Fighting Games Should Be Free-to-Play

I know those three words are unpopular, but hear me out.

Fighting games are a more niche genre of video games. Not just because the barrier to entry is intimidating for new players; no one wants to get their asses kicked before they know what they’re actually doing. A large part of it has to do with how the games are designed and how they’re sold.

Modern fighting games can be expensive. It’s not just sixty US dollars for the game itself. You’ve also got to fork over another thirty or more for a season pass, which contains even more characters, a crucial piece to a fighting game. And in the case of more popular games, like Street Fighter or Tekken, you’ll need to buy multiple season passes. These things can get pricy.

With how fighting games are designed, you likely won’t even use half of those characters you spent money on! Learning just one character requires a ton of practice and dedication. The only time you’ll use the whole roster is if you’re having a casual party night with your friends, and after everything with COVID, that just isn’t really a thing anymore.

In a full-priced game, all of this can be a huge issue. But in a free-to-play game? Said issues may be turned into strengths.

Let’s create a little example to prove the point. Let’s say you’re a Street Fighter player. You’ve been around the block; you’ve played the series since Super SF2 Turbo, and you are a hardened Ken veteran. He’s your go-to character; when a new SF game comes out, he’s the guy you go to right away. You know all of his moves like the back of your hand. You’re so devoted to playing him online that you haven’t even touched the rest of the roster.

As it currently is, you would spend upwards of sixty US bucks just to play the one character. And that’s if you’re lucky and your main is in the base game. If you play a more obscure character, you’ll have to spend extra on the season pass.

Now, let’s look at how free-to-play games handle this same situation. If the base game were free-to-play, you’d have a small selection of characters available for play in a changing rotation. Maybe this week’s four free characters are Ryu, Chun-li, Guile, and Bison. You can either experiment and play as one of those four, or you could just pay anywhere from two to five dollars to play as Ken whenever you want. Suddenly, you’re going from paying upwards of a hundred bucks for characters you’ll never even play online to paying less than ten for the one guy you do want to play.

This isn’t some experimental thing I just made up. Fighting games have done this before in the past. The 2013 reboot of Killer Instinct did just that; characters were available in a free rotation, or you could pay for the ones you wanted. Once that game’s development cycle was 100% complete, the devs released the complete version, where you could buy the entire roster for forty bucks.

A more modern example is Multiversus. It may look like a Warner Bros. clone of Smash Bros, but it actually does some really smart stuff with its free-to-play model! You can go in and try any character you like for free, then later spend money on cosmetic items or, again, pay for access to the full roster. When combined with the surprisingly frequent updates and the rock-solid online play, that game quickly became one of the most-played fighting games of all time!

Not on Steam. Of all time. The game where Arya Stark fights Bugs Bunny had more players online than any Street Fighter game.

Fighting games of the future are adopting this model, too. Riot is currently developing their own League of Legends fighting game, currently titled Project L, which will also be free-to-play. Assuming it follows the same model as League of Legends, which I can’t see why it wouldn’t, that game is set to be another consumer-friendly smash hit for the FGC.

Now, obviously, this isn’t without its drawbacks. An aggressive, unfriendly payment model could spell death for any free-to-play game, including a fighting game. It’s a delicate balance to walk.

But let’s be honest: spending nothing on a game that flops is much better than spending hundreds of dollars on one that flops.

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