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FRANCHISE FOCUS: TEST DRIVE


Online competition has become a driving force of the Test Drive series


Test of time


LONG BEFORE before Gran Turismoand Need For Speed, there was Test Drive.


Since 1987, this highly acclaimed franchise has delivered some of the most ambitious racing experiences the genre has seen.


But how has such a long-running series managed to keep itself fresh in a market that many argue is becoming increasingly stale? Namco Bandai’s marketing and PR manager Lee Kirton says the secret to Test Drive’s success has been the efforts of its developers to make each game stand out. Even the early Amiga titles pitted players against civilian traffic and police speed traps. “The brand has managed to carve out a niche,” he says. “It’s all down to the development of the games and the fact that no racing titles do what Test Drivedoes – especially


TRACK RECORD


1987 – Test Drive(Accolade) 1989 – The Duel: Test Drive II (Accolade) 1990 – Test Drive III: The Passion(Accolade) 1997 – Test Drive 4(Accolade), Test Drive Off-Road (Accolade) 1998 – Test Drive 5(Accolade), Test Drive Off-Road 2(Accolade) 1999 – Test Drive 6(Infogrames) 2000 – Test Drive Cycles(Infogrames), Test Drive 2001(Infogrames) 2001 – Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open(Infogrames) 2002 – TD Overdrive(Atari) 2004 – Test Drive: Eve of Destruction(Atari) 2006 – Test Drive Unlimited(Atari) 2011 – Test Drive Unlimited 2(Namco Bandai Partners)


28 December 3rd 2010


The Test Drivefranchise has endured in the market for over 20 years and survived a number of publisher switches.


Originally published by US games firm Accolade, the brand was kept on when the company was purchased by French games firm Infogrames in 1999.


By this time, Test Drive had become an annual franchise and remained so for years, even after Infogrames restructured and rebranded itself as Atari in 2003.


After this, the series became bi-annual while its creators searched for new ways to differentiate Test


Drivefrom the growing number of competitors such as Burnoutand Project Gotham Racing. In 2006, Atari – later known as Namco Bandai Partners – released the ground-breaking online racer Test Drive Unlimited. Fans have had to wait five years for the next iteration.


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Test Drive is one of the longest-running racing franchises. James Batchelor asks Namco Bandai how it will keep the series fresh with the sequel to Test Drive Unlimited


when compared to the Unlimited games. The series has managed to craft a place in the market for itself that’s different to rival franchises. “If you compare the games from the Accolade days to what TDU2is now doing, it’s clear that it has evolved by not only developing an immersive driving experience, but also by creating a fresh social space.”


UNLIMITED POTENTIAL The 2006 release of Test Drive Unlimitedwas the turning point. The new open world structure and seamless integration of online multiplayer took the Test Drive concept to a whole new level, pioneering the massively multiplayer online racing genre – a risky but successful move on Atari’s part. “The game was incredibly ahead of its time and most certainly ahead





of anything else other developers were doing,” says Namco Bandai’s head of PR Lee Kirton.


No racing titles do what Test Drive does –especially when compared to Unlimited.


Lee Kirton, Namco Bandai


“It was respected for bringing an MMO experience to the console without monthly subscriptions. It still has thousands of online players.” The sequel, Test Drive Unlimited


2, arrives on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on February 11th. While Namco Bandai will once again be targeting the masses, Kirton assures Test Drive’s long-time fans that they will most certainly be catered for. As well as adding a new setting and social gaming features, the developers will be pushing the boundaries of online multiplayer. “It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by what’s on offer in the game,” adds Kirton. “If you’re a petrol head, then it’s a great world to be in. We have high hopes for this title.”


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