F2P: A Fighting Model for the Future?

During E3, Microsoft lifted the lid on a project many gamers have dreamt about for years. After a wealth of speculation, they revealed that Killer Instinct will not only be making a return, it’ll be available at launch for Xbox One.

On paper, a launch title like that doesn’t get much bigger.

However, perceptions soon started to change. Details started to trickle through and more was revealed about this highly anticipated re-imagining.

All too soon the dream game turned into a nightmare…

It’s now been over a month since E3 and i’ve had some time to think about the announcement and see the game gradually come together through trailers and reveals. Overtime, my thoughts and feelings have changed quite considerably.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, just like the original title, Killer Instinct may be about to break new ground on Xbox One. In fact, it could set the tone for all future fighters to come…

world_of_tanks_battle-wide
 

F2P

Yes, it’s Free to Play. I know. I get that. I’m over it.

As has been proven countless times already, Free to Play doesn’t necessarily mean the game is a write-off. Plenty of massive, entertaining games are Free to Play. Look at World of Tanks. Look at Tekken Revolution. Ridge Racer: Driftopia, League of Legends, Warface and Dust 514. These are major-league experiences that you don’t/won’t have to pay a penny towards in order to play.

F2p is here to stay. It’s already proving to be a major part of the next-gen console experience. On Day One, PS4 will get Planetside 2 and DC Universe Online. Both will be free to play and can be downloaded from the marketplace as soon as it launches. Meanwhile, Xbox One will have Killer Instinct. That’s just the start of, what I imagine to be, a firm ten year plan to make F2p more commonplace in the living room.

You may not think it now, but the perception around F2P will change in the next few years. A big part of the problem is that a set demographic of gamers still think you have to drop £40 on a product for it to be of value. However, in today’s digitally connected world, is that really an effective transaction model for the future? Why shouldn’t gamers get a slice of the pie first and then, if they so choose, pay to get more out of that experience and play as they so intend?

Admittedly the F2p model won’t work for all game-types. For the beat-em-up genre, however, there’s defintely scope for growth and development.

killerinstinctone-jagosabrewulf-1
 

Why F2P works for Killer Instinct?

Developers spend a crazy amount of time developing a roster for a beat-em-up. Balance tweaking. Fine-tuning. Developing new costumes and outfits. Creating intricate move-sets. There’s a lot of backstage tinkering that goes into the development of each character to get them right.

But most players will only ever see 25 – 50% of that development. Everyone has their favourites – characters they are most comfortable with – and will continue to choose them again and again. Some might say, as a result of that, they only ever play a half or quarter of the game anyway. They don’t intend to explore the other side of that roster, or, if they do, they’ll do it for half-hearted intrigue or as part of a bet. Sure, purchasing a full retail release offers a complete roster, and you’re presented with the option of selecting any fighter you so desire. Everyone will always be available to you. But the question is, outside of the small grid of fighters you’re looking at, how likely are you to look outside, then take that outsider into the arena?

Of course, that should be the player’s prerogative. They should be allowed to choose who they want, when they want. On the back of that, Microsoft need to make it clear to players that they can buy the entire Killer Instinct roster at one flat fee from the outset if that’s what they want to do. Or, if they don’t want to do that, offer the player the opportunity to earn in-game currency by winning matches and playing the game. Create a system that rewards skill and time spent. That way, earning a set amount of in-game currency will eventually allow players to unlock other fighters, costumes and areas.  The key here is for Microsoft not to make this appear as if its entirely about money.

F2p works in this case because players only pay for the fighters they want to fight with. Instead of having a overflowing roster of 40 where you may only play 15 fighters, you can create a stable of familiar warriors that you can flick between with ease. Also, you didn’t just drop £45 down to buy the new Killer Instinct, you got the experience you wanted for just £10 and have potential to grow beyond that if you want to.

Being F2P also opens the door for new players who would never normally buy or play this type of game. Everyone with an Xbox One can play Killer Instinct and that massively broadens the audience for the genre. The more people play, the better for everyone.

KillerInstinct_THUMB
 

Where things can go wrong

Of course, things could go very wrong and that all depends how Microsoft play this.

I’m envisaging a Micro-Transaction model will play a significant role in the upkeep and development of the game. That’s to be expected. However, i’m concerned whether Microsoft will start charging individually for every portion of the game (costumes, move sets, backgrounds), taking it way past the price tag of a normal retail title, making players pay over the odds to get the entire experience.

There’s no way that Killer Instinct could (or should) exceed £40 – £45 worth of content at launch. Post launch is a different story. Most games receive post-launch content and that can be bundled together as part of a Season Pass. However, if the full-game is seen to be more than any other launch title then this experiment falls flat and everyone gets disappointed.

If the model is seen to benefit the company more than the consumer, that’s when people understandably start to lose faith.

Microsoft chose to take the tricky route with Killer Instinct. They chose not to do things the easy way and have challenged the imagined perception people had for a future entry in the Killer Instinct franchise. It would have been so easy to play it safe.

Arguably, it would have been much smarter.

But this business is about high risk, high reward and people don’t just want to see the same old things regurgitated for new audiences. Titles need a modern hook to keep them current and fresh. Microsoft have applied that to Killer Instinct and made the title a crucial part of the Xbox One experience, a console they need to succeed. F2P has the potential to change the fighting game experience forever, allowing players to focus on the characters that matter to them and truly customise the experience in a dynamic new way. Microsoft could have a winner on their hands as long as greed doesn’t cloud their judgment.

People have waited a very long time for this. There’s a lot of anticipation and expectation and they want to see this franchise treated properly and done right.

For everyone’s sake, Microsoft, don’t ruin it.