DiRT Rally's success on PC has given Codemasters "a renewed confidence" in its decision to lead the franchise in a more realistic direction, leading to some "very exciting" talks about where to take the series in the future.
Speaking to VideoGamer.com last week, chief game designer Paul Coleman explained that "part of the reason" for launching DiRT Rally in Early Access "was due to a lack of confidence in [whether] people are going to want a simulation rally game. It's a niche of a niche of a niche. Racing games are a niche, rally's a niche of a niche, and then you're putting the simulation end of that spectrum in there.
"But I think actually when you look at the reaction that has been had, and you compare it to some of the other rally games that are coming out or have come out, they perhaps haven't gone that far to the simulation end of the spectrum and they've been not as well-received, I think it's fair to say, as a result of that. So I think there's definitely some validation that's gone on that has meant that people are a lot more confident in that end of the spectrum."
Earlier DiRT games adopted a more forgiving arcade handling model, which was abandoned for a hardcore simulation engine in DiRT Rally. The reaction to the new game, however, has proved that Codemasters "can hold our own in that area of racing games", Coleman says.
"We don't need to go mass market to make a success," he adds. "There's always going to be the question of can we hit the dizzy heights of DiRT 3 again? To that I would argue that we possibly could do with DiRT Rally on console... I firmly believe there are discerning racing game players out there that are still looking for a serious experience on their new consoles that they haven't had necessarily from some of the other big players out there. So I'm hoping it does catch on with word of mouth.
"I don't know how much detail I can go into but I think it's fair to say that the budgets that we've spent on marketing DiRT Rally have been absolutely bare minimum," he continued. "It's relied on community and spreading the word rather than any big campaigns anywhere. In fact, I think now that we're going onto console, that's where people are going to start getting more aware of DiRT Rally as a game that exists rather than just being something they heard their friend played once."
While some PS4 and Xbox One players may have been frustrated by the 12 month wait for DiRT Rally to come to console, launching in Early Access helped the studio validate its decisions far earlier on in the development process, Coleman says, and prove that there is enough demand for a hardcore rally experience.
"I think what DiRT Rally has shown is that people have an appetite for this and I think there's a lot of things that we feel as a studio we didn't get the opportunity to do properly," he says, "and had we known it was going to be this big we'd have done things right in the first place, and the DiRT game that would have come out 18 months after we'd perhaps spoken before Early Access would have been much more polished, a few more bells & whistles in there, and would have been that much more complete experience that I think people were looking for. That's actually what we're looking at potentially doing further down the line."
But would Codemasters ever launch a game in Early Access again? Yes, says Coleman, but only under the right circumstances.
"I would totally do it again," he says, "but it would have to be the right thing to do it with. I wouldn't want to go out there and say, 'Hey, we're making DiRT Rally 2. And guess what? We're doing Early Access again because you liked it when we did it last time'. I think it needs the right scenario for it to make sense.
"I think if you've got something that you want to test and validate against a group of players, it's a great way to find out whether the concept you've come up with is something that is palatable to those players. And yeah, I would do it again but the situation would have to be right for it."
As for where DiRT goes in the future, though - and whether it's with or without Early Access - Coleman suggests that Codemasters may be sticking with the simulation model for some time to come.
"In terms of where we go from [here], I think we've learned a lot from DiRT Rally and I think it's given us renewed confidence in going down that road and making a very authentic rally experience. And while I don't want to go into much detail about it, I think it's giving us a lot to think about in the studio. I think I can speak a lot more confidently about our future being a bright one without going into too much detail, but some of the conversations I'm having upstairs are very exciting and I think people are going to be really surprised and excited when we do come out with more info in the future."
DiRT Rally launches on PS4 and Xbox One on April 5. For the first footage of the PS4 version in action, take a look below.