First Impressions and Free To Play in Fighting Games
When I started this article, it was meant to be a simple review of the DnF Duel Betas and their impact on potential sales. But then, I began to think of just how important a first impression of fighting games can be in the current ecosystem. This also seemed tied to the hot topic of Free to Play (F2P) fighting games buzzing in the community due to another Japanese Developer Roundtable, which gathered the most prominent Fighting Game developers in Japan to chat about the state of the industry. So this article may get a little long, but I promise there’s a point. Let’s start with the basis for this train of thought, DnF Duel.
Bombastic Anime Action From A Beat 'Em Up
Arc System Works (ArcSys) is known for making wild, over the top anime fighting games like Blazblue and the Guilty Gear Franchises. While converting other properties to fighting games is nothing new for the company; after perfecting the 2.5D anime look, Arcsys has taken that to various third parties like Goku and company with Dragonball Fighterz, Granblue Fantasy: Versus, and now Dungeon Fighter Online (DFO) to bring us DnF Duel.
DFO was released originally in 2005 and has had constant updates and overhauls over the last 17 years. I personally have no history with the game (outside of clips and trailers through my internet journey), but once I saw the trailer for the new Arcsys fighter, I was hooked. From punch girls to large wrath of God priests, this cast is both dynamically interesting and, for lack of a better term, “Anime as hell” which could be an immediate turn-off for some. The most interesting aspect to me, however, was that the characters do not have traditional names, but are named after the subclass they represent. That means if we follow the currently available characters, we could be looking at a roster of 70+. While, it’s unlikely they would do every subclass from a longevity and roster variety standpoint, it is extremely exciting!
Open Beta #1
Back in December, we got our first real taste of the game on Ps4 and Ps5 only. Information had been VERY scarce. Character trailers were short and did not show much, movelists with buttons were not explained, and there were a few videos explaining basic game systems. But even so, I was excited to get my hands on this wild looking anime fighter.
The first character that caught my attention is the Holy, big bodied Crusader. A hammer wielding paladin that can create walls, similar to the Killer Instinct character, Aganos. He can even bless himself with passive buffs. I was ready to deal out some righteous fists.
The other is a halberd wielding Vanguard that could find himself comfortably in any Dynasty Warriors game. That alone piqued my interest, and I know our own Chris would love him as well. Also, his long range normals and powerful slamming special moves spoke to my heart.
Once the beta was live, the first thing I and many others wanted to do was hit a training mode and just get a feel for it… oh wait.
There’s only player match and collection options. Okay.
Maybe there’s a training mode queue? Pretty common in modern fighters… Nope.
Like most betas, the network was spotty. I expected nothing less, to be honest. Considering they called this a network test, the lack of other modes, while frustrating, was understandable. But, there were enough issues of disconnecting that left me with a feeling of “I just want to play the game.” Of the 10 or so matches I tried to play, I completed maybe 3. Luckily, the game is incredibly fun to play, which is where most of my frustration came from.
Beta #2 - Electric Boogaloo
Come April 1st, a second beta was to be available again, exclusively on Ps4/Ps5, but this was not simply called a “network test.” Arcsys referred to this outing as a “Beta”, which to myself and many others gave hope that we would get an idea for more game features that would be available at launch or at least training mode.
The main addition is the new character, Ghost Blade. A samurai with a spooky doppelgänger that has wild screen control with his huge normals and fast dashes. And I haven’t seen a character so cool in a long time! Ghost Blade removed any frustration from the first beta, and I was excited to get my hands on him.
When I booted up my Ps4, I was hoping there would be an all new file to upload, but it was simply an update to the previous client, which was not very big. Unfortunately, this also meant there was no addition to the actual game modes, but I could, at least, connect to matches and once again, I fell in love with the game. While I still completed very few full matches, most of the round counts were set very high, so I was able to play 20 or so rounds altogether. Despite the hiccups, I fully plan to grab DnF Duel when it launches June 28th.
How Does Free To Play Factor In?
Now, imagine you are browsing your preferred digital storefront of choice, and you see the newest fighter with 4 beautiful letters F-R-E-E where a price tag should be. You click the purchase option and after downloading the game, you are in the game with a few modes and few characters to mess around with.
Utilizing the “Free to Play” model (or F2P) is a hot topic in the FGC right now. In my opinion, fighting games have an unjust reputation of being very difficult and hard to get into, and have a $40 – $60 barrier on top of that. Making the game free to play and offering something like your online matches and training modes with rotating 3 or 4 characters, can do nothing but help draw in more people. It allows people to just play in the sandbox, and if you want to purchase the full game out of the gate with all modes and characters for $60, that is absolutely an option as well.
This is also not some revolutionary new idea in the gaming world, or even in fighting games. Killer Instinct (2013) helped establish this in the genre and possibly modern gaming in general, which I touched briefly in my previous article. Other games have done this as well, like League of Legends. It has thrived on a model like this, and with a fighting game of their own coming out called Project L, which is being assumed to follow the F2P model. But, Indie games have embraced this model more than the AAA counterparts, like Brawlhalla, which is one of the most popular “smash clones” on the market because of it.
When I brought this concept on social media, I was asked, “But how would they make money?” and “Who is this targeted at?” And to make profits, currently nothing really needs to change. Look at a game like Street Fighter V having over 300 costumes, where 200 of them are for Chun Li. DLC like this is where a majority of prophets come from in any game, and you could have the option where you unlock a specific character you like without unlocking all the characters. The single player content, like an arcade and “story mode”, could also be bought modularly if someone wanted to experience a solo battle more than online.
How First Impressions Factor In
When you have a situation like DnF Duel beta where there are assumed options that are missing, even in a demo, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. And honestly, it did for me. The discourse after the first beta also reminded me of another fighting game from a prolific developer.
When Street Fighter V launched in 2016, it garnered a lot of backlash for its notable lack of features. SFV launched similarly to the DnF beta with only training mode, online matches, and a survival single player mode. It was not even a standard arcade mode. It would take several years (and expansion releases) before the game became the complete game that many had expected at the $60 price tag. And this initial impression turned many players who had been ride or die since Street Fighter IV or prior.
Now, imagine a world where SFV had launched with a F2P model. Suddenly, the complaints of features would fade away. The “lack of content” could be mitigated, instead of the large $40+ expansions, by dropping smaller transaction features in a modular fashion like I’ve mentioned earlier. Looking at some of the features, one Maximilian on Triple K.O.’s podcast pointed out that we could have very much seen a F2P model given the way the game was released and how DLC was handled. That’s not to say that Street Fighter V was a failure, but it was definitely a longer road to get there.
I can only hope that we will see many more features in DnF Duel in its release come June, as it’s not the first time Arcsys has developed a branded fighter. Their previous work, Granblue Fantasy: Versus, has a very similar feel to what I was able to play. It was rich with features, including a gacha system similar to its source material. And as DnF comes from a free beat ’em up style dungeon crawler, maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to wait until Project L releases (in who knows when) to get a solid F2P model from a large developer.
It’s starting to work, finally, for rollback netcode after all.