There has been too much racing wheel talk lately for me not to chime in.
So, racing wheels. Bought my first one around 97 or so. Thrustmaster wheel with suction cups, no clamps.. Rubber band for resistance.. Had to take it back, cause.. suction cups??? Anyways, had a lot of wheels, played a lot of games/sims. Here's how I see it:
There are games where you need a racing wheel, and when I say need I mean need, there's no way to play them with a gamepad, and there are games that are just horrible with a wheel.
Some games that are not good with a wheel:
Ridge Racer and other types of insane physics defying twitch-driving-games
Some simulators that demand a wheel:
Live for Speed (not to be confused with Need for Speed)
Richard Burns Rally
This is kind of where I think most people make a misjudgment. If you're not going to be racing hardcore ultra realistic simulators there's no reason why you would have to buy a wheel. But, if you want a wheel to further your immersion, there's a third category of games, and this is where most people get their bad racing wheel experiences.
Games ranging from stuff like Need for Speed, Burnout and the likes, these are games you can play with a wheel, but the experience is pretty bad. In games like these you will most likely have a crappy experience and find the wheel to be harder to use than the joypad.
One step up you have games like Grid and Dirt, these games are right smack in the middle and are great no matter what you use (although Dirt is a rally game, so there's a whole lot of steering going on. Force Feedback low and about 280 degree lock is what I use for those games, lest I ruin my arms.)
Next step up is Gran Turismo/Forza etc. These games/sims are playable with a joypad with a few assists on. Even playable with all of them off, but at that point you'll notice that a wheel is going to be a major improvement for controls.
Up from there and you end up in the sim category, and as I noted, just no room for joypads there.
So.. Why do sims blow with controllers and games suck with wheels? It's pretty much all about the fidelity of simulation. A ridge racer style game will have no grooves in the tarmac, no potholes and slippery new patches of asfalt etc. It's basically just a uniform smooth surface. This means the straights are straight, just line your car up with the stripe and give it some gas.
The opposite end of the spectrum, iRacing, the tracks are laser scanned. There are groves and indents and stuff all over the track, you can actually feel the ground give way if you're going really fast over a part of the track that's sunken down a bit. Corners might have a bump in them (iRacing - lime rock park, top of the "hill", go fast over that hilltop there and your ass lifts a bit, sending you flying.) All these things in addition to tyre deformation, realistic suspension travel meaning you'll get realistic weight shifting in turns and during deceleration, inertia out of turns means you'll have to apply throttle slowly, if you don't and you spin a smidge you have to let back on the throttle some and correct ever so slightly.. So much stuff.. All of it means you have to constantly correct and adjust. This is basically undoable with a joypad. You need to correct just tiny amounts all the time, and the travel on the sticks and triggers are not nearly adequate. Same thing holds true the other way around. Ridge Racer is a game where you're basically either not touching the stick or pressing it full left or full right. That game worked sweet without dual shock.. That's a game that won't work all that great with a wheel.
Also, Trackmania.. So, SO not a racing wheel game. Especially considering the binding of axis in that game is horrible. When Jeff used it on unprofessional fridays it was set to either go full left or full right, pretty much.. Analog device giving digital input.. not good.
So... If you don't play racing games that require a racing wheel, then A: You're playing the wrong racing games, and B: Don't start playing games that need a racing wheel, cause that path leads to you also getting into flight sims at some point (It'll happen, trust me.) and that path.. leads to you building your own god damn cockpit. And once you're done with your flight sim cockpit.. You're going to want a racing pit as well, cause you're already so far down the simulation hole, it kinda makes no sense not having one...
Anyways, wheels aren't that expensive and they add more to games than pretty much any other peripheral. Buy one and start practicing your heel-toe down shifts. Racing sims have so much depth most people aren't aware of. Well worth getting into.
Sorry about the length and how messy this is. I could tidy it up but I just don't have it in me.