One of the most difficult aspects of selling the idea of a free-to-play game is to push past the notion of its possible egregious money-making ways. It is doubly true when you’re part of a development team from the East selling a game with a very Asia-centric business or gameplay model to the West, which may be the case with Soulcalibur: Lost Swords.
A free-to-play digital download game, it is a strictly single-player adaptation on Soul Calibur V, a fighting-game oddity that is described in an even-odder interview with producer Masaaki Hoshino by Siliconera, one that provides dread towards the language used to describe the free-to-play model as a whole. (Bold emphasis is mine)
So SoulCalibur: Lost Swords will be the first in the franchise to be a free-to-play model. Unlike previous installments of the franchise, this time around, we’re looking at a single-player experience where it’s built around customization and really molding the character to fit your play style… The reason that we went singleplayer…well, originally, we were thinking about having a multiplayer option, but because we’re going with a pay-to-win model, we were worried that by having online multiplayer, for all the new users that would be coming in experiencing the game for the first time, they might be immediately deterred by fighting against opponents who had superior equipment and gear—and we didn’t want to have that kind of negative impact on new players.
In the singleplayer experience, having a pay-to-win structure won’t impede the player’s experience with the game.
And there lies the dreaded phrase that nobody in their right mind should be uttering in a professional capacity (especially when representing a games company): pay-to-win. It can be boiled down to making a game fun and easy to play at the beginning, but through increased manufactured difficulty and the removal of the “first taste is free” items provided to you earlier, the game baits you into purchasing microtransactions in order to come out ahead.
For a producer at Bandai Namco to outright declare that a Soulcalibur staple in multiplayer was not developed so that they, as a company, could drive a monopolization scheme that caters and forces players to advance in Soulcalibur: Lost Swords by using microtransactions, is downright insulting. It means that Bandai were more interested in making money than to provide a rewarding and engaging fighting game experience that fans of the series have come to like in the years and decades in the past.
To be fair, I could see why such a statement could be so boldly made. Their reasoning is that because of their pay-to-win model, having online multiplayer would cause imbalances in stats and abilities, making it unfair for new players to the point of not returning to the game. In that scenario, by removing multiplayer, they’re avoiding strife with their players, which they would consider a success.
While that is true, what Bandai Namco could have done is revised their pay model to make it more fair for all users instead of making a shallower game. Free-to-play does not necessarily equal pay-to-win, as games like Dota II, League of Legends, Path of Exile, Team Fortress 2 and PlanetSide 2 have managed amicable success by making cash users on relatively equal playing grounds as non-cash users. Instead, Bandai Namco have decided to chase the elusive free-to-play whale that will net them a huge sum of money from the few to cover the bases of the many.
Perhaps it was a translation error that led to where we are now. Regardless of ill intent or not, when you have an interview with a site that generates roughly 44% of their traffic from the United States, it’s better to read the room properly and market a game better to North American users.
It was in the closing comments that solidified the lack of tact for fans of the fighting game series:
Because this time around it is a singleplayer experience, we’re trying to make it more user-friendly, more exhillerating [sic]. You’ll find that even by button mashing sometimes, you may discover a brand new combo you might not have encountered before. We really want users to come and try it out, and for it to be a great experience for everyone.
Yes, you might find success in Soulcalibur: Lost Swords by button mashing. Sometimes, by chasing a “great experience for everyone,” you end up pleasing no-one.
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