It’s a little early for Microsoft to be talking up the next version of its “Forza” racing game — the game isn’t likely to go on sale until the holiday season — but it couldn’t hold back today’s news.
The company announced that it’s collaborating with Ford to put the new Ford GT supercar on the cover of “Forza Motorsport 6” and give the car a prominent place in the upcoming Xbox One title.
Ford’s performance division unveiled the GT today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, along with a new racing version of the Mustang dubbed the GT450R and a new Raptor off-road F150.
All three cars will be featured in “Forza,” a showcase of the Xbox platform’s graphics capabilities, which are known for their ultra-realistic depiction of cars old and new. The game is developed by Turn 10 Studios, a Microsoft group based in Redmond. (Here’s a recent story on Turn 10 and “Forza.”)
“Forza” has always had a notable cover car that helps promote both the game and the car. An orange McLaren P1 was the signature of “Forza 5,” which was a launch title for the Xbox One console in 2013 and a mockup continues to grace the lobby at Turn 10’s offices. But this is the first time the company has simultaneously announced its next game alongside a car launch.
It’s unlikely that a Ford GT will be added to the lobby, but Ford does plan to bring one of the cars to the E3 game conference in Los Angeles in June, according to Henry Ford III, who heads marketing of the performance group.
“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to market and reach out to customers,” Ford said.
Working with “Forza” will help the company tell its “performance story” to younger audiences in the U.S. and other regions, such as China and Europe, where both Xbox and Ford have a growing presence, he said.
The new GT is designed to compete with supercars like McLarens and Lamborghinis while showcasing technology that could someday trickle down to other Ford models. It’s powered by a V6 “EcoBoost” engine tuned to 600 horsepower and has a body made largely of carbon-fiber composite material.
Such engineering is pushing Turn 10 to “go off and rework things, change our physics,” studio head Alan Hartman said.
“We have to develop the game alongside this car to not only handle the GT but, I think, this trend across the industry, lighter-weight performance engineering,” he said.
Details of the business relationship weren’t specified, but Ford and Hartman said it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Ford, the son of Edsel Ford II and the great, great-grandson of the company founder, said he hasn’t spent a lot of time playing games like “Forza” but the collaboration has “sort of opened my eyes to really a whole new world.”
“I have to admit I have not been a huge fan of racing games in the past but that is quickly changing,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve really understood the complexity of developing a game like this and the level of detail that’s required to make a realistic game.”
Hartman wouldn’t reveal much at all about “Forza 6,” saying it’s still in development and will be described more fully at E3. It’s likely to go on sale this fall, in advance of the GT’s availability in late 2016.
But Hartman said there will be a way for “Forza 6” players to quickly experience the Ford GT, without having to unlock the car by advancing through the game or making an extra payment.
Hartman also let slip that “Forza 6” players will be able to race all three generations of the Ford GT head-to-head at Le Mans. In 1966, a team of GT40s famously beat the reigning champion Ferrari in a 1-2-3 finish at the French track.
Ford briefly resumed production of its supercar a decade ago with the GT model. The first production model ended up not far from Turn 10. It was sold to Jon Shirley, a former president of Microsoft, in a charity auction that netted around $550,000.
Asked whether the first of the new GTs will also go to Shirley, Ford said that remains to be seen, since the first models are traditionally sold at auction.
“We give the proceeds to charity. We haven’t made any decisions yet,” he said.
Whoever bids will probably have to pay a lot more than $550,000, which could be close to the GT’s list price. Most will have to settle for the model coming with a $60 copy of “Forza 6.”
A few more images from Ford: