Free to play games are the way of the future, and not just for MMOs if the upcoming Ridge Racer Driftopia is any indication.
Alongside Tekken, Ridge Racer really defined Namco Bandai during the era of the original PlayStation. While the former franchise has grown into the world's best-selling fighting game franchise, the latter has somewhat fallen off the radar. While Ridge Racer sequels did tidy business during the PlayStation's life span, the series grew increasingly obscure during the PlayStation 2 and 3 eras. 2012's RIDGERACER Unbounded came and went with little fanfare (beyond fans wondering what Namco Bandai was thinking with that baffling naming scheme).
Despite this, Ridge Racer refuses to die, and this morning Namco Bandai announced the next Ridge Racer sequel, a free to play downloadable racer for the PC and PlayStation 3. Dubbed Ridge Racer Driftopia, the title is being developed by Bugbear Entertainment, the same people responsible for Unbounded. It is slated to debut at some point during 2013. As you can see from the announcement trailer embedded above, Driftopia is an arcade-style racer that heavily focuses on drifting, as apparently that's still what the kids are into these days.
While we'll grant that Driftopia looks suitably nice, this move to the free to play model seems somewhat desperate. "Our last Ridge Racer game didn't really sell all that well, so what if we fund the next one with in-game ads and a plethora of DLC?" Namco Bandai seems to be thinking. Then again, the free to play business model has been proven successful by a number of games, so why couldn't it work for an arcade racer?
Further, if it does work for Ridge Racer what's to stop Namco Bandai from launching the next Tekken or Soulcalibur as a free to play fighter subsidized by the sales of character customization equipment? I doubt Tekken lead Katsuhiro Harada would ever allow this to happen - the man is a traditionalist who even opposes the idea of rampant DLC - but it makes for an intriguing/depressing thought exercise, no?