It’s been rough going for many Japanese game publishers in recent years. Yet, Namco Bandai appears to be doing okay for itself. At last week’s Global Gamer Day, Carlson Choi, Vice President of Marketing & Digital Sales, detailed the strategy that they’ve been employing and the success it has brought them.
Pretty much everyone states the obvious at such press gatherings, like how it’s been "a year of transition", or "there has never been more ways for people to play games." Usually these are used as excuses for less than stellar financials. Next comes stuff we’ve heard literally countless times, like "we now have a focused portfolio" or "we’ve diversified our IP in multiple ways."
Rarely are such sentiments followed by evidence that said master plan is actually working. Like the 40 million units of Tekken sold thus far, and how last year’s Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is just the latest jewel in the franchise’s crown. Or how Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch had done well both critically and financially. Once more, Namco Bandai ain’t doing so bad.
Brian Hong, Sr. Global Brand Manager at Namco Bandai Games America, sat down to explain the road ahead in greater detail. It was here in which Ridge Racer Driftopia from Bugbear Entertainment was first revealed. At the time, Hong explained that Driftopia would be a free to play game, but was tight lipped about the platform. We now know that it’s for both PC and PS3.
It was noted that Namco Bandai is “very mindful of what Ridge Racer is”, and will “strive hard to maintain the identity” that the game has managed to carve for itself, despite venturing into uncharted territory for the publisher. Ridge Racer Driftopia will be cross-platform, though Hong did not go into explicit details what this really means. It will also utilize some kind of card system, though again, no details were divulged, despite being pressed.
I asked about the possible backlash that might inevitably occur. After all, hardcore gamers are the types to both love Ridge Racer and abhor the free to play business model. Hong noted how he’s aware of such a negative stigma, but it’s mostly a result of negative experiences, from other parties executing such a plan poorly.
The goal is to create something that has a low barrier of entry, and for longtime fans of the series: "We think there’s going to be something that appeals to them as well… to both sides." And when I asked if this next Ridge Racer was the main entry in the series, which would make Ridge Racer Driftopia technically Ridge Racer 8 (or Ridge Racer 9 if you count Ridge Racer Unbounded, the most recent console entry), Hong responded with a yes, "it’s just not being numbered."
Hong also spoke about the other strategies that the publisher has in the works, mostly as it pertains to licensing and foreign territories. It was mentioned that Latin America is becoming a bigger blip on their map. Apparently, a good deal of Tekken user base is from that part of the world.
Namco Bandai also is looking to tap into their various properties, and basically figure out new ways to make products (and money) with them. It would appear that the Namco part is the one with all the games and licensing ideas, while the Bandai part is the one that is able to realize said ideas, like toys, apparel, and the like.
When asked if there was a fear of crossing the line, of wondering when enough is enough. Hong simply responded with: "We’re trying to be smart and sensible about it, by listening to the community. we’re not presumptuous enough to say that we’ve figured it out… I don’t think anyone has."