King of Fighters 14 is a perfect example of how DLC keeps a game alive in this day and age, and how industry approach to fighting games has changed

Fans have been rewarded with multiple DLC packs thanks to their support of the game, and this is how fighting games work in today's climate

Posted by Nicholas 'MajinTenshinhan' Taylor • April 20, 2018 at 8:02 p.m. PDT | Comments: 58

The never-ending theme of modern day gaming is DLC, where you continuously add content to a game after it's been released, and fighting games are obviously far from exempt from this practice.

Last year, I did a piece analyzing how DLC can best be kept fair for both sides of the equation, namely the consumers buying the game as well as the developers making the game.

After all, game development is definitely not cheap, in fact, it's now more expensive than ever, and development cycles have increased in time, so it makes sense both for the consumer to get more out of their game because of how long they'll have to wait for a possible sequel, and also from the company's side to keep the team employed longer for a potentially bigger return of investment.

This can also be a good way to respond to feedback from players, who can theoretically get their woes fixed in a game now instead of having to wait for a sequel or different game, by which point they might have lost interest entirely.

While these scenarios are ideal and perhaps overwhelmingly optimistic, these are the kinds of promises DLC could potentially hold, though the reality might not always be in line with said ideal.

With all modern fighting games employing some form of DLC, it's definitely something you have to get used to as a consumer, and while scummy DLC practices definitely exist, let's take a look at some consumer-friendly DLC we've been treated to, and how it came about.

Perhaps the best example of successful DLC practices lately is King of Fighters 14, which was development with a smaller budget than most larger companies can afford, and SNK made it clear in interviews that if the game did well, they would consider doing DLC to add on to the game later.

With a massive roster of 50 fighters already at release, it felt like SNK had already outdone themselves as far as delivering to their fans came, especially with so many of the characters being brand new, that adding more to such a fantastic selection would truly be maximal fan service.

Let's be honest, this is just a beautiful sight when you boot up a game for the first time.

With King of Fighters not being as big of a franchise as it perhaps deserves to be, the goals were kept relatively low, and were both reached and exceeded, leading to big success for SNK, and even more joy for fans - because the first DLC pack of fan favorite characters became a reality, and 8 months after the game's release, we were treated to several highly requested characters.

Beloved classics Whip, Yamazaki, Vanessa all made their return to the game in April of last year, and Rock Howard, one of SNK's most popular characters who originally appeared in Garou: Mark of the Wolves, made his King of Fighters debut, although the DLC characters were kept outside of the story, probably to make sure they could bring as satisfying a DLC roster as possible, without being bogged down by story reasons.

Further down the line, we were treated to the announcement that King of Fighters 14 would receive another brand new character, who turned out to be the mysterious Najd, the series' first middle-eastern character, with a new stage for her as well. This eventually turned out to be a full-fledged DLC package again, meaning more fan requests were going to make the return.

Now, this month, we've been treated to the newcomer Najd, as well as old favorites Oswald, Heidern and, one of my personal top characters from SNK, Blue Mary. Nobody expected the game to get as much post-launch support as it eventually did, but here we are, with such a huge roster still expanding.

This is obviously thanks to the fan support for the game, bringing in strong enough sales that the publisher's behind the title saw it as profitable enough where they could continue to support the game. Despite the huge amount of effort already put in to the game at launch, there's always room for more if fans can show that their demand is there.

Whatever your thoughts are on DLC as a concept, it's something you won't be able to escape in modern gaming, and as far as fighting games go, I think it's something that should be embraced when developers do it in a fair and just manner.

As detailed in my previous article which is linked up at the top of this one, there are many ways developers can go about doing DLC, and revealing season passes and DLC plans before the game even launches is generally seen as a pretty scummy thing to do, since it heavily implies that the company are cutting things out of the game to nickle and dime you for them later, whether that's actually the case or not.

But comparing the current era of fighting games with what we got in yesteryear, which was filled of fully new retail-priced boxes for what were essentially just balance changed versions in some cases, I think supporting good DLC is a much healthier option than having to buy every single game multiple times just to get the newest stuff.

"This might be getting a bit out of hand," said no company in the '90s.

Obviously, the concept of DLC hasn't been without growing pains as far as fighting games go. It wasn't even ten years ago that we were still getting full new retail releases for games like Street Fighter 4 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to get the latest updates, and even more recently that we had to do the same with Guilty Gear or BlazBlue.

Hence why it feels so refreshing to see the return of King of Fighters to the big scene of fighting games, and SNK treating their loyal customers fairly with proper DLC releases that are entirely made to thank loyal fans, and of course get some extra profits out of the game they worked hard to make in the first place.

With basically every fighting game out right now doing DLC as part of their business model, it's important for each and every one of us to consider what we think is a fair DLC practice and support that as best we can, because you can bet that the companies are watching. If something is looking like it's working well, that's what companies will be trying to emulate in the future.

Of course, the story is somewhat different when you compare the larger publishers with the smaller ones - SNK getting enough profits from King of Fighters 14 to still support the game with additional content almost two years down the line is a grand feat, and it was similarily impressive to see Team Ninja being able to support Dead or Alive 5 for as long as they did.

DLC, as a core part of the gaming industry today, means that most larger companies will make plans long before the game itself is actually released for what kind of DLC they want to have in the game, and some sort of schedule for it.

In fact, Street Fighter 5 is entirely built around DLC supporting the game for a long time, something they were very upfront with about before the game's launch. With a relatively small roster of 16 characters at launch, 2 years later we found ourselves at 30 and with many more to come, so whether you like the model or hate it, it's something they've delivered on exactly as promised.

This isn't really a freedom smaller companies have, because their budgets aren't big enough to lock in DLC in advance, and they have to wait and see how the game itself does before they can start thinking about it. This is how we can see very clearly the effect community support has on games today.

In the past, you'd hope that your support of a game could lead to an eventual sequel in the future, and with shorter game development times, things like King of Fighters being an annual series were actually a possibility.

Since that's not something that's on the table anymore - though honestly, I don't know if we'd even want it to be - the kind of DLC we're seeing in King of Fighters 14 is an amazing way for developers to throw their fans a bone while hopefully making plans on a grander scale for an eventual sequel.

What I'm looking to seeing from SNK is how they approach the next game in the series. With such a massive launch roster for King of Fighters 14, which also wasn't able to reuse any assets since it was their first proper endeavor into 3D, not counting the Maximum Impact side-games, you can clearly tell how hard they're working on satisfying their fans.

With the roster expanding even further after that, it now boasts the biggest roster of any current fighting game, tied with the gargantuan roster of Super Smash Bros. 4, which actually contains a few characters like Lucina and Dr. Mario that are barely different from their counterpart characters Marth and Mario.

In that light, King of Fighters 14 is a beast without match, and I can't even begin to imagine what we'll be seeing from King of Fighters 15 in the future. Obviously, with so many models and movesets worked out already, it'd be a shame to not bring them back in the eventual next installment, if they are indeed working on it, but there's a backside to this, too.

"You better not cut me from the KoF15 roster, SNK... !"

The more characters you have in the game, the more rigorous you must be with balance testing, character design and all kinds of programming to make sure that everything interacts in a way it's supposed to. Simply told, for each character you add to a roster, adding the next one will become that more difficult.

It's not like SNK are strangers to fighting game development, having been in the game for over 20 years, but it's a truly daunting task to try and surpass yourself after bringing out such a loaded product as King of Fighters 14 was when it came out.

Earlier up, I express my joy at seeing SNK put themselves back on the map with King of Fighters 14 and lining up besides the big boys of the fighting game world with a brand new title.

Now, I'm a mix of anxious and hopeful to see how they'll be able to stay in the game with the ever-expanding difficulties that will inevitably rear their ugly heads as a side effect from bigger and better things.

But hey, that's what fighting games are all about, right? The struggle to improve even as it becomes more and more difficult to do so. SNK will figure out, I'm sure.

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