Within the past 2 weeks, 2 major announcements relating to fighting games led me to question my loyalty to the genre. Both of these announcements were loaded with the kind of product placement and cross marketing that would make Michael Bay proud. These new developments in fighting game marketing have changed my perspective and left me morally conflicted. Before I get into my personal frustrations, I want to go over the content of each announcement and outline the good, the bad, and the ugly within each.
Kombat Pack 2
The first blow was dealt by NetherRealm Studios (NRS). On December 4, 2015 NRS announced that they were bringing a second Kombat Pack (paid DLC character pack) to Mortal Kombat X in 2016. The characters announced were Bo Rai Cho, Tri-Borg, Xenomorph (from the movie Alien), and Leatherface (from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre); 4 New characters, 2 of whom are guests. MKX already brought us Jason (from Friday the 13th) and The Predator (from Predator) in the previous Kombat Pack. That’s right, in 2016 MKX will have a total of 4 guest characters, and all 4 of these guest characters will star in their own feature film in the same year. Coincidence? No, this is product placement at its finest. You see, NetherRealm studios is a subsidiary of Warner Bros., and as we all know WB is primarily known for making movies. With this knowledge in mind, it is easy to see how NetherRealm arrived at the selection of its guest characters and why there are so many.
-These characters are optional. You do not have to buy them to enjoy MKX.
-Having the option to play Alien vs. Predator is actually pretty damn cool.
-Series creator Ed Boon may not have even had much of a say on whether or not these characters were in the game. If this is the case, then the next Mortal Kombat will mostly likely continue this trend.
-Despite being optional, the new characters will still appear on the character select screen. The character silhouettes will be grayed out and unselectable until you pay for them. Intrusive product placement may now be a staple feature in future NRS games.
-Seriously, who the fuck asked for this guy?
I bought the first Kombat Pack in a bundle with the game. However, I can’t in my right mind justify the purchase of the second Kombat Pack. I may purchase Bo Rai Cho and Tri Borg individually but I’m not going to bother with the guests. They will stay gray on my select screen forever. That explains the bomb NRS dropped, but what did Namco do?
This is a Tekken screen shot… yup!
The second critical hit came from Namco-Bandai. On December 12th 2015 shortly after the conclusion of the Global Tekken 7 Tournament, Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada presented a new trailer for an updated version of Tekken 7. In this trailer it is revealed that Street Fighter’s Akuma would be joining the cast of T7 not only as a playable character, but also as a pivotal player in the game’s story…
With the impending launch of Street Fighter V in February 2016 this would seem to be a smart move to pull in new players, but is it really? SF fans will be playing SFV when it comes out, not Tekken. Even when Akuma does become playable, SFV will already be available on consoles in both Japan and America. This leads me to believe that the only additional profits to be gained would be from Asian fans that play both SF and Tekken. That to me seems a like a very narrow market. This would make more sense to me if Tekken 7 was being released on consoles in February and SFV later in the year. I could understand using Akuma to pull in a new crowd of players and to also hype them up for a new SF game coming out later in the year. However, Namco’s marketing seems backwards and flawed to me. It almost looks like they are trying to boost the sales of SFV and not the sales of their own game.
It is known that Yoshinori Ono (Capcom) and Katsuhiro Harada (Namco) are good friends and business partners. With that being said, we can deduce that they are not trying to compete with each other. It is clear they are working together, but I just don’t see how Namco is going to benefit from this move. The further they push back the US console release date, the lower their profit margin will be. If they wanted to see a huge spike in profits, Namco should have released the game worldwide back in March with Akuma to promote SFV and a new player base. Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe Namco has something grand planned to for the console release of Tekken. Only time will tell. Akuma-Matata!
-Using Akuma to bring in new players will work.
-It doesn’t look like you will have to pay for Akuma.
-The new players brought in by Akuma will probably just go right back to playing SFV after a month or so.
-Because we don’t have to pay for Akuma, there is no option to ignore him…
-We still have no word on an American console release date.
-There will probably be more Street Fighter characters on the console version of the game.
-Akuma is now officially part of Tekken’s story lore. Harada promised us answers… We got trolled… hard.
-Imagine all of the Akuma scrubs that will be online…
So those are the details of each announcement, but why then did these announcements frustrate me?
Why I believe this practice is unethical:
I’ve played each of these games from the very beginning. Like a father raising a son, I’ve watched them grow, change, and evolve with each installment. I supported the companies that designed great games both in the arcades and on console. As long as the product was good I would gladly pay for it. However, I can no longer say that about any of the new fighting games that are coming out now. These games are now being designed with cross marketing gimmicks to bring in as much money as possible. The quality of the actual game comes second, so much so that the games are being intentionally underdeveloped so that you end up paying for additional content down the line.
Let’s look at Street Fighter V as an example:
-Street Fighter V will retail for $59.99 – Pre-order now and you will have limited beta access and 1 new alternate costume. You get a different costume depending on where you pre-order. (fucking really?)
-A large portion of the character roster isn’t even going to be included in the retail version of the game, and will cost you $29.99 for each season pass of 6 characters (expect another season pass to follow.)
-Also, I can bet we won’t get an Akuma DLC until after Tekken 7 comes out on console. Sorry Akuma fans, Namco is borrowing Akuma for a bit so you have to wait. Hell, he may not even come to SFV at all! We may end up seeing a Tekken character put into SFV instead! I’m calling it now.
-Add all this up and you’re looking at spending roughly $90-$150, possibly more after all the DLC has been released. But hey, at least Capcom let you know up front so you can get those pre-orders in! Don’t forget to pick up a new Mad Catz fight stick while you’re at it!
See what I did there? If you want to play, get ready to pay, and pay again. Like MKX before it, SFV has adopted the gaming business model of our current generation. This expansion-based business model is deceptive, greedy, and manipulative, and the saddest part about of all this is that it works! If character X is in game Y, fans are more than willing to pay for unfinished products loaded with intrusive cross-marketing. They could add a fighting can of Mountain Dew (Ha-DEW-Can!) to any one of these games and people would buy it.
A visual representation of product placement in fighting games.
So what do we do about this?
This is where I’ve become conflicted. There is no easy way around this. The only way to end this is to stop paying for the content. Don’t buy the season pass, don’t buy the extra costumes, don’t buy the guest characters, and don’t buy the game until it’s complete. I understand that is hard a thing to do. Nobody wants to miss out on the fun, but if we continue to support this practice it will only get worse.
To conclude my thoughts, you must understand it was not easy for me to swallow these truths. I grew up playing the original Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games. Tekken will always be my favorite fighting game series, regardless of how many guests show up. But at the end of the day, I still feel that the product placement and cross marketing prevalent in these fighting games is avaricious and unnecessary.
These are just my opinions though. What do you guys think? Are fighting games being marketed in the right way? Are guest characters necessary? Is a character season pass really worth the price? Would you buy Ha-Dew-Can? Please let me know either here or on Facebook! I look forward to the discussion.
But seriously guys, get your pre-orders in now, Ryu’s beard and Chun Li’s new clothes aren’t going to unlock themselves!