04/28/2017 1:36PM

Giwner: Off And Pacing is a true game changer

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Off And Pacing is available now on Android devices and will be on IOS devices in the coming days.

Off And Pacing is the most exciting addition to Harness Racing since the pick four. It has those inside and around the industry buzzing while creating a renewed passion for the sport.

At its core, Off And Pacing is a simulation APP for IOS and Android devices which allows users to create and manage their own standardbreds while watching the progression through each season. It was launched as a Beta version back in January and has amassed nearly 2,000 active users almost exclusively through word of mouth.

“The harness racing community is incredible,” said creator Ryan Clements, who admitted that the game has grown more quickly than he could have expected. “It was definitely a pain point, but it forced us to get a new server more quickly. It was a mixed blessing.”

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Off And Pacing has developed a strong following throughout all levels of the harness racing hierarchy—From top drivers and trainers like Yannick Gingras (Gingras3 is his stable name) and Casie Coleman (West Wins) to owners and grooms. Gingras is as active as any owner in the game, constantly claiming and buying horses. His desire to win carries over from the track. “I want to win them all, “said Gingras, laughing.

“Every morning when I get up I enter my horses and put some claims in,” said Coleman. “It is a fun game that helps pass the time when nothing is going on.”

Owner and caretaker Cory Stratton, who says he has recruited about a dozen people to the game, loves the idea that he can be the top owner in the sport. “I love that it’s harness racing and it gives you a chance to own anything that in real life isn’t possible. I like being on it way better than reading stuff on social media.”

As an industry that is constantly reminded of the need to “get younger,” Off And Pacing provides that avenue. In a recently completely Twitter survey on who is actually playing the game, almost 60% of the respondents replied that they were under 35 years old. That likely doesn’t even include those 10 and under who are being exposed but aren’t yet on Twitter.

Gingras’ kids, who are ages 12 and under, have been playing the game. “They love it,” said Gingras, who only had to explain the basics to his youngest child. “They enter horses and watch them race, but most of their horses aren’t very good, which is discouraging.”

“I think so,” said 22-year-old driver Drew Monti when asked if this game could appeal to people of his generation. “I know a lot of people my age in the sport like it. Being so easily accessible through your phone makes a big difference.

“I would absolutely recommend it and help my immediate friends outside of horse racing. I think once they understand it, they’d enjoy it.”

Clements said that the game seems to be attracting those outside the sport as well. That was one of the driving forces behind his decision to pursue the venture.

“At least 100 (of 2,000 active beta users) have nothing direct to do with Harness Racing and they are addicted to it from watching their activity. What I’ve seen is that many of them have a first degree connection to the sport. They are usually a friend of a driver or trainer who wasn’t interested in harness racing prior to the game,” said Clements, who comes from a racing family that includes his grandfather Norm Clements (owner of the great Cam Fella) and his father Dan Clements (trainer/driver).

Clements inherited that same passion for the sport and Off And Pacing is his expression of that love. He sees the game as a way to expand the reach of Harness Racing through more basic emotions than simply gambling.

“That is one of my main motivations behind this game,” said Clements, “And it’s one of the main reasons I’m keeping gambling out of the game. I want people to fall in love with the sport itself.

“One of the main reasons I find it hard to get friends interested in horse racing is because it is 100% focused on the betting. I turn on the TV and it’s the most boring thing in the world for them to watch. There are no storylines talked about and no personalities like other sports focus on. Just ‘the Hi-5 pool has a carryover of $XX,XXX, superfecta and trifecta wagering available’ and ‘here’s my pick four ticket. I singled the 2 in the third leg.’ They might as well be speaking a foreign language.”

Of course, Clements also lives in the real world and is looking to make a buck to support his family. The 30-year-old is hoping to eventually reach 10,000 active players when the game officially launches in the next few days (the game soft-launched for Android on Thursday April 27 and should hit IOS by early the following week at the latest) and perhaps venture into a Thoroughbred version in the future with the goal of reaching a larger audience.

“I thought it was best to hit the niche market first, also because I’m a harness guy,” said Clements. “If we can perfect the game for a year, then we can explore a Thoroughbred APP down the road.”

The path to success for Clements requires users to buy coins that will assist them in advancing in the game faster. Currently a new player would start off with a free horse and 40,000 coins, but if you want to immerse yourself in the Off And Pacing experience, unless you get a champion with your first two horses, it could take a couple of months without visiting the coin store.

“The majority will play for free, but certain people will want to be competitive and spend to be at the top of the leaderboard,” said Clements. “If you look at a game like Game of War, these popular games average about $400 per player. People are quick to spend $1 on a game to have a better experience.

“We expect the main driver of income to be the 200,000 coins (current maximum cost for a horse) it costs to instantly buy a horse. That part becomes sort of addictive to some players as they search for a top horse. Once we launch, people will have the ability to buy large amounts of coins instantly at rather cheap costs.

“Everyone will have their own style on how they want to play,” he continued. “At this point, I get 5 to 10 messages a day on why coin purchases aren’t available, so there is definitely a desire to buy them.”

The game play itself is still evolving with each passing day. With the help of his increasing beta testing community, this writer included, hundreds of bugs have been weeded out and nearly as many enhancements have been put in place.

As Clements grows his development team (he just added one person and another is coming on board next week), new features will continue to be introduced via updates, including more dynamic drivers and perhaps the ability to give drivers instructions before the race.

Currently a new player is greeted by a picture of a driver who invites the user to create a new horse to start their stable. The player may use their imagination to come up with an original name and get started, but the game can get a bit confusing for a racing “newbie” once the horse is created.

“We haven’t explained anything. We need to go over it and polish it to make it friendlier for all users,” said Clements, who added that his team has a rough mapped out idea for explaining the fundamentals of playing. “We are behind on that. We decided to soft launch the game first and catch up on it in the coming weeks. Eventually it will walk you through the game and technical harness racing jargon.

“You know how ‘Dan’ is there when you create your stable. He will probably walk new users through the basics of how to enter races, read programs and anything like that.”

Once you have the basic knowledge, from personal experience, it is easy to become engulfed in the action. From season one when I started playing back on January 25 (each 24 hour period contains two weeks and a year in the game lasts 26 days), I found myself rooting just as hard for one of my top horses as I would if I was rooting home a longshot while holding the winning ticket.

Of course it helps to “luck into” a good one from the start and I did with a filly named Jemily, who earned over a million coins for my Boom Town stable. After a couple of years searching for the next champion, as season four comes to a close, I’m sitting with the best 2-year-old in the game (Just A Rumble) and hoping for a win in the 1,000,000 coin Prince Lee Final. The excitement is real . . . or at least it feels real.

“We want to keep that true emotion; the feeling of anticipation of the two minutes or so when your horse is racing. I think so far we are tapping into that a little bit,” said Clements.

There is a clear learning curve to mastering the game and Clements has been very open in listening to new ideas to enhance the experience even further. Ultimately he hopes Off And Pacing can create a new audience for the sport and perhaps even provide a testing ground for what will help Harness Racing succeed.

“I’m hoping we can experiment with things, find out how to make the sport more exciting, and then get the industry to give it a shot for real,” said Clements, who has partnered with many real-life tracks to include them in the game and create awareness for the sport. Hoosier Park and The Meadowlands are already incorporated and other tracks have signed up as well.

The Off And Pacing founder also sees further integration between fantasy and reality in the future. An idea to broadcast major Off And Pacing stakes between races at tracks could help to pass the time for people hanging out at their local track. “We are looking to broadcast the races on the infield toteboard at Woodbine or Meadowlands down the road. We’ll definitely stream the top races live on Twitter and Facebook. We are also having James Witherite record sound bites for race calls,” said Clements.

“Down the road I think we’ll be able to simulate a real race, the same as EA Sports does with a hockey game” said Clements, adding that it could be used as a potential handicapping tool of sorts.

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For now, as the clock ticks down to the official launch of Off And Pacing, Clements is just excited to have been able to put two of his passions to good use.

“I’m putting my best effort in,” said Clements, who has worked all hours of the day and night to see this project to fruition. “I’ve been a software developer for years, building stuff I’m not passionate about. I just had a baby and it worked out to be a good time to get a little team together and give this a shot. I’m trying hard to make it work because I love doing this.”

Secrets to playing Off And Pacing

While anyone can simply enter the Off And Pacing APP and play without issue, there are many little details to the game that you won’t be able to immediately understand without some help. With that in mind, below are some hints to playing the game.

►         Each horse has four bars that describe their strengths and abilities. From top to bottom they are Speed, Stamina, Gate Speed and Heart. By far the most important characteristic is Speed.

►         Horses improve gradually over a short or long period of time. A great 2-year-old may only be great for one or two seasons. A bad 2-year-old may become a great 4-year-old.

►         Enter horses where they can win. While it is tempting to race a horse over its head to get an extra start, you are better off missing a week and classifying properly.

►         Enter horses as soon as possible. The longer you wait the lower your chances will be of racing in the current week.

►         There are horses for courses. Certain horses will race better on a half-mile track than perhaps a mile track.

►          It is better to buy new 2-year-olds at the start of the year since if you get a good one you’ll be able to earn money the entire year rather than potentially missing out if that horse plateaus early. That said, whether you buy the horse on week 1 or week 50, the horses’ stats will be the same on week 50 regardless.

►         Horses can race as much as allowed without tiring. You can’t over-race them.

►         Look for horses in claiming races without many starts. People tend to give up on horses too quickly.