Day At The Track

Ryan Clements - video game developer

05:59 AM 19 May 2020 NZST
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Ryan Clements, harness racing
Ryan Clements is working overtime to help provide compelling content for harness racing fans all over the world
Ryan Clements Photo

Columbus, OH — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryan Clements, a harness racing fan and video game developer, has been doing his best to make sure the sport continues to be “off and pacing.”

Clements created an app by the same name (Off And Pacing) in 2017, and in 2018 he added Catch Driver to his arsenal of racing-related entertainment apps. His goal was to use modern technology to keep racing relevant and help attract a new, younger audience to the sport.

Now, in the absence of live racing, Clements is working overtime to help provide compelling content for harness racing fans all over the world.

“Initially after everything settled in and people were stuck at home, we saw a pretty significant uptick in our daily users and the amount of people who play our games,” said Clements.

Clements and the four others who make up The Farm Ventures — Mathew Corey, development manager; Nick Smilovic, junior developer; Landon Mulhall, marketing coordinator; and Alexander Wong, 3D game artist — saw a silver lining in the COVID-19 shutdown and wanted to help. They’ve ramped up production and have been offering specialized content.

“Our games have been built in a way where they weren’t going to crash,” said Clements. “Servers aren’t going to have any issues dealing with the extra traffic; things were smooth on that front. What we needed to react to quickly was planning special things for the games, because they were getting more attention. We’re doing some things with the USTA, simulated races, and some stuff with Catch Driver and some races there. So, planning these events took a lot of our attention.”

One of these special events included partnering with the USTA. When USTA Social Media coordinator Michael Carter approached Clements with the idea to create simulated stakes races he immediately said yes. It was something The Farm team had considered but hadn’t done before.

“We knew we could do it, but unless we have a partner that wants to put a broadcast together, it was just something we didn’t really have time to focus on,” said Clements. “So, when I heard that the USTA wanted to put together these broadcasts and call the races, and have a guest handicapper, I just thought it sounded like a ton of fun and we put it together.”

In effort to continue to bring racing to fans during the quarantine, Clements and his team have worked with Carter and USTA Digital Brand Strategist Jason Turner to create virtual races that simulate actual real-world races. Using the Off And Pacing software, Clements and his team were able to give virtual horses real-life character traits such as gait, speed, stamina, and heart.

“It’s a fun way to stay tuned into racing,” said Carter. “My guest and I handicap it like it’s a real race, using past performances and performances in other virtual races if there are any. It’s our way of helping fans see what may have happened in certain stakes races even if they were postponed or canceled.”

The Farm’s plans for growing harness racing’s fan base extends beyond the current pandemic, however, with plans in the works to create a virtual reality experience for current and prospective fans. Recently they received funding from the Central Ontario Standardbred Association to develop their first virtual reality unit. The original plan was to launch the first model at a track in May, but plans came to a halt with the onset of COVID-19.

“Obviously, I don’t think there are going to be any racetracks open to spectators by then, but as soon as the tracks are open, we are going to have that geared up, ready to go,” said Clements. “It’s going to be basically Catch Driver but you’re going to be able to sit in the sulky, hold the real reigns through the VR (virtual reality) headset and be put right into that virtual world. So that’s our next thing to come. We are hoping to roll that out around the world, hoping to have that at as many racetracks as possible.”

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