Ignite Takes $5 Million Series C To Build World Of Warcraft For Car Racing

If you want to slay orcs and elves, there’s plenty of options, but the millions of car racing gamers out there have few places to chase the checkered flag. That’s going to change because today, Ignite Game Technologies closed a $5 million Series C round from private investors bringing it to $17.5 million in funding. It will use the cash to speed up development of its recently launched Simraceway freemium game, as well as its skill matching technology.

Ignite plans to hook users with high-profile licensed content, accurate physics, and addictive gameplay to get users paying to race or buy cars.

Simraceway is a free to play, downloadable PC client-based head-to-head racing game. It sits in the realistic driving game space, less hardcore than true simulations, but deeper than arcade racers. Most realistic racing competitors like Gran Turismo and Forza are disc-based where you pay up front. Simraceway is looking to fill the average revenue per user gap between casual, social racing games and these competitors with a high-end freemium model.

Racing games present a particular development challenge not found in massively multiplayer online role-playing games or first-person shooters. To be fun, gamers have to be extremely well-matched in terms of skill level, otherwise one person spends the entire race far behind and doesn’t want to play again.

Ignite is solving this problem with its proprietary skill quantification technology that eliminates mismatches. Ignite will use the new funding to refine the system, and CEO Jonathan Haswell tells me it might license the tech to other developers. Ignite has also found a way to let players race each other asynchronously. Its ghost lap system that could keep players engaged even when their favorite opponents are offline.

To attract auto enthusiasts, Ignite has secured licenses from 600 brands. These include the full car catalogs of manufacturers such as Bentley, McLaren, and Mitsubishi, with each car featuring simulation-grade driving physics. Four-time IndyCar Series winner Dario Franchitti is working with Ignite’s physics development team to do R&D at the Simraceway Performance Driving Center, a real-world racing facility based at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California.

Users can play Simraceway with their keyboard, a full wheel and pedal set, or Ignite’s own S1 motion-controlled steering wheel that’s affordably priced to draw users into Simraceway. There they spend real cash to buy better cars and enter big online races where they can win real prizes such as driving lesson vacations to Infineon.

Auto racing is one of the most popular forms of sport, and its one where fans are accustomed to spending big money to attend races, trick out their own cars, and buy gaming controllers. If Simraceway can grow to host more match-ups than any other racing platform, network effect will kick in and keep in-game purchases flowing. One day, Ignite could become a gaming revenue powerhouse like Activision-Blizzard, whose World of Warcraft helped bring in $754 million in net revenues during Q3 2011.