Catch Me If You Can

Ryan Clements makes another foray into esports

story by Jay Wolf

For years, one of the greatest debates in harness racing has been how to attract the next genera-tion of fans. While many approaches have been attempted, maybe the newly released Catch Driver mobile app has accomplished the most to reach that goal.

Catch Driver was launched in August 2018 in the Apple and Google Play stores for download to any mobile device. The free game allows fans to experience the excitement of competing as a driv-er against other “drivers” from around the world.

Catch Driver was introduced a year after the successful release of another harness racing app, Off and Pacing, a stable management game.
Both games were created by app development company The Farm Ventures and its founder, Ryan Clements.

With Off and Pacing, which has now been downloaded by over 50,000 players, Clements wanted users to experience a glimpse of what it is like to own a horse with all the anticipation and excite-ment—and even frustration when things do not go as planned.

“With Catch Driver, we wanted to let users experience a totally different side of the sport,” said the 32-year-old Clements. “In this game, users simply drive in a strategic, multi-player, arcade-style game. Users are paired up with other users from around the world, and put into a race together real time.”

Catch Driver already has over 30,000 downloads, and is on track to far surpass Off and Pacing’s reach.

“We are very excited about the impact we hope this game can make in exposing players to har-ness racing for the first time,” Clements said.
Once a user enters the game, they can select their user name, driver’s colors and facial features. As the race begins, the driver must rate their horse and make split-second decisions against up to nine other drivers.

Recent upgrades to the game include stakes races, drivers’ championships and even virtual ver-sions of real races using the actual field from the event.
Last year, players had a chance to participate in the McWicked vs. Lazarus rivalry in a virtual rendition of the Canadian Pacing Derby.

 

Testimonials from the Pros

While Clements’ goal was to attract new North American fans, Catch Driver has developed an in-ternational following.
Currently, Italians make up 33 percent of the game’s daily active users. The U.S. is currently the second largest audience with 20 percent of the daily active users.
Catch Driver reached the No. 1 spot for top-grossing racing game in the app store in both New Zealand and Malta. It has also been in the top 10 in Canada, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Australia.

A number of North America’s top reinsmen are active participants in Catch Driver, including Aa-ron Merriman, Jody Jamieson, Doug McNair, Joe Bongiorno, Jordan Stratton, Marcus Miller and Co-rey Callahan. Besides being excellent in their chosen profession, these gentlemen have one other thing in common: they are young.
“It’s a good game to play,” McNair said. “I get almost as competitive in the game as I do on the track.”

Merriman, North America’s leading driver in 2018, agrees. “I love it,” he said.

One item missing from the game is rules. There are no fines, penalties or suspensions given for a poor effort or locking wheels. The game designates “pro drivers” with a star beside their name so other users can recognize when they are racing against a real-life professional.

“Oh, it gets frustrating for sure,” Merriman said. “I think they try to keep me locked in and run me around the track.”

“We have no paid participants in the games,” Clements said. “We greatly appreciate the support that recognizable names in the sport have given us by playing.”

 

A Nod to the Past

Clements is no stranger to harness racing and often pays homage to the history of the sport.

A native of Uxbridge, Ont., he is the son of trainer Dan Clements and grandson of Norm Clem-ents, who co-owned the great Cam Fella with Norman Faulkner and later Jef’s Stdbrd Country Club.

The grandson grew up on the horse farm where Cam Fella was stabled, Prince Lee Acres, the namesake of the fictional half-mile track in the game.

The Cam Fella connection doesn’t end there. The Farm Ventures was created from the office building just outside of the Cam Fella Lounge, which served as the champion’s trophy room.

Clements has started a fractional ownership group in the past and recently owned a claimer by the name of Rockin Ronnie. The 6-year-old Rocknroll Hanover gelding also makes an appearance in Catch Driver.

The game also features several other active horses, including the 2018 Three Diamonds cham-pion Prescient Beauty, who was steered to victory by McNair.

 

Driving New Fans

“Our mission is to promote the sport of harness racing, which has allowed us to work closely with participants and racetracks, as our goals are well aligned,” said Clements. “It is impossible to intro-duce a new generation to this sport directly through gambling. Try as hard as you want and get the smartest, most talented people in the world—I can promise you it just won’t happen.

“Millennials bet on things they understand, and feel like they have the inside edge on such com-modities as esports, which allow them to spend countless hours playing a game themselves and learning every little detail about it. They will never feel that they have the edge over a 65-year-old guy who has spent every day in the last 40 years at the track.

“Instead, give someone 1,000 drives in Catch Driver to race against some top names in the sport, learning the strategy of racing. Give them a few months of running a stable in Off and Pacing to learn about conditions, and how to classify a horse. Let them learn to read the program on their own with the simplified version in Off and Pacing. I’m willing to wager that this person has a fair start to being better prepared to bet on real racing, and may actually have the confidence to give it a shot. This is the power mobile games have to impact the sport that I love.”

Clements’ excitement about the future prospect of electronic games in horse racing is shared by the Thoroughbred industry.

In November 2014, Churchill Downs Inc. paid $485 million for Big Fish Games, a Seattle-based publisher of mobile games. CDI sold the entity just three years later for $990 million.
“I think (Churchill) showed a lot of insight into where the racing industry needs to head,” Clem-ents said. “We are currently looking for a key partner to help us put some weight behind our ef-forts. My hope is that we can find a forward-thinking industry leader who can recognize the im-portant role mobile games can play in the future of our sport.”

 

A Leap of Faith

While Catch Driver has grown with very little traditional marketing, Clements’ greatest sales job was persuading other app developers to join The Farm Ventures team.

“When the company started, I hired one other software developer on a six-month contract, and told him the stark reality that we had a six-month time bomb below our desk,” Clements said. “If we couldn’t produce a revenue-generating game by that time, we would have to go find other jobs. Fortunately, Off and Pacing took off before we even had time to launch it fully and it just kept growing.

“I am so proud of what our team has accomplished, building this from the ground up, mainly bootstrapped surviving and growing off revenue from the games.”

 

Not Standing Pat

Millennials today appear to have ever-changing tastes; therefore, the developers of Catch Driver know they must not be afraid of making upgrades and changes to the game.

“When we release games, it is just the beginning of their development,” Clements said. “As the game builds an audience, it allows us to pour more resources into building it out. We will continue to develop this game, hopefully, for years to come, making incremental improvements in monthly updates.”

Current users of the game should continue to see changes and additions, including tournaments, match races and race replays.

“A (head-to-head) tournament is the big one we are working on right now,” Clements said. “We are taking our first step into the world of esports, and we want to crown the world’s best virtual harness driver. We are currently in the planning stages to make this happen. The likely format will be regional qualifiers leading to a global championship where users will face off for exciting
real-life prizes.

“We also want users to be able to relive their greatest or worst drives, and share them with their friends.”
Merriman is excited about the future of Clements’ latest creation.

“I am anxious to see how Catch Driver evolves and continues to grow,” he said. HB

Jay Wolf is a freelance writer living in Ohio. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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