In the fighting game community right now, the hottest new thing is, oddly enough, Warner Bros.’ upcoming MultiVersus fighter. It’s basically follow the Super Smash Bros. mold but with different comic and cartoon characters from the various Warner Bros. franchises coming together and brawling it out. It’s currently out on Alpha testing so only the pros are seeing what you can do with the game. I’m not really a Smash player so I can’t vouch on how good the gameplay is nor do I have a whole lot of interest in playing it serious. It looks like a fun casual game, though.
There is one thing which has piqued my interest about MultiVersus, though. It’s not any of the mechanics or any particular character. Rather, it’s how much it’s going to cost when it does come out: nothing. Warner Bros. made it clear the base game of MultiVersus will be free-to-play. It does look like MutliVersus will not be alone as Project L, the upcoming fighting game based on League of Legends, is also rumored to be following the free-to-play model. Hey, I’m totally down for a totally free game. There’s very little risk to jumping on the bandwagon early on to try it out for myself.
The question becomes, if games like MultiVersus and Project L are going to be free-to-play, what are the odds of the more established franchises like Street Fighter or Tekken following suit? Well, I hate to burst your bubble but I don’t think companies like Capcom or Bandai Namco will be following this model anytime soon.
The biggest reason is, of course, monetary. It is possible to make money even if your game is free-to-play. Lots of games, like the aforementioned League of Legends, have proved it’s possible to make millions of profit despite making it available for everyone for absolutely nothing. While that may be the case, that’s not how companies like Capcom and Bandai Namco operate. In fact, I don’t think they have any incentive to ever release a fighting game totally free at launch. They can simply bank on brand reputation at the moment as they do have very successful franchises under their belt. Tekken has proven to be a big seller, making huge numbers while still selling DLC items. Even Street Fighter V, which was initially a huge financial failure for Capcom, did make Capcom more money that you think over time. So, if they can make money by selling their fighting game at full price, why cut into their profits by releasing the game for free?
It’s not like they haven’t dabbled with the free-to-play model as well. Well, at least the people behind Tekken have. I’m guessing everyone forgot all about Tekken Revolution, an actual free-to-play game Bandai Namco made way back when. I honestly forgot all about it because it plays almost exactly like Tekken Tag Tournament. Even if it does borrow a lot from a previous game, this was still a legitimately a full-fledged Tekken you can get without having to buy it outright. What happened to Tekken Revolution? Well, it was downloaded a whole lot but no one really remembers it all that fondly because it became a “pay-to-win” kind of game where gamers who were willing to spend more money to buff up their characters would be able to wallop all comers, destroying the entire balance of the game.
This does lead me to my next point, which is I don’t believe Capcom, Bandai Namco or, let’s face it, most Japanese companies have any concept of making a profit through a more non-traditional method. It kind of makes sense for them to just sell their premium product at a premium price because that’s how they’ve been doing business for all this time. Also, they do still make a lot of money using this more traditional method. You can point out things like them not meeting sales targets or things like that, which should lead them to explore new avenues of making money, like the free-to-play model. However, they still really haven’t grasped the idea and still do the “safe” bet of selling a game because it makes money early on and you don’t have to wait down the line to start making a profit.
I also think most game developers see the “free to play” model as having a stigma of being of “poor quality.” While I don’t have any proof for this, it does make a lot of sense when you do look at the history of free or very cheap games, especially when more and more developers were entering the mobile gaming market. These earlier games used very exploitative method of getting people to pay for stuff in their free-to-play games. There were things like having to pay real money so you can continue playing immediately or making the good stuff incredibly hard to obtain, making the need to buy lootboxes a thing. Maybe free to play games aren’t like this anymore but there is still the idea that it might.
However, the biggest reason as to why big game developers won’t be making a free-to-play fighting game in the near future is because they don’t need to do so. While there are games like League of Legends who make money using the free-to-play model, there hasn’t really been a big fighting game which has made money using it. I already mentioned Tekken Revolution so they have tried but, if that made Bandai Namco a boatload of money, don’t you think they would have made another free-to-play Tekken by now? I bet the “paid” version of the game made them much more money just from sales alone. If that’s the case, why rock the boat?
In fact, I believe if MultiVersus manages to rake in tons of money from other means, like additional costumes, modes or whatever Warner Bros. will monetize for the game, that’s only when companies like Capcom and Bandai Namco will even consider dipping their toes in the free-to-play model for their next big Street Fighter or Tekken game. They might be more open to trying it out by dabbling with lesser known franchises. I mean, I could see Capcom making a free-to-play version of a new Power Stone or Bandai Namco developing a version of DragonBall Xenoverse on modern consoles for free. If these games do become massive money magnets for them, that’s the only time they’ll consider making their next Street Fighter or Tekken using the free-to-play model. I hope I’m wrong because I would definitely love a free version of any of those games.
I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.
Do you think you’ll ever see a free-to-play version of Street Fighter or Tekken in the near future? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!