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Ridge Racer Makes Daring Free-Style Move

Ridge Racer Makes Daring Free-Style Move

Namco Bandai is trying out free-to-play with its next installment in the Ridge Racer franchise. The way the model works is that the game typically is provided for free but premium content and extras are charged for -- thus enabling players to determine whether they like it before actually paying for anything. Some hardcore fans may be turned off, though, dismissing anything free as unworthy.

By Peter Suciu TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
04/12/13 8:00 AM PT

There are several notable standout series in the world of car-racing games, including The Need for Speed from Electronic Arts and Gran Turismo from Sony. However, Namco Bandai's Ridge Racer could surge past the competition with a new free-to-play model.

"We spent a year looking at this," said Carlson Choi, vice president of marketing at Namco Bandai Games. "Free-to-play is offering another way for new gamers to try."

Given that car buffs often think nothing of dropping several thousand dollars on aftermarket parts but then avoid spending even a few dollars for a game, this could be another way to capture the vertical market, Choi told TechNewsWorld.

Go Speed Racer Go

First hitting the arcades in 1993 and then arriving on the PlayStation a year later, the Ridge Racer series has long put players behind the wheel of real-life inspired cars across numerous platforms, including mobile handsets. The free-to-play option could allow the casual gamer and the longtime fan alike to get on the virtual road again.

"The things you own -- you often care about them more," said Brian Hong, senior global brand manager at Namco Bandai. "This is what makes the free-to-play experience all the more compelling."

For Ridge Racer Driftopia, this will include virtual trading cards that will be part of the experience and which very much play into the standard card modus operandi of "collect them all."

Lowering Barriers

Offering the game for free -- or at least some of it for free -- could help put more people behind the steering wheel, especially those who may be drawn to The Need for Speed or other competing racing franchises.

"One of the main tenets is to lower the barrier to entry, and we know that for many of the fans, if you have a longstanding brand and it is free to play, it is a good reason to try it out," Hong told TechNewsWorld. "That is why a lot of publishers are getting into the free-to-play."

For the publishers, it's about ensuring that the hardcore fans will pay more than their fare share, which could be required for this experiment to be profitable.

"It does take away the barrier for entry as gamers don't have to pay for it," said video game analyst Billy Pidgeon. "Those who do pay, however, can end up paying a lot. There is that small number of so-called whales, but there are also the causal gamers who won't pay anything."

Driving Users

Although Ridge Racer Driftopia is taking the turn to free-to-play, it's questionable how long Namco Bandai will support it if those hardcore fans don't come. The prospect of its being free-to-play could actually turn off some fans, which could be why the publisher was careful not to deem this the true Ridge Racer 8.

That said, "this isn't something that is just an in-between," insisted Hong. "This isn't 'Ridge Racer Lite,' this is the next Ridge Racer. We never want to cheat the fans or let them down. From our perspective, we're trying to deliver something that can appeal to everyone."

Yet core gamers may hear "free-to-play" and think of it negatively, Hong admitted. With that in mind, the company knows that it will have to do more than just a simple road test before deciding if it made the wrong turn.

"If we see it more as a revenue suck as opposed to a revenue stream, then we face a decision as whether we have to shut it down," said Hong. "We are still a long way from there, and we do think this is one that will deliver."


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