BMW xDrive Challenge demonstrates what advergames, racing games can do on Facebook

BMW xDrive Challenge is a new Facebook-based driving game developed by game.punks and designed as a promotional tool for the motor company’s series of xDrive-powered four wheel drive cars. The game launched into a public beta in November of 2011 and saw its official release as a full scale game with competitions and prizes on December 15, 2011.

According to our traffic tracking service AppData, BMW xDrive Challenge peaked at 90,000 monthly active users and 9,000 daily active users.

The game gives players the chance to drive several vehicles in the BMW X series, beginning with the X1 and progressing through the increasingly powerful X3, X5 and X6 models.

Players are able to drive freely around the game’s area for as long as they like to get a feel for the cars, and can engage in races by stopping at the start line of the game’s various racing environments, which include Road, Dirt, Ice and River. Players can either challenge their friends to a race, take on computer-controlled opponents or enter daily, weekly and monthly championships, with prizes provided by the game’s sponsors.

Rather than providing real-time racing, BMW xDrive Challenge takes an asynchronous approach, with players recording their best lap times with which to challenge their friends. When racing, a “ghost car” can be seen showing the route the opponent took, but there are no collisions between vehicles. The same is true for the championship races, with the only difference being that opponents are pulled from all over Facebook rather than the player’s friends list.

Completing races awards players with BMW Credits, Race Credits and experience points. BMW Credits are used to refuel and repair the player’s car and purchase new vehicles. Experience points, which are awarded not only for completing the race but also for driving stylishly and accurately, are required alongside BMW Credits to unlock the different vehicles. Race Credits, meanwhile, are used to access championship races.

The game is graphically intensive and as such requires a relatively powerful computer to enjoy to its fullest. The developer recommends an Intel Core 2-powered PC or Mac with a Shader Model 3 graphics card as a minimum. There appear to be a few technical issues at the time of writing — when tested, the game ran consistently well in Mozilla Firefox but sometimes refused to start at all in Google Chrome, giving an error message complaining of “too many players.” The developer does, however, claim to have tested the game on six browsers across PC and Mac, so results may vary.

As an advergame, the game is sponsored by K2, Bang & Olufsen, Deluxe Music, Rauch and BMW itself. The sponsors’ involvement extends not only to having their names on the game’s introductory screens, but also in providing prizes for the championship races. At the time of writing, for example, K2 is offering a prize of some BMW-branded skis for the best drivers on the icy track.

The game has been primarily marketed towards selected countries in the central-eastern European markets (specifically  Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia), and promoted heavily via local BMW Facebook fan pages in those regions. The game has also grown organically through its “friend racing” mechanic as well as Facebook’s usual Like and Share systems. AppData shows relatively steady growth since launch, but it’s still early days for the game, and the team at game.punks is thinking long-term.

“Currently the game is growing, and we are hosting daily, weekly and monthly competitions with prizes from the sponsors,” explained Marco Höglinger, managing director of developer game.punks. “As the game goes into this year, we will look at the options for increasing the number of cars in the game and adding a new game mode to encourage off-road driving.

“[We currently have] no plans to launch on G+,” added Höglinger, on the subject of potential expansion to other platforms alongside Facebook. “It would be an interesting experiment to launch on a mobile market, and also on gaming networks such as BigPoint and Steam. This would need to be negotiated with the brand holder, though.”