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Shifting gears: the making of CSR Racing 2

GM Julian Widdows on making racing social
Shifting gears: the making of CSR Racing 2
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It took four years, but Zygna-owned UK developer NaturalMotion finally launched the sequel to its 2012 drag racing hit CSR Racing at the end of June.

CSR Racing 2 maintains thecore gear-changing gameplay and car upgrading metagame established by the original, but this time leads with console quality graphics and an increased focus on social features.

Early indicators, including grossing performance, seem to point to a positive start for CSR Racing 2: it's top 50 grossing on the App Store in the UK, US, South Korea and Germany.

But how did it get to this point?

To learn more about the game's long development, which mainly happened in NaturalMotion's London studio, we reached out to NaturalMotion's Julian Widdows, who works as General Manager on CSR 2. Four years after the original, much of the formula is unchanged in CSR Racing 2. Is that a sign that the original got a lot right, particularly in its metagame/gameplay balance?

Julian Widdows: When we started developing CSR 2 we always wanted to respect the core loop of the original game - the fundamental gameplay experience.

The numbers alone show how much it got right, with 190 million installs to-date across CSR Racing and CSR Classics.

We did want to make the gear shift mechanic more accessible, the metagame deeper, and the elder game more social - we think this is clear in the design aesthetic of CSR 2 - as well as creating a game that graphically exceeded our player’s wildest expectations.

What do you consider the most significant addition for this sequel, and how does it elevate the experience?

There are three areas that are very important for this sequel:

“You’ll find most of the development team online, every day, taking part.”
Julian Widdows

  • Crews, which are a superb way to enhance your experience by collaborating with other players;
  • live online racing, which allows you to compete directly with other racers around the world in real-time;
  • and the updated shift mechanic, which makes gear changing so much more intuitive.

Of the three, the most significant has to be the online racing - a very large percentage of our players are engaging with and loving the synchronous multiplayer experience.

It takes a great core mechanic and adds PvP rivalry to it. You’ll find most of the development team online, every day, taking part - we love it!

The game features stunning, console-rivalling car models. How much do you feel this adds to the experience, and how much of a technological undertaking was it to get it running on mobile?

There’s no doubt it adds a lot, particularly for the car nuts, petrol-heads, and fans of automotive design amongst us.

Even for players who have a more casual love of cars, we think this attention to detail shines through, showing our commitment to our players.


We always wanted CSR 2 to feel like it was giving you the experience of building a dream garage of supercars - the type of collection experience few of us experience in the real-world - and that each model was like a digital, collectible toy.

Getting this to work on mobile devices was certainly a challenge, mostly because to really capitalize on the power of the current devices, we had to use or emulate some of the most advanced graphics, shader and asset creation techniques around.

“We wanted CSR 2 to provide the experience of building a dream garage of supercars.”
Julian Widdows

This commitment to technical innovation has always informed NaturalMotion’s strategy, and will continue to inform our strategy for CSR 2.

It feels as though the racing genre has been in something of a decline on mobile over the past few years. Do you agree, and do you think CSR Racing 2 will benefit from that drought?

There’s still a very healthy market for quality racing games that are thoughtfully designed and developed, and like CSR when it was launched, we hope we can grow the market appetite.

As we deliver our cadence of feature and content updates throughout 2016 and beyond, we’ll truly see what innovations are captivating mobile racing fans.

Have there been any mobile racing games since the originalSR Racing that have inspired you?

We tend to play a very wide range of mobile and console games, across the entire spectrum of genres.

There isn’t a single racing game that’s inspired us as such, but we have naturally been influenced by social games with a strong guild structure, competitive games with solid reward loops, as well as console games with strong lighting and technical art direction, as well as a contemporary motion and graphic design aesthetic.

What was the biggest challenge you overcame during development?

Creating cars with full interiors, real manufacturer options and paint colours, that exceeded console quality levels. This took a lot of work and iteration.

To what extent did being part of the Zynga family benefit this project?

“It’s been one of the most collaborative developments I’ve worked on, and a truly global endeavour.”
Julian Widdows

Zynga has some of the best Product Managers, product infrastructure and live operations teams in gaming.

We’ve had a number of Product Directors working with us on CSR 2, helping optimize the game, and making sure the UX and player journey was as slick as possible, as well as constant support and input from the Central Product and User Testing groups.

It’s been one of the most supportive and collaborative developments I’ve worked on, and has been a truly global endeavor with company talent from 6 continents and 15 countries.

What's next for CSR Racing 2?

We have a robust roadmap of new features and content that we’ll be adding to the game and we’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to our social channels.

Suffice it to say that deepening Online Racing & Crews, and adding more amazing cars and content, are big focal points for us. More to come soon!