The latest edition in the Forza Motorsport franchise cut out its in-game soundtrack, much to the disappointment of its fans.

Music had become a crucial part of their experience and a popular talking point, injecting personality and excitement into the game.

And with other racing game music going on to have a life beyond the racetrack, Forza’s musical gear change in ‘Forza Motorsport’, the eighth title and soft reboot of the Motorsport sub-series of their franchise, took fans by surprise. 

How did we get here?

The twists and turns of Forza’s musical racetrack

From the beginning of the Motorsport franchise, Forza has pushed the boundaries and experimented with the genre of music in its games. 

Across its eight-game franchise, the music has mostly alternated between rock and electronic music, exploring the sub-genres of each.

The original Forza Motorsport in 2005 began as a mix of metal, rock, and indie-rock music. It featured tracks composed and remixed by Junkie XL (aka Tom Holkenberg) who has since become known for his film scores to Mad Max: Fury Road and Batman vs Superman.

The franchise has variously flipped between licensed and composed music (and a mix), exploring genres such as house (Forza 2), D’N’B (Forza 4), and ambient music (Forza 5). Since Motorsport 6, composer duo Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen have taken the wheel on the Forza soundtracks.. 

But with the new Forza Motorsport – which has notably removed music from the game’s racing –  the genre mix has pivoted back to electronic. 

Its music, which now plays only on menu screens, has more in common with Forza Motorsport 5 due to its use of electronic, ambient, indie genres. Synthwave also influences the game’s main theme and soundtrack, making it the most prominent use of this genre so far in the franchise.

This new mix of genres could be because there’s no need for the composers to be supporting high-octane racing any more, potentially opening their compositional palette.

And it’s not just genre that this new musical approach affects. Forza Motorsport (2023) has the lowest average energy in the entire Motorsport franchise.

And Cohen and Nielsen have experimented with new moods. Previous Forza releases have been powerful, frantic, and inspiring before. But in the new game, to match the lobby’s menu music, there’s a new tense, neutral atmosphere that’s also surprisingly chill.

A musical pit stop

But why has the franchise decided to omit its music from the in-game racing experience?

As we’ve seen, Forza Motorsport has never been afraid to experiment with its use of music in the franchise, so perhaps this just represents the latest iteration of its development. 

Maybe the lack of in-game music is part of the franchise's revitalised effort to make a more realistic and detailed racing soundscape, down to specific engine customisations. 

Or the shift in Forza’s use of music might reflect trends in broader music listening behaviour. On Reddit, 91% of fans for Forza’s other franchise Horizon voted they’d prefer the option of muting all in-game music.  

And with SoundCloud’s own Discord bot offering more personalised listening experiences, game developers may be responding to audience feedback.

Games as a vehicle for music discovery

But mainstream games are a platform for artists to reach audiences in unique ways, a stepping stone to stardom.

Video games, especially ones with the stature of EA Sports FC, provide an unparalleled music discovery platform, an important avenue for music marketing, and a badge of recognition for up-and-coming artists.

And while the way we consume music is constantly evolving, many gamers have formed a bond with the tracks they have raced to.

Is Forza Motorsport ahead of the pack when it comes to putting a hard stop on in-race music? Could it be an early signal of developers responding to listening behaviour? Or is this merely a bump in the road for this important music discovery vehicle?

Let’s see what the fans say, and whether the decision is reversed in Motorsport 9.

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