What If Street Fighter Went Free-To-Play?

#1 Posted by jakob187 (21755 posts) -

With the release of Street Fighter X Tekken, I've seen a lot of hostility thrown towards the game because of how it is handling microtransactions. Specifically, people are relatively mad about how Dan has been used to basically say "yo, go into the DLC store and buy some gems". It's a regrettable use of a character that Street Fighter fans both love and hate in equal parts (although I'm firmly in the 'Dan is awesome' column). However, because of mechanics that have been introduced into Street Fighter games at this point, I couldn't help but compare it to a game that I frequently play: League of Legends. The more and more that I'm thinking about it, the more I realize the truth...

Street Fighter and League of Legends aren't that far off from each other anymore.

Allow me to demonstrate:

  • Both games feature an excessive number of characters to pick from.
  • Both require mastery of the game mechanics as well as a deeper understanding of the characters and timing.
  • Both have some douchebags in their community.
  • Both push microtransactions.

The only two differences that I can honestly think of are that Street Fighter is a retail game that costs anywhere from $20 - $60 (depending on which version you buy) and is a fighting game while League of Legends is free-to-play and is a strategy game.

However, what if Street Fighter WERE a free-to-play game, let alone a little more like League of Legends in some regards?

  • The Gem system isn't that far off from being a little bit like the Runes system from League of Legends, where you fill up a page with runes that you buy with the in-game currency gained from winning games. You actually cannot buy runes with real money, as they are items that directly influence and give an advantage to someone in the game. Therefore, if Street Fighter went free-to-play, you would offer the Gem system as a way for players to customize how they play a specific character in a greater way than there was before. It would mean that three people would play Ryu, but every one of those Ryu players might be different because of this extra layer of depth.
  • League of Legends, as of this writing, is currently up to 94 champions to choose from. Generally, a new champion is released every two weeks, and the new champ can be purchased either with the in-game currency (called influence points) or with real money (called Riot Points). Overall, a new champ runs you about $8 brand new when they first come out. Some may say "that's a lot", but for a character that you will play a ton, it's not that much at all. Meanwhile, most Street Fighter games seem to round out a little over 30 characters, maybe a little less sometimes. However, what if Street Fighter were able to release a new character every two weeks...or every month? They would cost about $5 - $8 upon release, or you could use whatever in-game currency you get from winning matches to buy them. Beyond that, visual skins/outfits/costumes are another way of making money, and Riot has figured that formula out very well. They typically release at least one new skin every week, and those usually cost around the same as the champion but feature a pretty extensive reworking of the character's art in many cases.
  • If Street Fighter went free-to-play, it would give more viability to playing Street Fighter on the PC, a place where players wouldn't have to war between which console is superior to play it on. Sure, the PC version of Street Fighter IV wasn't phenomenal, but it was also thrown together and is generally not the most played version. PS3 has been the dominant platform, but PC is where the dominance should rest. That's not a comment of PC elitism, but it's a platform where Capcom could work closely with some controller manufacturer to create a controller peripheral that works incredibly. At the same time, the majority who use an arcade stick would be able to plug up and go.
  • You wouldn't get so many re-releases of the same game over and over, as it would be one consistent and ongoing product that has ongoing balance tweaks and changes. New stages could be added for free, much the same way that League of Legends offered up Coop vs AI and Dominion.

When it comes down to it all, Capcom seems as though they are right on the verge of being free-to-play with the way they constantly want to offer up microtransactions and push out tons of iterative versions. Maybe that's because of the speed in which the fighting game community masters their games, but I think it mainly has to do with Capcom needing to push something out that will get some sales numbers because of their flailing status as a company. Nonetheless, it feels to me like the future of the Street Fighter franchise is in the free-to-play market. It's risky, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Moreover, it's a way to expand the audience of the game while also offering a new and stable platform for equality as well as competition.

What do you guys think? Is Capcom past the point of no return on something like this? Does Street Fighter as a free-to-play seem viable at all?

Until next time, piece.

#2 Posted by Brodehouse (10125 posts) -

Easily. Been saying this was an idea after I understood how League of Legends works with the rotating heroes.

#3 Posted by StarvingGamer (8545 posts) -

I've actually thought about this for a while now and I don't see why it couldn't work. I would just hope that Capcom would also include a buy-it-all $60 version for players like me.

#4 Edited by NyxFe (248 posts) -

The complexity to balance a fighting game is so much higher than that of DOTA/LoL (on a per-character basis, not whole game basis) that I think it would be rather difficult to do.

I haven't played LoL so inform me if its far different from DOTA, but sounds close enough from what I've heard. In these games you have: Four abilities per hero, stat gains, and a number of items which essentially just scale up your stats (some provide extra abilities, but these are generally usable across all heroes so balance is less of a concern, unless some exploitable mechanic is found in regard to that item & hero (see Blink Dagger in DOTA for Pudge and Vengeful Spirit))

In a properly designed fighting game, all 30 or however many characters must be balanced so that the 1v1 win percentage is as close to 50% as possible. This is attained through (ideally) somewhat different moves, each of which have a frame count, invincibility frames, priority, hitboxes, comboability, cancel frames, proration number, etc. This applies to Low/Medium/Fierce punches/kicks while standing, jumping, moving, crouching, as well as specials/supers/ultras.

The difficulty of this balance is clear when you look at the tier lists of nearly any fighting game in history. While this still applies to games like DOTA (only about 30/109 heroes considered viable in competitive), that does not make for a very compelling free-to-play game especially if the "viable" character are not on rotation any given week, essentially "forcing" a purchase to stay competitive (a problem discussed in regard to the power of purchase only LoL heroes, as Riot games essentially only serves to gain from making them more appealing and powerful while they are available for purchase only, though I make no claim as to whether or not this happens as I have literally no experience with LoL)

From less of a technical perspective, as a player of fighting games (and DOTA for about six years), part of learning the game was becoming intimately familiar with every single character available. In free to play games, often it is not possible (or takes an excessive amount of time) to be able to play each character to a satisfying level of knowledge. If learning the characters this intensely is not necessary, than its not much of a fighting game, is it? This is essentially the issue I have with the otherwise excellent Bloodline Champions, as I feel learning how each character works is essential, and a great disadvantage to free players (Not an issue to me, as I own the full edition, but at that point the game may as well be purchase only). The ideal solution for me would perhaps be providing a reasonable cross-section of the game for free (like a demo?) but having a stable roster one could gain access to through a purchase (and even possible purchase individual fighters if one knew what they liked, e.g. from arcades or a friend's copy)

EDIT1: As an additional note, I think the gems system in SFXT is absolutely ridiculous and counter to everything I enjoy about fighting games. It introduces unnecessary imbalance regarding who has what gems, and moves them away from true tests of individual skill which is generally what I want. (Fox only, no Items, Final Destination)

EDIT2: Based on this random post about the cost of all things in LoL, I can extrapolate that all the characters cost roughly $500 without putting in 88 days of total play time. We would need about seven more street fighter IV iterations before hitting that price point.

#5 Posted by artgarcrunkle (970 posts) -

It would be garbage in a lot of the same ways LoL is. A fighting game with 94 characters would be nearly impossible to balance. If their income came from selling new characters they probably wouldn't bother to rebalance old characters in order to encourage people to buy new ones. New characters would probably be new art with reused skill sets. Eventually old characters would be so bad relative to new characters that buying new characters would effectively make the game pay to win. If matchmaking were bad good competitive players would get stuck fighting mediocre to bad casual players. The gem system would be pay to win.

F2P games need to randomly reinforce player actions with wins/points/kills/whatever regardless of how well they play so casual players who don't have the ability or inclination to get better will keep coming back to spend money. Whatever they'd do to accomplish that would probably make the game ridiculously frustrating to serious players.

#6 Posted by WilltheMagicAsian (1547 posts) -

Capcom would probably intentionally release broken characters to get people to buy them and then issue a balance patch later for them.

#7 Posted by jakob187 (21755 posts) -

@NyxFe said:

In a properly designed fighting game, all 30 or however many characters must be balanced so that the 1v1 win percentage is as close to 50% as possible.

No, they don't. Characters can be weaker than others, as we saw with people like Dan and Juri in SSFIV. That doesn't mean they can't be well-played by someone and end up successful. Should I point over to GamerBee and his Adon?

As far as LoL goes, there's a bit of difference between it and DOTA, namely in the way the metagame works. The mechanics are the same: four abilities (one of which is your ultimate...or Ultra if you will), multiple types of roles to fill, and there is the leveling and item building. However, I'm using the BUSINESS MODEL of LoL as a reasoning for this post: free-to-play, offering an in-game currency as well as real money option to purchase characters and other necessary items for matches as well as skins and costumes, throwing out content balances on a weekly basis, etc.

That's the thing: everyone acts as though it's tough to balance a game on the magnitude of League, and for a lot of ways, it can be. However, those balance changes get released on a weekly/bi-weekly basis. Moreover, it helps them to push forward some champs that haven't gotten played in a while and push back some that have seen too much play. If anything, their idea of balance is that it's never going to be fully balanced, but it will be as close to balanced as they can possibly get.

@artgarcrunkle said:

It would be garbage in a lot of the same ways LoL is. A fighting game with 94 characters would be nearly impossible to balance. If their income came from selling new characters they probably wouldn't bother to rebalance old characters in order to encourage people to buy new ones. New characters would probably be new art with reused skill sets. Eventually old characters would be so bad relative to new characters that buying new characters would effectively make the game pay to win. If matchmaking were bad good competitive players would get stuck fighting mediocre to bad casual players. The gem system would be pay to win.

It would not be impossible to balance, as the balance tweaks would come out on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This has been proven in LoL. While the game isn't completely balanced (and never will be), can you honestly say that the retail version of SSFIVAE is 100% balanced? What about Street Fighter X Tekken? My point is this: every game has its periods where people play specific champs and characters. For instance, when Kog'Maw is free on the champ rotation in LoL, you see a ton of Kog'Maw. Why? Because people don't buy Kog'Maw very often because in competitive play, he's not a great ranged AD. However, when he's free, people like to have some fun with him. It's not always about the pure tournament competitive play, and I think that's one part that the fighting game community always fails to realize: there is more to fighting games than tournaments. Sometimes, people just want to go in and have some fun. Therefore, let there be only 30/94 characters that are truly viable for ranked play...in the minds of people that want to think that way. Meanwhile, I'm the guy that plays unconventional champs all the time in ranked LoL. Sometimes it wins, sometimes it loses. Nonetheless, as a player, I'm skilled enough to know I can do it. It comes down less to being skilled with a character as it is being skilled as a player.

I can see where that creates a bit of a problem with something like Street Fighter. I mean, a game of League can last an hour, whereas a full 3/5 on SF takes a handful of minutes. There's a bit more to a match of League, but generally knowing all the champs and knowing what they are capable of helps a ton. I look back at the time I was playing SFIV (and even further back to when I was playing SSFII) and I know that I was familiar enough with most characters in the game while still focusing on a handful of characters that I knew how to play because they fit the style I liked playing. The problem is that they were all weak against shoto characters, the predominant form of character to find in Street Fighter.

However, to say that Capcom would simply get lazy and just make a ton of shotos or something is a little ridiculous. If anything, it forces them to be creative in their character creation. Their entirety of income for the game relies on people buying the characters, right? Therefore, if they get lazy and just design a bunch of lame off-shoots or make junk characters, then they aren't getting paid. It's a form of game model that is directly influenced by the community that plays it. Meanwhile, the way you keep older characters relative to new characters is simply by reworking them if they are outdated. This has happened with a handful of champs in League of Legends, such as Sivir. Sivir was considered to be the worst ranged AD in the game for a long time, and then they announced a rework on her. Eventually, when the rework was released, people wrote her off...until tournament players started using her and showing how improved she was. She quickly was considered the best ranged AD in the game because of her new viability and flexibility. The beauty of it? They didn't do that much to rework her at all.

Characters like Ryu, Ken, Chun-li, etc will never become truly outdated. Some might, but it's part of the careful design process. You need to know the types of mechanics you can allow for. You should also remember that most champs in League of Legends aren't simply created within a two week period. They are typically in development for a while before they see a release, and they always require a majority vote from the staff at Riot before they are released.

Also, most champs and character upon release will probably have some kind of broken/needs balance issue. Some of it could be a sales ploy, but people become savvy to that type of thing quickly. Regardless of that, it's much the same way we can speak of betas: you never know how a game will go until it's released into the wild of the gaming community's hands. Therefore, until we have our opportunity to play it, they could think it's all balanced as hell until we break it.

*THE SHORT VERSION OF ALL THAT*

It will all work itself out organically.

#8 Edited by NyxFe (248 posts) -

@jakob187 said:

@NyxFe said:

In a properly designed fighting game, all 30 or however many characters must be balanced so that the 1v1 win percentage is as close to 50% as possible.

No, they don't. Characters can be weaker than others, as we saw with people like Dan and Juri in SSFIV. That doesn't mean they can't be well-played by someone and end up successful. Should I point over to GamerBee and his Adon?

This is ridiculous, of course you would want all characters to be equally balanced. Just because I can beat people at Third Strike with Twelve doesn't make him anything but a bottom-tier fighter, and any time I play someone equally skilled (or better than me) It's pretty much down to Yun or Chun-Li. If you want the game to be healthy competitively, you absolutely must have as equal balance as possible. There will always be players who are good enough to play a low-tier character successfully, but look at the brackets of any tournament and it's rare to see anything but the higher tiers.

This issue arises doubly so in regards to the free-to-play model - If Jim spends his money on low tier fighter X, is he not getting less value than Bob who purchases top-tier fighter Y? Even if X in the right hands is workable against other fighters, what kind of introduction to a game is that for a new player? Ideally the new user experience should be equal regardless of what character they choose - since they are choosing based on nothing but appearance without ample game experience - and in order for that to be the case, characters need to be balanced exceptionally well.

For an example of this, look at David Sirlin's game Yomi, examining the win percentages of all ten decks in tournament play shows a variance of less than 7.4%. I do not have stats for, e.g. , third strike, but I can almost guarantee you the rates for characters like Jun and Chun-Li would be vastly different than those of Q or Twelve or Sean. In Yomi, a new player can choose any deck s/he likes and learn to play at almost the same level as a player who picked any other deck when they started. That seems like much better game design to me.

You say it will balance "organically", but that is essentially what happens to closed-roster fighting games. Over time, as the metagame matures, the tiers become more and more clear. This allows for the game to be more about individual skill than choice of character, as it should be (Super Smash Brothers Melee is a good example of an evolving metagame, specifically we can look at Jigglypuffs position over the years). With constant roster updates, there is essentially no way for this type of metagame to evolve - as any interactions between roster members can be destabilized by new fighters or patches attempting to bring everything in line with those new fighters.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.