The Ideal Free-to-play Fighter

Free-to-play is a very up and coming business model, and it is getting to the point that some markets even require this business model (China, Brazil, and many European countries).
Assuming this trend somehow attaches itself to the fighting game genres, as a player, how would you like to see a big budget, free-to-play competitive fighting game work in a way that would benefit both the publisher, the consumer, and the competitive scene? What are things you believe would kill a game, for either you personally or the competitive market?

Let’s also keep this company and game neutral, as to not detract from the discussion. Whatever problems you may have with Nacom, Capcom, Neatherrealms, ArcSys, Autumn Games, 3D fighters, 2.5d fighters, Soul Calibur IV, MvC3, or whatever, there are already plenty of places for you to rant about gems or panty shots or frequent balance patches or character customization, so do so there.

Yes, during the whole discussion, let’s assume a newly formed company of knowledgable people and quality workers that you felt you could trust stepped up to make a free to play competative fighting game based on an entirely new IP, and they don’t know what art style or type of fighting game they are going to make, they are still working on their business model.

Now, personally, I’m sort of torn between the idea of a free-to-play competative game. On one hand I adore low entry cost and think that the game industry needs to work more to lower the entry cost and increase its consumer base. On the other hand though, as much as I like League of Legends, their are moments when I see a director correlation between my willingness to spend money and my ability to win in the short term. Can I unlock all I need to win by playing? Yes, but it would take an insurmountable amount of time with no money spent.

I read this but still confused how this is not just an improved “demo”.

Unfortunately, there’s the crux of the issue. Outside of vanity items, microtransactions inhibit competition by nature, unless you’re ready to compete in a battle of wallets. So lets look at the essentials before we start decimating the competitive aspects of the game.

Vanity items.

You’re going to need this game to vessel more vanity items than regular online games. This means:

Customizable characters are a must.

I see this as a necessity to get people attached to their characters. Unless you’re capable of making characters people would connect with more than their own (This is tough to do), the best way to attract players is the chance to create their own epitomized fighting game character.

Going off of this, it’s my opinion that the best way to build a system like this would be to have a League of Legends style system in regards to fighting styles. If the game has 45+ “styles”, that are essentially character movesets balanced for play, you’d be able to slap them onto any character for a universal roster. Do weekly rotations of available styles, and unlock other styles via ingame points. Add arbitrary pricing schemes based on complexity, shininess, etc. Maybe give the first style from a basic list as a freebie upon character creation so new players can have a single permanent unlock.

If you have a system like that in place, the base of the game is “fair”, while giving plenty of room to hock vanity items for that sweet, sweet microtransaction nectar.

After this, you have a slippery slope to tread across. Stat boosts and character levels are going to be implemented in some form. How much this effects your characters depends on how much you want to fuck over your players for money and how much you want to empower money over player skill. This doesn’t even bring up how you’d implement RPG-style mechanics into FG characters without creating a slew of broken dynamics. You’d have to be very careful.

Personally, I like SFxT’s implementation. Gems don’t stay active over the whole course of the match, and there’s so many different ones that it will be hard to pinpoint an “optimal gem”, while gems can be scaled incrementally in terms of how much they alter in game variables.

I personally don’t think an MMO-styled fighting game could work as well as a full-retail product when it comes to competitive play. I DO think that people who enjoy grinds would get a kick out of one styled in such a way.


After all that theory-crafting, another way to do it would be with a glorified demo of an existing retail game. “Download for free, play characters on rotation until you pay money/earn points, get barebones access to training and online play”


You’d be surprised how much of a viable business model it is.

Free-to-play is not a terrible model for fighting games but they need to embrace online a bit more before that happens.

There is another question that needs to be asked; Is there anything wrong with this? I don’t think so. If you’re talking about a scenario outside the game itself then pay-to-win is not a fair thing to say. It would be more accurate to ask if you could unlock all that you needed to play the game as you wished. In any case, there are lots of alternative models to LoL.

Actually I am. Isn’t this what Maple Story is?

But will it have GGPO?


Where do I sign up?

Are you really surprised? This is huge and has been huge for years now. I strongly suggest reading some of Gabe Newell’s recent interviews, looking at the history of Lord of the Rings Online and DDO and a number of other successful games. This is an insane, incredibly viable model. I personally consider it superior in every way for certain kinds of games.

Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends are also excellent examples (hell, so is Maple Story, but it has problems). TF2 slowly edged away from providing gameplay bonuses towards almost purely cosmetic stuff with no real effect (it hasn’t been studied very well, but these are the first few confimable findings around which a reasonable hypothesis can be built) on the actual sales. The amount of money they made is staggering.

This also promotes very strong content. Even though historically f2p games have been shit, this is mostly because of a poor understanding of the model and a desire to milk people in the short term. Excellent purchasable content that is not forced upon you is pretty much the way to go for any long-term success. An example of this might be Skullgirl’s DLC characters (despite the initial price tag on the game). Extremely desirable if you are playing the game, obviously well constructed and “worth” money and most importantly, not a direct hinderance if you choose not to buy it. Some people may argue against the last, but I don’t believe it has any basis. If the volume is manageable and well priced and there is additional purely cosmetic DLC, they stand to make a lot of money.

One aspect of this is that the market is mostly on PCs, naturally. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony’s closed systems are not ideal for this kind of model unless you are a huge, huge publisher. Nevertheless, it’s effective there as well.

Rumble Fighter

While it’s currently one of the closest examples we have, I think it makes gameplay a bit too simplistic, and the team aspect makes the game a bit too clusterfucky. Do they have 1v1 matches yet, and can you apply traditional fighting game fundamentals to it?

I think they should bring the arcade style payment to home consoles.
Give me the regular option to purchase the whole game for the regular price, but also let have another option of buying virtual tokens to play some matches with them.
Of course those tokens would be way cheaper than 100 yen since I don’t pay for a venue and I don’t get quality offline competition for it.

Yes you actually can. Though it basically means knowing your ranges and how to drift properly, and of course when to attack. There is also countering, and panic baiting (burst baiting). Drifting is rumble fighter terminology for spacing, and you can clearly see that here:

Notice how one baited the other one with a whiffed jump kick into a counter, and okizeme game is pretty hard to get around. You can tech roll, but people can tech chase. I assure though the game doesn’t have many attacks nor combos, it makes up for the with an extremely deep game. Team matches have strategy too btw. Especially on stages like demolition.

What would be the benefit of such a model? I don’t see any.

Here’s the Gabe Newell interview I mentioned earlier:

I’d agree with this. At the very least, require arcade style payments for online ranked (keep local versus free). Have them earn points in ranked to allow them to buy items to customize their character.

This would also promote arcade style game design mentality, not just for fighters too. I could so imagine “free to play” online shmups and beat-em-ups done with this.

As I played TF2 hardcore for almost 3 years I can tell you from experience that the new items did indeed upset balance. I mean, the melee weapons you can get are leagues better than the default melee with every character but the Spy. The Soldier can get a Pick Axe that makes them run fast as shit (as fast as Scout) with the more damage they take, no disadvantages. And other weapons are clearly better. More recently they gave the Spy a new pistol that does 10% more damage but take 0.25 seconds longer to cloak. I assure you as a long time Spy player the cloak change is negligible and the damage boost is huge.

Before as Spy it took some skill to take out a Sentry and kill the Engie. Now Sap that shit, and shoot him twice at point blank with the new gun and that should kill him.The new gun is even more effective at safely killing Sentries at a distance and the Spy stands a decent chance against a W+M1 Pyro.

I just want a see a really good fighter made for PC. Not some garbage 360 port using Games For Windows Live.

Honestly dungeon fighter is the closest thing I can think of that is f2p,is a fighter/beat-em-up that actually has a competitive scene (in korea, Nexon seems to be to not giving a crap over here for this game).

The mantra for freemium/FTP models is “acquire, retain, monetize”. Software that gates user retention tends to be less lucrative than software that encourages constant engagement.

The closest model to the arcade one you’re proposing would be the one used for games like Zynga Poker, where the player gets X free chips every day they log in, but they can purchase more if they want. If a fighting game was on a mobile or social platform, that would make sense, but on console/PC I think the League of Legends-style model would be much stronger.

I disagree, it would force “arcade” style design to get as many credits as possible without making people angry, stifling what could be done to further these design elements. You can still have the essence of the design without the coin system (frankly, silly for personal use). Play Binding of Isaac for an example of an “arcade” styled game, it’s the evolution of those parts of design added to elements of roguelikes, and also an excellent game.

The generation that grew up with these games is now making them, both independently and otherwise.

The reason I wanted “credits” was to create a system that would reward players financially for doing well. In other words, it’s not really free-to-play, but rather “performance based pay to play”

I’ll admit to being influenced by icycalm’s article on arcade culture, and believe that such a model would encourage the ff.
-Intuitive and spot on controls
-No padding
-Extremely challenging games
While at the same time, adding a way for the developer/publisher to make a profit without requiring that the player “buy” the game.

I’ll admit to never having played the Binding of Isaac. Care to elaborate.