“There’s nothing really special about this road in particular,” says Luna Niermann, one of TruckersMP’s Project Coordinators. “It’s just a country road. There are no specific landmarks,” she adds, “or any reason to drive here.”Luna and I are driving from Calais, France, to Duisburg, Germany, on the unremarkable country road that has been a honey pot for TruckersMP drivers over the last six years. Luna’s been particularly involved in the team’s efforts to address Calais to Duisburg over the last few years, most recently consulting with the community on a No-Collision Zone in Duisburg (more on that later). Joining us in our convoy is Matthew Gill, TruckersMP’s Senior Community Manager. We’ve agreed that we’re going to drive like professionals, responsible and safe, even if we can’t guarantee that same courtesy from others on the road.
Above: Watch Adam’s ridealong with the TruckersMP team on Calais to Duisburg.
TruckersMP was first released in May 2014, a passion project for developers Michał Wójtowicz and Eryk Dwornicki. “[ETS2] was a game [Michał] liked and he just wanted to play it with his friends,” Matt explains. As the game didn’t come with a multiplayer mode—ETS2 developers SCS Software have only recently announced their first official multiplayer offering, the eight-person Convoy mode—Wójtowicz and Dwornicki took things into their own hands.
Driven by the growing popularity of these unassuming simulators, as well as streamer attention and word of mouth, the TruckersMP community has grown significantly over the last seven years, recently reaching four million registered players. The mod has grown in concert: TruckersMP is now supported by a team of over 230 people from all over the world, with ten servers across Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator.
Even at this size, the road from Calais to Duisburg attracts a disproportionate number of players. On two of the mod’s three most popular servers, Simulation 1 and Simulation 2, the road and its corresponding intersection are routinely the most congested thoroughfares in Europe. That’s especially the case during peak driving times, typically from 6pm to 8pm UTC, which can see an average of 400 drivers fill the road on any given server. “It can be hectic,” says Matt.
Matt estimates that the road from Calais to Duisburg started gaining in popularity around early 2016. “One of the most popular places in TruckersMP used to be the Europort, the Amsterdam port going into Felixstowe in the UK,” he explains. “Then we saw a slow transition from the Europort, where there was a lot of backed-up traffic, to this place here, Calais-Duisburg.”
It’s not clear exactly why drivers stopped gathering at Europort and made the move to this nondescript stretch of country road, says Luna, but she has her suspicions. “We believe that the Europort was always so full,” she explains. “It was really just a 200 metre road, and it wasn’t as interesting because it was just a bunch of traffic. Here you can still drive,” she says as we pass the road’s first petrol station. “Here you can still see crashes.”
It wasn’t long before the congestion and the chaos became self-perpetuating. “Word of mouth and streams and videos of this place have definitely made it ten times more popular, one hundred percent,” Matt adds. “People just love traffic. It’s the point of an MMO, to see loads of people in one place.” It helps that the road is part of the base game, making it immediately accessible to new TruckersMP players who may not have invested in the growing bank of new maps.
This popularity has, however, created a tension between two major segments of the TruckersMP community: the people who love ‘joyriding’ and the pandemonium that can entail, and the people who play for the simulation. You can see this tension play out on the mod’s very active forums, where threads are routinely started with names like ‘How do you feel about the situation in Duisburg’ and ‘What if Calais-Duisburg road, Suddenly got removed?’ One of the forum’s longest and longest-lasting threads is a pinned guide titled ‘Calais>Duisburg Road: Information and Alternative Routes’, and the comments that follow are polarised at best:
“Why to avoid this road,this road is a legendary road,this road gives the feeling of a real trucking simulation because of the crowd,other parts of the map is empty so that’s doesnt feel good.You are not a real trucker if you dont drive on calais duisburg road”
—Angelforgamers, October 12, 2020
“Mainly because the area in and around Calais and Duisburg is contaminated with incompetent, rude and ignorant players whos main goal seems to be to become the next main actor in one of the “idiots on the road” videos.”
—Blabberbeak, February 25, 2021
This tension is part of what’s made the congestion so difficult to address. The TruckersMP team has implemented a number of measures in order to ease the pressure. They’ve banned trucks with triple trailers from using the road, they’ve added signs and barriers to prevent lawless overtaking, and they’ve stopped people from driving in convoys so that they don’t clog up the road. Late in our drive, Luna points out one of these alterations, a traffic light they’ve added to a T intersection on the outskirts of Duisburg. “In the base game, you wouldn’t see a traffic light here… [but] everyone was just driving wherever they want and whenever they want, so we added this traffic light which kind of works.” Seconds later, a truck storms through the red light right in front of me, colliding with a car and careening off into the shoulder.
These kinds of crashes are also why, in July 2019, the mod team introduced a development road map, ‘Road to Simulation’. “Before this plan,” Luna says, “you basically had collisions everywhere… and you could drive 150 kilometres an hour [90mph] in any vehicle. Imagine on this road, where we now have a limit of 110 kilometres an hour— would be quite dangerous!”
The Road to Simulation, then, was a way for the TruckersMP team to ‘return to [the mod’s] roots of true simulation’. New Simulation and Arcade servers were introduced to cater to different driving philosophies, and speed limits were enforced across the entire map, among other changes. However, the joyriders who approach ETS2 like a game of Burnout have resisted those changes. “We have those people that just want to speed,” Luna says, “like the person on the left of me right now who’s overtaking me on the grass… and now rams me. Great,” she deadpans.
Active moderation of the road would seem like a potential answer; TruckersMP has a team of around 80 moderators working across multiple time zones, both in the game and on reports. However, while the team has experimented with live moderation of Calais to Duisburg, Luna explains that they’ve found it difficult to manage due to the demands of constant vigilance. The majority of the mod team are volunteers, and “we cannot force our volunteers to moderate this road at specific times,” she says. On top of that, Luna points out that the TruckersMP is not in the business of forever-banning people for silly, marginally-antisocial driving—”that wouldn’t be fair,” Luna argues.
There are also some problems with the road that are out of their hands—like, for example, the city of Duisburg. In the base game, this German city is dangerously small, with one major intersection and only two blocks, where drivers can find a hotel, a service centre and a couple of companies where they can pick up and deliver cargo. It was a nightmare for TruckersMP drivers to navigate, causing plenty of collisions and extravagant amounts of money lost on repair costs. The TruckersMP team have done their best to redesign it, in particular expanding the service centre and the tiny petrol station on the outskirts of town.
The team has more recently trialled a No-Collision Zone in Duisburg. The NCZ is a temporary solution to a persistent problem, and it means that all three of us are able to enter the service centre without crashing into any of the other 11 cars and trucks in the tiny forecourt. However, recent community consultation on the NCZ has shown that the TruckersMP community is not in favour of this new innovation.
The team are still looking for better, more permanent solutions, but it’s likely that they’ll be waiting until SCS Software rolls out a long-promised Duisburg redesign—it was meant to be a part of the game’s recent 1.40 update but, Luna tells me, the redesign basically ends before Duisburg’s central intersection. “Duisburg is not included and the entire C-D road is not either.”
Luna and Matt are also very aware that the congestion will not just go away with the redesign of this particular road. Similar congestion issues have been replicated in other servers: for example, on the server that uses the ProMods map modification to radically redesign the European map, the narrow, one-way road through the mountains between Kirkennes and Ivalo can attract hundreds of drivers at any given time. And when the road between Calais and Duisburg was closed for TruckersMP’s 2020 April Fool’s Day event, the team observed that, “only two hours later, we had C-D road 2.0, just 500 metres south.” Luna laughs. “So, yeah, we didn’t change anything.”
As we leave Duisburg and head back to Calais, joining the huge queue at the T intersection outside the town, Matt tells me that the TruckersMP team will ‘always understand’ the popularity of this road: as a place to gather, as a place to create moments, and as a place to be a part of a community—albeit in its most hectic, anarchic form. “As much as we’re gonna hate it,” Matt adds, “we love it.” So, for now, they tinker around the edges to try and make it a good experience for everyone, the joyriders and the serious simulators alike.
I’m suddenly distracted by two cars trying to run me off the road. I’m safe, I’m fine, I’m back on the road… then, thirty seconds later, a truck backs into me at speed, ramming me into the verge. Luna adds, as if in response, “We really want to encourage people to drive somewhere else.”