The Fighting Game Post-Launch DLC Problem
Fighting games are a niche genre. They do surprisingly well despite the growing need for team-based eSports titles like Overwatch and League of Legends. Games like Tekken 7 and Injustice 2 sold well and lead sales in their respective release month. Every year tournaments like APEX, EVO, and CEO get bigger in both attendance and streaming numbers. Companies like Capcom, Arc System Works and Bandai-Namco help support the growing community of fighting game players and fans alike.
There is a growing problem, however, that was recently highlighted by Arc System Works’ BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle recent DLC announcement. The developers mentioned that the game will launch with a roster of 20 playable characters. These characters range from different franchises like BlazBlue, Under Night In-Birth, Persona 4 and RWBY.
What became a point of discussion and debate for fighting game fans is the moment that Arc System Works announced that Blake Belladonna would be a DLC character. Fans quickly criticized the decision to keep a prominent character like Blake as DLC instead of being available with the game’s launch roster. Then things got even worse.
BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle will launch with a roster of 20 characters with an additional 20 characters post-launch as DLC. Half of the game’s roster will be locked behind DLC. I think it’s time to analyze and discuss the problems of post-launch content when it comes to fighting games as a whole.
How Fighting Games Deal with DLC
Several fighting games in the past would rely on selling newer versions of the same game with added characters and additional game modes. Street Fighter IV sold several iterations of the game that included new characters each time. Capcom released Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition and finally Ultra Street Fighter IV. The same can be said with franchises like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear.
While selling newer versions helps the competitive scene stay fresh and reduces stagnation. Each iteration would sell less and fewer copies. Players who consider themselves part of the FGC were essentially forced to buy each iteration to stay competitive. While the casual player would almost never pick up the latest edition unless it was the definitive version. Street Fighter IV sold 3.4 million copies while it’s final iteration, Ultra Street Fighter IV, sold about 1 million.
Players didn’t have a choice during a time when online connectivity wasn’t at the point where it is now. With current gen consoles that are always online, players can now choose to support the game through DLC instead of newer versions of the same game.
Of course, that doesn’t stop the publishers/developers from selling a new iteration if they can. Arc System Works is a stellar fighting game developer with great attention to mechanics and balance. However, they will sell you a game with post-launch DLC. Only to sell a newer iteration with the previous DLC characters and new ones down the line. This happened with Guilty Gear Xrd.
Guilty Gear Xrd Sign launched with 14 characters and 3 DLC characters. The second iteration, Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-, included all of the previous characters, the DLC ones, new characters like Johnny, and more DLC characters! So this begs the question that some fighting games are never “fully” finished since they are being constantly updated and add more characters over time.
The Season Pass and Perception
Some games like Street Fighter V, Killer Instinct, and Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite have instead opted for the Season Pass. Buying a season pass will guarantee that the player will have access to all DLC characters as they become available. Street Fighter V and Killer Instinct are constantly updating their games and delivering new characters by launching “seasons.” Each season will contain any number of brand new characters and balance updates.
This sounds like a perfect solution in theory. Launch a game and support it with post-launch DLC that will keep the game relevant. Everyone benefits because players slowly overtime get new characters and tournaments don’t stagnate because of the inclusion of new fighters. The only problem with this model is the public perception of the said game. Street Fighter V lacked basic game modes and features at launch. Season Passes played a hand at grabbing people’s attention and bringing in new blood but Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite’s (MvC) launch did not fair well.
MvC also launched a season pass that promised 8 brand new characters but was met with negativity and hate. Dragon Ball FighterZ will also include a season pass but is met with love and embrace. Both base games cost $60 at launch + a season pass that’s worth $30-35. One game is hated while the other is applauded, why? Perception.
The Cost of Perception
MvC launched in a worse state than Street Fighter V and evidence became apparent that it was a game made with a low budget. While DBFZ looks stunning, provides plenty of games modes, and reinforces a popular fighting game system that MvC left behind. However, in this case, we need to call a spade a spade. Both games almost cost $90 each in order to enjoy the “full” experience. Buying the season pass may net you all the characters on a games roster but where is the value? A “full experience” at launch costs the player $90, while others who wait, can nab the “game of the year” or “arcade edition” with a full roster at a much deeper discount later that year!
Hence the problem that BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle finds itself in now. Why pay for the game at launch and its season pass when you could wait for a complete version later down the road? This trend needs to stop because it preys on the wallets for early adopters and competitive players. Smaller fighting game events and tournaments also suffer when addressing DLC availability and character omissions. Tournament Organizers have the added headache of making sure each machine contains said DLC character(s) or outright ban them. The developers and publishers need to make it easy for players to buy what they want without constant reinvestment every time a “newer” version comes out. In the end, it will help grow the community in a genre that is inherently intimidating.
A Possible Solution
Some fighting games lack value because of the lack of content. Tekken 7 and Injustice 2 do not lack content and people are more than happy to pay for more DLC. Other fighting games could also benefit by becoming free platforms that rely on microtransactions in the same vein as MOBAs and Overwatch.
Imagine if you could download Street Fighter V for free and have access to 4 free characters, with a weekly or monthly rotation of an additional 5th and 6th to try out. Have a system in place where each character could be obtained with in-game and/or real currency alongside a plethora of cosmetic items. The game already allows players to fulfill quests to earn Fight Money which the player can use to earn new characters for free. It’s a step in the right direction but unlocking characters, extra costumes, and stages aren’t enough. Heroes of the Storm now offers a massive amount of cosmetic items that further personalize your favorite character.
The base game will grow and evolve over time but the lack of fun game modes will hurt the casual audience. I feel that it’s time for fighting games to evolve into platforms instead of incremental releases.
So far, Killer Instinct is the only game that has come the closest to becoming a platform, gauging its success will give us a sneak peek into the viability of the model. Or are fighting games not attractive enough for the casual consumer to ever try? even for free?
Let us know your stance in the comments.
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