Should we be concerned about pre-launch DLC characters becoming common practice in fighting games?

A real issue, or just the way of the future?

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • November 2, 2017 at 7:41 p.m. PDT

You purchase a full game, you play through the full game. If it that game was especially enjoyable, you can choose to expand your experience by giving the developers a little extra money to gain access to some extra content that's tacked on to said already full game. That was my initial understanding of downloadable content (DLC).

Gaming companies have found that DLC is an absolute wealth of additional income, and have changed their approach to encourage as many consumers as possible to buy it.

The recent announcement of Dragon Ball FighterZ's upcoming eight DLC characters before the launch of the game has the fighting game community buzzing about the more and more common approach developers have been taking with this kind of thing.

I can't be mad at businessmen trying to do business in the most fruitful ways possible, but when extra content starts becoming required content that's being developed right alongside the core game, is that taking things too far?

First off, let's be real, the landscape has changed. The days of single purchase gaming are over. Perhaps it started more with mobile gaming, with phone apps drawing players in to play games for free, but then requiring the use of real money purchases to compete with others that are willing to invest.

You've probably seen images like this one (which is bordering on cliché at this point) commenting on more modern DLC practices:

Looking back, the concept of paying multiple times as companies update and fine tune a game was around even with Street Fighter 2.

There were multiple iterations of SF2, SF3 and SF4 that all came with additional price tags. The difference of then and now is in the fact that the upgrades are so much more immediate in the contemporary landscape.

One might argue that many sports game franchises see brand new titles every year, with not a ton changing outside of team rosters.

The gaming world's most popular title, League of Legends, uses a free-to-play model that only asks users for credit card pin numbers if they'd like to have quicker, broader access to the ever growing cast of characters, or if they want special skins that do not affect gameplay.

Capcom's Street Fighter 5 somewhat echoed this model to an extent in 2016 with their seasonal DLC character bundles, and has released a total of 12 additions to the roster over the course of two years.

Unlike many mobile titles and League of Legends, most fighting games require their players to make an initial purchase to even begin playing. The standard price for a new fighter is currently around $60.

To be current with SF5 players will have needed to have spent around $120 for the initial game as well as the 12 additional characters at this point, with the expectation of adding six more for another $30 in 2018.

Street Fighter 5 does offer a second avenue through which players can obtain new characters, as in-game currency is granted through routine gameplay. Technically, fans can access the entirety of the game simply by playing, but have the option to expedite the process by spending more money.

That's not the case with Capcom's following fighting title: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

Infinite players pay $60 for the game, but if they want access to the next six characters they'll need to fork over $30 for a Season Pass, or buy them individually at $8 a pop. No in-game currency options.

Dragon Ball FighterZ fans recently learned that they'll need to fork over an additional $35 for the game's pre-planned eight DLC characters after they make their initial purchase of, you guessed it, $60.

The trend is very much apparent: planned DLC has all but become the standard.

You might point out that it's ultimately the consumer's choice to purchase additional characters or not. While this is true, it's not hard to see the argument that if you're playing without a full roster, you're playing an incomplete game, and you're playing at a disadvantage.

This all comes in tandem with the boom of the eSports movement for the FGC. Players are now competing for hundreds of thousands of dollars in circuits of tournaments that stretch around the globe. Competitors will need access to all fighters if they are to practice and gain understanding of what will be coming at them in major competitions.

As far as competitive players go, fighting game culture would deem aesthetic customization and additional single player content as unnecessary to a game's core (and therefore fair game for DLC). An incomplete roster, however, makes for an incomplete experience.

Playing devil's advocate on this point, it's not entirely unheard of to see competitively successful players not purchase all characters.

One of the greatest Street Fighter 5 players in the world, Du "Liquid|NuckleDu" Dang took to Twitter back in February of this year (when he was fresh off his Capcom Cup victory and widely regarded as the undisputed best) to share that he'd not purchased DLC character Alex.

"I buy every DLC character so I can learn them and find counter strategies. Except for Alex, no need to invest $4.99 to figure him out 😅," Du said as a caption to the following photo of his character select screen:

Du on DLC image #1
Click images for larger versions

In the case of DBF, we're still months away from the late January release date, and we're not sure we even know the identities of all characters on the core roster. Despite this, Bandai Namco is already planning for our extra purchases long before they've given, or even revealed, to us all of the game's initial content.

This means that if I plan to play Dragon Ball FighterZ competitively, the game essentially costs me $95 on day one, and I don't even get to know everything that I'm getting yet.

Indeed, MvCI developers revealed plans for DLC characters long before the game's release date as well, though we certainly did not hear as much social backlash over this for some reason.

This news has the community a little unsettled, as some are beginning to feel as though they are being taken advantage of. This brings us to the question: is there a line, and has it been crossed?

Speaking of, there was a game released back in 2012 that dealt with this very issue. Let's jump back five years to revisit Street Fighter Cross Tekken.

This game wound up dying extremely fast after multiple issues arose, tainting the community's perception of it. Gameplay hiccups are expected at the start of any fighting game, and after an initial patch SFxT would become one of the more highly regarded fighters of its time in this avenue.

The sore thumb that we now see when we look back upon SFxT was the fact that developers created DLC content that was ready when the game launched. In fact, it was included on the very discs players purchased on release day.

Once the DLC was revealed, players quickly found out that it was merely locked behind a paywall.

The sentiment of the time is not dissimilar to what people have expressed with Bandai Namco's current approach to DBF, and would be perhaps the largest contributor to SFxT's tragically short life.

This isn't to say on-disc DLC is inherently bad. Epic Games design director Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski (Gears of War, Unreal Tournament) told GameSpot, "When you're making a game, and you're getting into a ship cycle, there's often three or four months where the game is basically done. And you have an idle team that needs to be working on things."

"And often for compatibility issues, [on] day one, some of that content does need to be on-disc. It's an ugly truth of the gaming industry. I'm not the biggest fan of having to do it, but it is one of the unfortunate realities."

The important nuance here is not whether or not a development company uses on-disc DLC, but rather the case by case motivations and approach to doing so.

Comparing what DBF is doing or what MvCI has done to what SFxT did isn't quite apples to apples. The concept feels very much similar however, as it's a developer presenting additional, arguably crucial, content before players have even had a chance to experience the initial game.

Not everyone will take issue with this, but it's certainly not going by unnoticed by the community. Is there anything that unhappy gamers can really do about it though?

If this is indeed the direction fighting games are going, then serious players best start preparing to offer up their additional $30-$35 per year to stay current. As mentioned, this kind of is the same old song and dance, but that first installment of $35 will likely be part of your pre-order.

Those that truly disagree with this practice will need to speak with their dollar more so than with their social media soap boxes.

Wrapping up, I again understand that businesses need to make money. It seems that the community has accepted the concept of making new characters added DLC. It does, after all, serve as a way to continually support games that we enjoy playing.

I haven't made personal judgement on this topic quite yet. I feel the negatives, I see the practical positives, and I'd like to hear second, third and fourth opinions.

Do these immediate DLC practices incite any feelings of hesitation for you? Is it just the way things are going to be from here on out? Let us know your feelings on the matter and let's have some conversation in the comments below.

Load comments (145)