Toyota and EA's complicated relationship continues with no end in sight.
Toyota's relationship with Electronic Arts and Need for Speed remains sour, and it appears that with each series release, the relationship shows little to no sign of mending.
Need for Speed Unbound was unveiled earlier this month for the current crop of consoles. It is the fourth edition since the franchise was given a soft reboot in 2015.
Unfortunately, this is the second time that Toyota has decided to exclude its brand from the game, but this time it appears Audi is also not joining, although it may be for unrelated reasons. Regardless, this comes as a punch in the gut to fans of the series.
For those not familiar with in-game car licensing, it can be a fairly costly procedure as each brand has to be paid for the rights, and usually, it is not cheap. In some cases, having permission to add one brand to your game can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to your budget.
In 2018, the CEO of Slightly Mad Studios, who formerly produced the Need for Speed Shift and currently the Project Cars series, Ian Bell, revealed on the car's official forum page that some prestige licenses, possibly including those of Ferrari and Lamborghini, could start at $100,000 together with a cut of sales revenue. This price could even increase if the game performs well in the market. It appears some brands recognize that the success of a game may be based on their presence rather than the game being a platform for exposure. It's worth noting that these numbers are small compared to the overall development costs, which can stretch past $10 million for top titles.
This is why games such as Grand Theft Auto don't bother with adding licensed cars and instead include parody renditions with similar designs and made-up names. The key difference is that if you are putting together a semi-simulation racing game focusing on realism, it will not take off in the market if you don't have licensed brands. Another reason is that most brands won't be too happy that their cars are depicted running pedestrians over and conducting drive-by shootings.
In the case relating to Toyota and Electronic Arts, it's pretty clear that money is not the issue, as the Need for Speed team has been more than open about needing the iconic Japanese brand for its games' success.
Not only is the A80 Toyota Supra a highly desired car to have included in the game, Toyota's AE86 Trueno GT Apex and pretty much all of the Celicas and MR2s are some of many fan favorites from the brand that players want to experience in-game.
Looking at Toyota's current line-up, the A90 Toyota GR Supra, GR Yaris, GR 86, and GR Corolla would be more than fine additions to the franchise. Frustratingly, there is just no official reason as to why Toyota has so much disdain for the Need For Speed franchise but based on events that occurred over recent years, the answer is pretty straightforward.
The first whiff of Toyota's dislike for realistic racing games dates back to 2009 when an unnamed brand executive criticized the medium for making real-life cars obsolete during an interview with Okasa's Mainichi Newspaper. His argument was that enthusiasts won't purchase new vehicles in real life if they can get to experience them in a realistic simulator, which is clearly an absurd assumption.
Regardless, Toyota doubled down on its stance against gaming when it announced that it would prohibit its brand from all future racing games in 2017.
The most prominent titles to be hit by this ban were Forza Motorsport 7 and Need for Speed Payback. The brand then very quickly reversed its decision just so that it could include its badge in Gran Turismo Sport.
Toyota appears to have always had a soft spot for Polyphony Digital, which focuses on track racing only with its near-simulation physics. We're clueless as to why Gran Turismo Sport would get special treatment from Toyota. The principle is similar to the Forza Motorsport franchise, which simply synthesizes a racing career through various disciplines.
It appears that with some motivation, Turn 10 was able to convince the brand to include the brand back in its racing franchise sometime after the arrival of Forza Horizon 4. No word was ever given as to why an exception was made, but Xbox fans rejoiced as it finally reintroduced access to their favorite Toyotas.
However, no reversal was made regarding the brand's omission regarding Need for Speed. This was highlighted in 2019 when a Twitter user queried the decision to Toyota UK's team, who responded with a now-deleted tweet claiming disdain for the franchise's portrayal of illegal racing. The Need for Speed team was able to call the brand nerds before the response was taken down.
The day after, the same Twitter account came out with an apology and confirmation that the brand would maintain its stance against Need for Speed and keep its cars away from the brand.
Some may question why a series like Forza Horizon gets a pass from the brand when it also portrays street racing, but there is a technicality at play. In this game, high-speed racing is sanctioned by the in-game event organizers as part of the music festival that you manage, where Need for Speed portrays illegal racing as we know it, with cop cars that will chase after you at moments when you break road laws with extremity.
Granted, it could be argued that Need for Speed glorifies illegal street racing, but this is akin to the argument that action and shooting games manipulate their audiences into being violent people, which has been disproven repeatedly.
Other than Toyota's UK Twitter team's response, it's unlikely that we'll ever get official word from the head of the brand regarding this decision. Still, looking at this previous chain of events, it is pretty straightforward. Toyota has a deep and invested reputation in street car culture, so its absence from Need for Speed Unbound is a truly disappointing one.
Audi's exclusion from Need for Speed Unbound certainly is an odd one. We doubt that the cost of licensing would be an issue for a publisher as big as Electronic Arts, and based on a report conducted by Reuters, the German brand is very pro-video games as it identifies the medium as an additional means of marketing. It was also an exclusive medium you could use to tap into a younger audience that could grow into potential customers in the future.
In 2013, Consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated the entirety of in-game advertising to be a $2.8 billion industry. This year, it is expected to reach an astonishing $221.5 billion thanks to the rapid rise of mobile gaming.
The only in-game licensing complication we can think of from the Volkswagen group is the removal of all VW-badged cars from Forza Horizon 3, primarily due to its emissions scandal. The brand promptly made a return to the franchise by the next installment.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that sometimes there are just complications regarding licenses. For a very long time, Need for Speed was the only franchise that could use the Porsche badge as it had struck a competitive long-term licensing deal that forced the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, and Horizon to use the Ruf moniker.
This was very promptly dropped after Porsche's licenses became available again. There's a rumor that part of the deal was never to mention Ruf again, as neither franchise acknowledged it again after Porsche was added.
Let's also not forget that Mitsubishi, together with Toyota, was also snubbed from Forza Horizon 4, only to be added at a later date as free content. Turn10's official response regarding this, before it was announced that the badges would return, stated, "While our teams work hard to license hundreds of brands for Forza games, we can't always align our fans' desires with the interests of every licensor, as is the case here with Mitsubishi. As a result, we're unable to include Mitsubishi cars in Forza Horizon 4 at this time."
As of right now, both Rolls-Royce and Tesla have taken a hard stance against having their cars in games for no reason, and these are brands featured in previous Need for Speed and Forza titles.
Unfortunately, some manufacturers sometimes change their minds about how they want their brands to be represented. Furthermore, Stellantis has also decided to snub Alfa Romeo, Fiat, and Lancia from Forza Horizon 5, which has left die-hard Italian car fans gutted.
The working rumor regarding this is that Turn10 and Playground Games could not secure licensing for these brands before the Stellantis shake-up, thus hinting that the cars may be added later.
The two brand omissions that have us scratching our heads are Hyundai and Kia, but let's also consider that these badges could have been omitted by EA itself, as they did not feature in Heat, Payback, and the 2015 reboot.
Programming a car to have it added to a game is a highly labor-intensive task that requires further investment and resources, so vehicles that may appeal to the audiences must be selected carefully. Turn10's expansive car catalog dates back to the Xbox 360 days and has been merely updated for the newer titles rather than having each model rescanned. This is why you see so much less detail in its models compared to Gran Turismo 7, which Polyphony Digital has taken the time to rescan most models with more modern technology.
Adding licensed manufacturers at a later date could very well be a possibility for Need for Speed Unbound, but time will tell whether that becomes a reality.
While it is understandable that manufacturers have the right to dictate how they want their cars to be portrayed, it's still a discouraging blow for gaming fans to see some of their favorite brands be omitted from iconic titles such as Need for Speed. Sometimes all you want to do is add ridiculous modifications to your Toyota Supra and bash around the city until the cops try to shut you down.
We have reached out to Audi and Hyundai Group to query why their cars have been omitted from Need for Speed Unbound, but no response has been given as yet.