SCS Software has a long-running lineage in the driving-sim genre — 24 years, to be exact. Within that time, the studio has produced a lot of beloved titles such as the various entries in the 18 Wheels of Steel franchise, Bus Driver, and as of late, American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2. But, something about the two aforementioned sims really stands out in comparison to not only SCS’ older titles, but also in contrast to most other sim titles.
The big difference is that American and Euro Truck Simulator 2 both have quite a bit of age on them at this point, yet they’re both actively being supported by SCS. This support doesn’t just come in the form of minor patches, either. No, full-on expansions have become the norm for both sims, with heavy updates sprinkled in between. In fact, the most recent major update finally outfitted American Truck Simulator with online multiplayer: a feature that had only been achievable through a community mod beforehand. Not to mention the graphical upgrade that both titles got earlier this year. Clearly, SCS is pouring a lot of resources into the continuing development of these aging titles. But, why the change to this model? Short answer: it works.
Work smart, not hard
The key method that SCS has been able to utilize in order to pull this off is by what can only be considered to be very clever development optimization. Both ATS and ETS 2 seek to build upon the DNA that the company’s previous driving sim games possessed. This isn’t abnormal; it’s how most titles are made, after all. But, SCS has done this differently by means of a staggered release.
While both sims came out in a very completed state that did feel like a step up from their predecessors, they also both had a pretty small chunk of content to enjoy in the beginning. Just a handful of trucks, a relatively modest map, and limited customization options and in-game job types. It was a better product, but a smaller product. Yet, you would have only experienced this if you bought either sim during their early days. They’re certainly far more complex now, which is exactly what SCS’ successful strategy has been.
Rather than pour a substantial amount of resources into a single big release, the studio has spread things out, letting each title naturally grow with time. Even though these sims have gotten older, they’ve gotten better due to more advanced tools and techniques being gradually introduced over the years. Added to this is the sheer amount of content that both sims have also been gradually updated with, namely the map expansions.
Other than the vehicles themselves, the most important part of a driving simulator is the environment. Especially in the case of titles like American and Euro Truck Simulator 2 which feature fully open-world maps, scenery design becomes all the more important; it’s the life and breath of the experience. And this is where SCS has excelled primarily.
The studio clearly takes the names of its two premier sims quite seriously and literally. Both of these sims don’t simply try to give the feeling of driving in the United States and Europe, they really do try to provide an authentic recreation.
Rather than having a long development cycle with the sims, the studio has instead drawn out their lifecycle by drip-feeding new releases of map expansions every several months. Countless hours are spent combing over minor details like historical facts, famous points of interest, geographical and topographical maps, road networks, architecture, and the like. SCS’ designers look at all sorts of references to craft their recreations of real-life places. This is no easy feat considering the sheer scale of it all.
In the case of both games, the map is expanded in a border-to-border configuration. The US has many states that are larger than some countries, so they’re big undertakings within themselves. But, Europe has a lot of differences in architectural and regional differences, so the zest and air of each country need to be authentically captured. This is why each map expansion takes several months to make. It’s not an artificially long cycle, it’s just taken SCS several years to try and craft each new area properly. Even though neither sim tries to go for a 1:1 scale, just cramming so many important details into a truncated map is still a challenge that the team has clearly mastered. No wonder why its fan community treats each release with high levels of excitement.
This degree of quality not only keeps the userbase engaged and impressed, but it also keeps SCS’ lights on. With a modest fee of $12 USD per expansion, the company has landed on a comfortable price point that also happens to fit a well spread-out release schedule. By charging so little every several months, fans and newcomers alike don’t necessarily feel much of a “pinch” per se when it comes time to open up their wallets. This is where the aforementioned contrast compared to most other sims really comes into play.
SCS used to have the usual method of releasing an entirely new sim every other year or so. Others still do that with games like Farming Simulator. The other usual method is supporting an existing sim with a never-ending deluge of new payware content from different studios with price tags that aren’t too far off from entire games. Train Sim World 2 and Microsoft Flight Simulator both fit into this category. Thus, SCS has pretty much carved its own little niche.
The significant age of both American and Euro Truck Simulator 2 keeps the base price incredibly low, sometimes as low as $5 USD. This arguably makes the every-so-often release of a new map expansion feel even cheaper. The icing on the cake is that the consistent updates are always free and regularly provide little improvements to the sim itself, as well as facelifts to older areas of the map.
More substantial upgrades come every now and again but are still free. Then there’s the expanding vehicle roster, which is another freebie that’s thrown in every so often, thus keeping things feeling comfortably fresh. SCS has grown so well into its mold that it’s even been recently been partnering with truck manufacturers to debut new trucks using their titles, thus further propping up the studio’s level of legitimacy.
The switch to a long support cycle with well-spaced-out updates and expansions has clearly worked out for SCS Software. The fact that all this time has only allowed the studio to craft more complex pieces each and every go-round only make this deal even sweeter. I admire every new release as it shows that the studio’s designers never really seem to get complacent. It’s like they’re always trying to outdo themselves, which just keeps the experience feeling refined.
While a purely next-gen release using a fully modernized engine would certainly be impressive to see, it’s hard to criticize the quality that American and Euro Truck Simulator 2 have achieved despite their age. In fact, more modern alternatives have been released even recently, and still don’t capture the same level of charm and complexity as SCS’ veteran team. Meanwhile, the community seems to remain happy to keep supporting this studio, constantly looking forward to the next chapter in these long-running sims. If and when each title truly captures all of America and Europe proper, I’m really looking forward to looking back on what would be an extremely impressive journey.