see it. If you want to get serious about racing, buty a wheel — simple as that. Then again, I’m biased, as I only play hardcore sims (iRacing and a bit of F1 2010 right now) with my G27, and I use manual cluth and the H-box shifter, etc, whenever possible.

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