Killer Instinct milking the League of Legends formula is good news for everyone but hardcore gamers
The Xbox One Killer Instinct title will be sold two ways. You can buy a “season pass” for the game and get all the characters, or you can download a free-to-play version of the game that comes with Jago, and then you have to buy other individual characters a la carte. It’s an interesting experiment, and it's part of a broader trend in the fighting game business. Games like Killer Instinct, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, and Tekken Revolution are starting to sell fighting game characters like champions in League of Legends, and it makes more sense than people seem to realize.
Why this is good news… for some of us
It’s hard to really dig into this plan without knowing the pricing on individual characters or the season pass, but the idea that players have different levels of engagement isn’t big news. If you want to jump in and fool around with a few characters, you’ll be able to with this model, where in the past those dollars wouldn’t exist. Microsoft would rather have your $10 to try Killer Instinct for a bit than to have you pass up the full purchase price because you’re simply not into fighting games enough to justify the cost.
The move to an ongoing content model for fighting games will be watched closely by others; you can argue that you only buy the base experience for $60 when you pick up the latest Mortal Kombat game or Injustice. The extra characters, released as DLC, come rapidly, and each one is big news. Instead of beginning that process after someone buys the full-priced game, these games are simply aping the model for the entire experience.
It also never has to end; if a game finds an audience they can continue to pump out more levels, characters, challenges, game modes… the sky is the limit. There is no “pay to win” argument to be made here, unless a new character is wildly overpowered. You’re merely paying for discrete chunks of content.
The move is purely about broadening the fighting game audience, and then making more money from them. If you aren’t that into Killer Instinct, you may still think it’s worthwhile to buy one or two of your favorite characters from the original game to play with your buddies. That’s a sale Microsoft would have lost under the current $60 game model, and now they have a bit of your cash.
On the other hand, if you’re dedicated to the game, you’ll likely buy all the content that is released, making your final cost be much higher than the standard $60 price for games. When details about the Season Pass are released, you can expect it to merely include all the launch content; Microsoft will still want to charge gamers for post-release content. It’s about maximizing the number of people who play the game, and the amount of money the most hardcore players pay for the experience.
Everyone wins here, the casual fighting game fan, Microsoft… everyone except the hardcore player who is now likely going to have to pay much more than $60 to get everything the game has to offer. Still, this is no different than the DLC model we're used to with fighting games, except the choice for amount of content now goes backwards as well as forwards.
Everyone will be watching, and you can expect all the publishers with profitable fighting game franchises to begin taking notes.