Namco Bandai's Ridge Racer Vita: Ruined?
Publisher's decision to make launch game DLC driven could prove disastrous. For who, specifically, remains to be seen.
Downloadable content, used in the correct way, can enhance an already stellar video game.
Case in point, the App Store. Companies release the games cheap ($0.99 being the sweet spot), then continue supporting them with free DLC. Some publishers will even release a game free of charge in the hope of making a profit through in App purchase.
That works well on iPhone and iPad because the cost of entry is so low. Customers have few qualms about paying a couple extra bucks if it means they receive a quality experience.
On the console side, DLC has gotten a bit out of hand, but at the same time, this and the smart phone business have remained separate for the most part. Publishers still nickel and dime players on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but at least fans still receive a complete game from the start, or at the very least, one with enough content to ignore the downloadable stuff altogether.
That said, what the hell is Namco Bandai up to with Ridge Racer Vita?
When the game was first announced several months ago, we were all over it. Ridge Racer has been a staple of console launches since the original PlayStation in 1995. While not the deepest of games, they provide good old-fashioned arcade fun, even on tiny handhelds like the PSP and, more recently, 3DS, complete with a plethora of cars and tracks.
With this in mind, picking up Ridge Racer Vita seemed like a done deal, at least until we learned of the publisher's nut ball idea of releasing a base game with just three tracks and five cars. Then, over the course of several months, the company will release downloadable content packs featuring music, vehicles and more tracks, for a fee, of course.
In fact, the new cars don't appear in Japan until February 23, the day after PlayStation Vita (and Ridge Racer along with it) debuts in the U.S. and Europe.
Let's begin here: This is one of the worst ideas in recent memory. It's clear Namco Bandai has achieved, or thinks it's achieved, a certain measure of success on the App Store, and has decided to transfer this model to a more traditional handheld in the hope that A.) it'll make a much bigger profit on the game compared to a standalone product, and B.) it'll attract casual consumers that forked over the cash on iPhone to PlayStation Vita.
What it fails to understand is: iPhone and Vita gamers aren't necessarily linked. There's no guarantee that a casual App Store user will leave Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja to purchase PlayStation Vita.
More importantly, hardcore Sony fans hate this business model. They're used to paying in excess of $40 for a mostly complete video game, not one they'll finish in a day and then put aside while the developers push music packs to PlayStation Network/the in-game store.
And seriously, music packs? Don't flatter yourselves, Namco Bandai. Ridge Racer music, while decent, doesn't make us excited.
This bonehead move will probably backfire, forcing the company to eventually re-release the game with all included DLC, thereby screwing the early adopters who sat on their hands impatiently awaiting tracks and cars.
For now, it represents the first time in more than ten years that we don't plan to purchase a Ridge Racer at launch. A shame, since we loved the PSP title so much, and expected even greater things from the PlayStation Vita edition.
If Namco Bandai succeeds, other publishers will follow suit, and make no mistake. Prices on the App Store won't carry over to consoles and dedicated handhelds. There are licensing fees and other costs to consider. This barebones Ridge Racer will run at least $14.99 (a very generous estimate) or more.
For now, we'll hold out hope this is some sort of bizarre experiment in Japan, and that Namco Bandai will unveil a more complete version for the West. At the moment, though, the odds of this happening appear disappointingly slim.
-Concerned Ridge Racer fans.