Is free-to-play the future of fighting games? | Digital Trends (2023)

When it comes to video game genres, fighting games tend to be a step behind the curve. The fact that it took an entire pandemic for developers to finally look into better netcode for fighters speaks volumes.


  • The barriers of the genre
  • The future of fighters?
  • Free-to-play, but not flawless

At an even more basic level, the way fighting games operate has been called “archaic” by players who feel that the genre is in need of a switch-up to make them more accessible to modern, mainstream audiences. One of the fighting game community’s main talking points at the moment is free-to-play (FTP), a popular business model that fighting games have largely shied away from, even as games like shooters find success with the practice. If the genre wants to remain competitive in today’s modern landscape, it may need to make that pivot soon — but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

PLEASE make fighting games Free To Play

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The barriers of the genre

A part of the perceived “need” for the change comes from the sheer number of fighting games out there right now and on the horizon. Maximilian “Dood” Christiansen, a high-profile fighting game content creator, has studied and enjoyed the genre for decades and follows this mindset.


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Christiansen has previously noted that older fighting games were able to stay relevant due to a lack of options in the past, which meant one game could hold a player’s attention more easily. Today, there’s a larger variety of quality titles to choose from. However, each brings its own extra costs, from the price of the game itself to DLC to subscriptions that allow players to fight online. Fighting games are expensive enough as is, so your average player isn’t likely to invest in several games simply out of curiosity.

“Most fighting games are gonna result in the same problem until there’s big sales, expansions, or a reason to check out an old thing, because a new thing is really cool,” Christiansen states in a video titled “Please make fighting games free to play“. “But there’s always the barrier, right? You have to pull out your wallet and spend money. If you didn’t have to do that and shit was just free and you can just fire it up and try it, then of course you’re going to find people. That game will always have people playing.”

Is free-to-play the future of fighting games? | Digital Trends (1)

That paralysis of choice leads to another major problem that Max also brings up: Massive skill gaps. If you’ve ever gone online with older fighting games as a new player, there’s a 90% chance you’ll run into a veteran who can destroy you as they make a sandwich, brush their teeth, and update their LinkedIn account at the same time. For many, it can make games feel “unfair” for new players, creating a barrier to entry.

That’s not to say this issue wouldn’t be a thing with free-to-play fighters as well. However, the nature of this “try before you buy” model would lead to a greatly diverse and potentially ever-growing pool of players at different skill levels. This means more beginners can match up with other beginners instead of being pitted against veterans of the game.

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The future of fighters?

A free-to-play model is a proposed solution to those hurdles. Players like Christiansen see going free-to-play as a way to not only keep the initial investing audience around, but to welcome in new players too. That could theoretically reduce the dramatic difference in skill level that new players experience.

Fighting games are expensive compared to a lot of modern multiplayer games (many of which are free-to-play in some way). There’s a chance a new player won’t enjoy the game, but not find out until spending hours learning. One might have the only character they enjoy locked behind DLC, meaning not just paying for the game, but additional content as well. All these barriers are pushed to the sidelines with the FTP model.

Fighting games are EXPENSIVE

While not the most popular with the fighting game community, there are titles that have gone this route. Killer Instinct and the Smash Bros-esque platform fighter Brawlhalla embraced a FTP model. I personally have invested tons of hours into Killer Instinct and found that I love how it handles its model.

When I booted upKiller Instinct for the first time in years, I knew there were only a few characters I was interested in. After researching them, I bought those characters and quickly found my main at a much lower price than purchasing a full fighting game and its DLC. Killer Instinct even allows players to access non-purchased characters as training dummies, which is an ingenious move and something I wish all fighting games would do. It means I don’t have to waste money buying characters I don’t want to use, but need to practice against if I want to stand a chance online.

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While it seems similar to the standard fighting game DLC practices, it stands out in an honest manner by allowing curious players to test out two characters for free to learn and find out if they like the game’s engine and mechanics. There’s also a third free-to-use character that rotates throughout the roster on a weekly basis. Implementation such as this gives players the ability to try before they buy. Instead of purchasing an entire package, they can buy the pieces they want. It’s a smart formula for a genre where many only want to play as three or four different characters.

Killer Instinct Launch Trailer

Good implementation of FTP in fighting games can be seen in Brawlhalla, which still boasts 10,000 players online daily, according to Steamcharts. With the upcoming Warner Bros. crossover fighter Multiversusbeing an FTP fighter with mainstream characters, it may even break those numbers and more records of the genre.

Free-to-play, but not flawless

A Free to Play Model Could Work for Fighting Games (But There Are Some Hurdles)

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It all sounds like a slam dunk in theory, but the reality isn’t so simple. Traditional fighting games like Killer Instinct,Fantasy Strike, andDead or Alive 6 that have gone FTP still haven’t been able to hold on to a consistent player base despite the model. Brawlhalla has found more success, but it features a more casual playstyle akin to Super Smash Bros. rather than something “hardcore” like Street Fighter.

Free-to-play could introduce new issues for the genre too. Professional fighting game analyst, commentator, and once competitor Sajam talks about how games like Fortnite seemingly drop a never-ending well of skins, wraps, effects, emotes, and more to keep players in their wallets and spending in the item shop. While not the case for every fighter, certain fighting game studios just don’t generate the revenue needed to keep up with such a model. The FTP model has also been poisoned by games that tried, and failed, to make the model work.

Wasn’t Tekken Revolution Free to Play In a screwed up way? We had stats that we can improve which changed the gameplay. We also had randomly occurring critical hits that we had no control over

— Rauschka (@Rauschka_tk) April 5, 2022

Games likeTekken Revolutionand Dead or Alive 6: Core Fighters left sour tastes in the mouths of community members when they exposed how scummy the model can feel. Tekken Revolution featured pay-to-win stat boosts and only allowed players to fight in five matches at a time unless they bought a ticket to continue. A general lack of content and support for DoA:6 led to its quick death.

There’s also the fact that fighting games tend to be harder than the other competitive games out there. They aren’t made to be easily digestible to a casual audience like Smash Bros. and its clones like Brawlhalla andMultiversus.Just because you make it free to pick up and learn how to do a quarter-circle forward to half-circle back motion, doesn’t mean many will still want to do so. The genre just isn’t as approachable as, say, a shooter — and that’s another hurdle that many fans used to write off FTP.

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While there are issues that can come with going free-to-play, it’s still an approach worth exploring. The positives outweigh the negatives and many community members are on board for a game like Street Fighter 6 taking a Fortnite-like approach. Will developers be willing to upend a classic genre so easily? If the long-archaic past and present of fighting games is anything to go by, probably not. But if a major release ever did, it’s possible that others could follow suit.

Many are looking to Riot’s upcoming fighting game, Project L, as the litmus test of the model in the genre thanks to the company’s past with FTP. With its reach, knowledge, and possible support from the fighting game community, it could easily be the game to revolutionize fighters going forward. However, there are a lot of “ifs” in that argument, so we’ll have to see if it can win over the skeptics.

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What is the #1 fighting game right now? ›

Fighting Games Leaderboard
#NameViewer Hours
1Super Smash Bros. Ultimate841,054
2Street Fighter V300,228
3Super Smash Bros. Melee285,416
4Tekken 7250,868
6 more rows

How does online gaming affect social interactions? ›

The social consequences of gaming addiction can be devastating. It can put a huge strain on relationships with family members and friends. Lying about the amount of time spent gaming and neglecting others to play video games compulsively can cause conflict, confrontation and even marriage breakdowns.

Is rollback the best netcode? ›

It can result in poor latency between your controller and the action of the game, as well as freezes and stutters in the game, and completely missed inputs. Again, given that latency is incredibly important in competitive games, like fighting games, Rollback provides the best possible experience.

What are the benefits of online gaming? ›

Here are 10 advantages to playing online games:
  • Social. When online gaming first started, it was not social. ...
  • Concentration. Online gaming requires patience, quick actions, and, most importantly, concentration. ...
  • Analytical Skills. ...
  • Relaxation. ...
  • Mood Elevation. ...
  • Educational. ...
  • Learn New Skills. ...
  • Improved Vision.
Feb 7, 2022

Are fighting games harder than FPS? ›

FPS are way harder than fighting games to be at an elite level. We knew this from the very beginning. Wait, what do you mean every player I run into doesn't know every move and their frame data perfectly and also knows every matchup as well?

Does gaming improve our social lives? ›

Gaming for both children and adults alike serves as a common interest and point of conversation which can create bonds and enhance social skills. Multi-player and online games allow for constant communication between players which results in the development of both meaningful and casual relationships.

Does gaming improve social skills? ›

Studies have found that playing video games, especially those that are social and collaborative, can lead to more prosocial behaviors (behavior that is positive, helpful, and aimed toward social acceptance and friendship) among children.

What are 3 risks of online gaming? ›

The biggest risks of online gaming include:
  • Malware and viruses. If you try to find cheaper or free versions of your favorite games, then you risk inadvertently downloading viruses and malware instead. ...
  • Identity theft. ...
  • Account takeover. ...
  • Swatting and doxing. ...
  • Spyware. ...
  • Data breaches. ...
  • Cross-site scripting. ...
  • DDoS attacks.

What does RTT stand for in fighting games? ›

Real-time tactics - Wikipedia.

Does Tekken use rollback? ›

Tekken 7 technically has rollback netcode already, but the way it's implemented makes it difficult to notice and essentially useless. It's a testament to how many players enjoy the game that its online modes are still populated even after all this time.

Do FPS games have rollback? ›

Projectile is tougher than fighting games but hitscan is probably a bit easier so about the same overall. If I'm not mistaken tf2(and most source games/most fps games in general) do use a form of rollback. The game predicts where enemies will be and when it's wrong it corrects it.

How can online games affect your life? ›

Vision problems are common complaints of gamers. The most common vision problem is eye strain, which can lead to headaches and poor concentration. Gaming has been reported to result in seizures, leading to warnings on the packaging. Gaming has also been associated with psychological problems.

Are online games good or bad? ›

Moreover, all day of sitting and playing online games is detrimental for physical and mental health. Also at times, kids can download games from unsafe sources which may bring viruses to their mobile phone or PC.

What is the hardest fighting game to play? ›

7 Hardest Fighting Games, Ranked
  • 7/7 Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3.
  • 6/7 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
  • 5/7 Injustice 2.
  • 4/7 Dragon Ball FighterZ.
  • 3/7 Mortal Kombat 11.
  • 2/7 Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition.
  • 1/7 Tekken 7.
Oct 31, 2022

Are FPS games stressful? ›

So, which games bring people to their boiling point? For the majority of gamers (57.8%), the first-person shooter genre caused the most stress, followed by multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBA).

Does Ping matter in fighting games? ›

The best levels to sit at are between 15 and 45ms, but anything up till 100ms is still acceptable. Anything above 100ms can start to make the game unplayable, and can be very detrimental in a fast-paced game. Sometimes, if the ping is too high, games can reject your connection and throw you out of the match.

Does size matter for fighting? ›

When opponents are close to the same weight, the determining factor in the outcome of the match is usually skill, not size. That said, size can still be a factor. If two opponents are evenly matched and one is slightly bigger than the other, that person may have an advantage.

What is the most played fighting game 2022? ›

Evo 2022's most viewed stream games were Street Fighter 5 and Tekken 7.

What fighting game should i play 2022? ›

Super Smash Bros.

Ultimate is one of the best fighting games of all time and that's because it features one hell of a character roster. With over 80 playable characters from Mario, Ness, and Kirby to leads from iconic series like Final Fantasy, Minecraft, and Street Fighter – there's something for everyone in Ultimate.

What are the big 3 fighting games? ›

  • Mortal Kombat - 73 million.
  • Super Smash Bros. - 66 million.
  • Tekken - 54 million.
  • Street Fighter - 48.4 million.
  • Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm - 20.80 million.
  • Soulcalibur - 15 million.
  • Virtua Fighter- 5.5 million.
  • Bloody Roar - 1.47 million.

What's the newest fighting game? ›

13 New Upcoming Fighting Games of 2023
  • #13 God of Rock.
  • #12 Die by the Blade.
  • #11 Final Fury.
  • #10 Project L.
  • #9 Clash: Artifacts of Chaos.
  • #8 Orbitals.
  • #7 Evolver.
  • #6 Blazing Worldstars.
Dec 12, 2022

What is #1 game in the world 2022? ›

1. PUBG. There is a huge fan following of PUBG in the world. The main highlight of this game is its realistic graphics and top-notch gameplay.

What is the 2nd most popular game in the world right now 2022? ›

In August 2022, the top PC games in the world by monthly active users were Minecraft, the Sims 4, and Fortnite.

What is the #1 video game in 2022? ›

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

What is the hardest game in the world 2022? ›

Hardest Video Games 2022: These are the 10 most difficult games of the last 12 months according to new research - from Elden Ring to Deathloop
  1. Elden Ring. ...
  2. Cuphead in The Delicious Last Course. ...
  3. NieR:Automata - The End of The YoRHa Edition. ...
  4. Gran Turismo 7.
Oct 19, 2022

Which game is in trend in 2022? ›

One of the biggest mobile game market trends in 2022 will be mobile esports. In 2020, there were almost half a billion esports viewers. (Newzoo) The pandemic had a big impact on this. We expect that number to rise in 2022, as the popularity of watching games is increasing.

What is S in fighting games called? ›

Guilty Gear for example has Kick (K), Punch (P), Slash (S), Heavy Slash (HS), and Dust (D), so “down, down+forward, forward+slash” would simply be 236S.

What does J mean in fighting games? ›

The numbers correspond to the joystick direction. For example, 1 is down/back, 2 is down, and 3 is down/forward. Let's just stick to Western notations for now. j. -- jumping.

What does K mean in fighting games? ›

K = Any Kick Button. LK = Light Kick. MK = Medium Kick. HK = Heavy/Hard Kick.

Will there be a Disney fighting game? ›

Disney All-Star Brawl is a fighting game developed by Square Enix. It is released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC.

Is there a 3d fighting game? ›

Fighting games that employ three-dimensional gameplay, including standards like Tekken, Soulcalibur, and Dead or Alive, struggle to get the same limelight now that their aesthetic has been co-opted. Perhaps a shakeup in the industry is needed.

What is the next big fighting game? ›

'Fight of Steel: Infinity Warrior' - July 14.


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