Despite an extremely brief teaser at E3 2013, Microsoft’s Killer Instinct reboot has become one of the most-talked about titles of the Xbox One launch – since the fighting game is relying on a progressive “free-to-play” model. Unlike recent competitors, such as NetherRealm’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, Killer Instinct will allow interested gamers several purchasing options: free-to-play (limited to a single “seasonal” fighter, ex. Jago at launch), a la carte (individual fighters can be purchased for $4.99 each), the Combo Breaker Pack (which includes access to all six launch fighters and two post-launch DLC characters for $19.99), or the Ultra Edition (the same as the Combo Breaker Pack plus extra costumes, accessories, and the original Killer Instinct arcade game for $39.99).
Initially, certain gamers balked at the idea – especially before Microsoft detailed the Combo Breaker Pack and Ultra Edition options. However, as further details (and characters) have been revealed, the demo/free-to-play approach is starting to look like a smart idea – especially since gamers still have the capability of buying Killer Instinct as if it was a non-free-to-play digital offering. Now, with the news that developer Double Helix Games intends to offer a new “season” of Killer Instinct each year, it sounds as though the idea isn’t just smart, it has the potential to be extremely profitable for years to come.
Speaking with Eurogamer, Microsoft’s first-party Xbox One creative director Ken Lobb offered new insights into what the game publisher has planned for Killer Instinct and clarified how pricing differs from exploitative free-to-play models. Lobb asserts that Microsoft is not out to milk players for extra cash and claims they are actually attempting to provide gamers with lower barriers to entry:
“I just want to get as many people playing as I can. Some people are like, ‘oh, free-to-play.’ No. It’s not free-to-play. What is free-to-play? It’s a thing you really can’t ever own at all. Day one, if you want to buy our game, buy it. You own it. There’s no grind for little coins that unlock things later. None of that [...] If you buy the $40 pack, there are a couple of other little things you’ll be able to buy, but you’re done. It’s not like there’s some buy coins to unlock thing. That’s why I’ve always said this is not a free-to-play game.”
Even though gamers will have access to the full roster of characters (Jago, Sabrewulf, Glacius, Thunder, Cinder, Fulgore, and Spinal to start), Killer Instinct will not include a campaign story mode at launch (Lobb says that will “come later”). This means that whether gamers take Jago for a free test drive or purchase the Ultra Edition of the game, gameplay will be (for now) limited to tutorial and practice modes as well as local and online multiplayer.
It’s unclear, at this point, how a story mode will be implemented down the line, Lobb confirmed the developer intends to introduce new content into the game each year as “seasons” – with the goal of updating the game throughout the Xbox One lifecycle (assuming players respond to their reboot in the first place). Discussing how the payment options will work in “season 2″ of the game in 2014, Lobb claims the pricing model will stay the same:
“You can pay $20 again and now you have 16 characters, or you pay $40 again and you’ll get the everything version.”
While a $39.99 price tag will probably be enticing for fans of the Killer Instinct franchise (or newcomers who spend a lot of time with the demo offerings), it’ll be interesting to see how gamers feel after two or three seasons of the title. $80 or $120 is pretty pricey for a fighting game with only 16 or 24 characters – compared to full featured retail competitors, such as Mortal Kombat which included 28 fighters at launch for $60 along with a lengthy single player story mode and challenges.
That said, there’s no reason to think that Microsoft won’t find a way to flesh out the overall package with each “season.” It’s unlikely that players will complain that the launch version is geared toward multiplayer – since, if gamers are still committed to the project down the line, Microsoft can sweeten their package with single player add-ons in season 2, season 3, and beyond.
Killer Instinct is an Xbox One launch title.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on Killer Instinct as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.