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Free to Play Models in Fighting Games: The Shakeup The Genre Needed?

The free to play model is nothing new in the gaming world. Numerous PC games have been using it such as e-sports favorite League of Legends and most mobile/social games have some version of it as well. However, this model has been rarely seen in console gaming, but some companies have messed around it in this current generation. One genre that hasn't used the free to play model until now is fighting games. Just this month alone, three fighting games have free to play options: Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, Tekken Revolution, and Killer Instinct. Each of these games have different approaches and we’ll explain them in a bit. Is free to play the shakeup the fighting game genre needed? It is indeed the case in order to attract more newcomers and casual gamers to such a niche genre where the learning curve is still steep to compete at a decent level.

The first console fighting game to announce a free to play version is Tecmo Koei and Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate. Other than the standard $60 option at retailers, a free to play option is being offered as a digital download. Four characters are already playable, which are Kasumi, Ayane, Ryu Hayabusa, and Hayate. Other characters have to be purchased to be playable along with the game’s story mode in this version, but the standard arcade mode, training, and online modes are free from the get go. In other words, if you see another character from the roster that interests you or you wanna play as other than the free four, it is only another three or four dollars.

This is already a good version of the free to play model more fighting games should implement in the future. If you’re planning to only use the four ninja characters or buy your main characters that you would use in online fights and offline tournaments, then you don’t have to pay the full $60. Then again, if you’re the completionist type, you would rather buy the retail version. The option is there and another way to bring in newcomers that are interested in trying it beyond a normal demo would give.

Namco Bandai Games were next to step into the free to play foray with Tekken Revolution, a Playstation Network-only downloadable game that is now out. For those familiar with the Tekken franchise, Revolution is basically a light take on the current Tekken formula where bounds in combos are taken out (even though you still can bound with critical hits) and it is back to one-on-one fights unlike last year’s Tekken Tag Tournament 2. After recognizing that big change, I realized that this is pretty much Tekken before 6 came out and I had to resort to different combos than I’m used to Tag 2. Other gameplay additions are invincible moves and other moves having more motion blur effects. Also, each character has stats that can be upgraded RPG style with increases in damage, health, and chances of a critical hit. Basically, this is Tekken gameplay at its simplest before things got crazy in Tekken 6 with bound combos and the tag mechanics in Tag 2.

However, the biggest change with Tekken Revolution from past Tekken games is the free to play aspect. Unlike DOA5 Ultimate’s model, Namco decided to go with the model similar to today’s social/mobile games where you have limited fights because of a time wall. You can spend premium tickets if you wanna keep playing people online in ranked or played matches, but if you run out of them or any battle coins, you have to wait about 30 minutes till you can fight one more match again. If you spend one premium ticket, you actually get a premium ticket back if you keep winning, so there’s actually an encouraging reason as if you’re back at the arcade. Another way to continue playing is to spend real money buying premium coins, which are the same as premium tickets. The time wall may stink for those can not win consistently, but the social/mobile game take on Tekken Revolution’s free to play route is still an interesting approach to it.

Lastly, there is the recently announced and long awaited return of Killer Instinct by Microsoft Studios, Rare, and Double Helix Games. Earlier this week, it was announced that the game will be a downloadable only game for the Xbox One’s launch and it will be to free to play only as well. Turns out it wasn't the case as it was later confirmed that the game will also be available at retailers besides being a digital download for the standard $60 along with limited and collector’s editions (perhaps a bundle with the new Xbox One Mad Catz Tournament Edition fightstick?). The free to play demo version of Killer Instinct has Jago as the only playable character, but more characters can be purchased for a small fee. There is no word however of which modes will be also free in this version, but I would assume this model is similar to what DOA5 Ultimate has.

Out of all of the three fighting games that have free to play options, two have similar approaches while Tekken Revolution is going the social/mobile route. If you’re familiar with the time walls most social and mobile games have, then you don’t mind Tekken’s way of free to play. Other than that, it is still a concept fighting gamers are getting used to, but it is a welcome addition and risk worth taking for the genre to attract more casual gamers. Sure, the learning curve problem is still one of the main reasons why fighting games haven’t been huge like today’s shooters, but at the end of the day, more people playing regardless of skill is still a good thing. Fighting games needed another shakeup to attract a new generation of players after Street Fighter IV revitalized the genre back in 2008 and the free to play model is here to stay now and the future as we head to the next generation of consoles.


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