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Bandai Namco embraces pay-to-win design with new  SoulCalibur
Bandai Namco embraces pay-to-win design with new SoulCalibur
May 20, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

May 20, 2014 | By Alex Wawro
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Design, Business/Marketing

"We’re going with a pay-to-win model."
- SoulCalibur: Lost Swords producer Masaaki Hoshino is frank about the business model of the latest Soul Calibur, in an interview with Siliconera.

SoulCalibur: Lost Swords, Bandai Namco's latest entry in a venerable franchise of quarter-munching multiplayer fighting games, is a purely single-player PlayStation 3 game that costs nothing to play and unabashedly embraces a "pay-to-win" monetization model.

In a recent interview with Siliconera the game's producer, Masaaki Hoshino, explains that Bandai Namco designed the game to attract new fans to the franchise.

"The reason for going free-to-play wasn’t so much about the business model itself, but the idea that we wanted to expand the market to the more casual user," said Hoshino. "We thought that the free-to-play mold would fit that model better."

The game incorporates common mobile F2P game mechanics like an energy system and in-game performance-boosting items that can be purchased for real money.

To read Hoshino tell it, multiplayer was axed because Bandai Namco didn't want to risk alienating new users by allowing them to be trounced by players who paid for the best gear. Hoshino also claims that the game's combat systems have been simplified in an effort to satisfy inexperienced players.

"We’re trying to make it more user-friendly, more exhillerating[sic]," said Hoshino. "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."

You can read the full interview with Hoshino, which goes into greater detail on the game's design and the difference between the Japanese and the U.S. market for free-to-play games, over on Siliconera.

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Zach Grant
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I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. F2P and the causualization of games is ruining my hobby.

This is F2P done horribly wrong. An online model like League of Legends would have been much better, where you are just buying characters and skins. I'm sure this game forces you to grind for "gold" to buy necessary items if you don't pay money.

This makes free players bored/mad because they have to grind, and it makes paying players mad because they are being nickeled and dimed so they can match the artificially increasing difficult ramp.

Ian Griffiths
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If they balance it wrong and make a bad game it will fail and you won't see any repeats.

I think it's a bit absurd to say your hobby is being ruined just because one game is trying out some freemium mechanics. If you are worried about not being able to play a pay-up-front Soul Calibur you can always try:

Soul Edge
Soulcalibur II
Soulcalibur III
Soulcalibur Legends
Soucalibur IV
Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny
Soulcalibur V

Ujn Hunter
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@Ian Doesn't really make sense telling him to play the games in the series that already came out. If he was a fan, he's probably already played or is playing them. It doesn't change the fact that the direction the series is going is crap. In fact, if he didn't already play those games, it would probably only make him more miserable knowing that it won't ever be that good again. :)

I understand the whole F2P is killing my hobby argument. Especially for fans of certain (Non-FPS, Sports, etc...) genres of games that were already getting killed with the advent of Digital Only games. I dread the day that my favorite series or game developer suddenly starts making F2P games. Don't do it!

CE Sullivan
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I don't see the point in getting angry over the existence of F2P or the casual game market. If it's not your thing, fine. There are still plenty of other games for you to play. The fact that people DO play F2P games means something is actually working there. Most people aren't so stupid that they would continuously play games they actually hate.

On the other hand, I wouldn't want to see a popular game series like this go completely F2P, since obviously that's going to alienate large portions of the existing fan base. I don't think that is what is happening here, though. This seems more like a one-off marketing thing than something that's going to completely replace their current business model.

Daniel Pang
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I think the issue with this kind of F2P situation is that it makes explicit one of the problems inherent in video games - that moment in all bad games that makes you think the following:

"This video game is wasting my time."

Once you think that, the game is as good as dead. Every great game knows not to make the player think they are wasting time. This is not synonymous with grind - players will gladly grind and even anticipate it if they feel like their time is not being wasted in the process of grinding.

Of course, the purpose of the game is to waste time - but the user should not be feeling that. The user should be engaged in the feedback loop of the game (input => output => desired outcome). If at any point the game allows you to skip, bypass or dodge the tedious unlock system by paying, that's already a sin, because it implies that by not paying this money the player's time is being wasted.

Any rational person would put down the controller and do something else. Wouldn't you, if a piece of entertainment flat out told you that playing it was a waste of time and that you could waste less time by paying?

John Flush
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This is definitely a problem of F2P. However, I think SC was thinking though that people that suck could pay and then be on equal footing with the AI that is clearly better than them. We use to call that a difficulty bar though.

So this F2P is basically the game, that if you suck at, you have to pay to use the difficulty slider so you can feel accomplishment.

This fits in with today's society so well. "You think you are sad/lame/a loser/etc? well for $ you can buy this and not feel as bad about yourself anymore!" if only someone could mandate Dr. Seuss and the Star Belly Sneetches as required reading maybe we could turn this generation around before all the rich "craftier" people steal all the Sneetches money

Dean Boytor
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I dont understand this move. This just leaves an already well established fighter like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter to outshine this just by being not pay to win.

If I'm reading correctly, They are axing multiplayer in favor of an energy system, or some sort of pay or wait design?

This is, odd. I guess its nice to see a focus back to single player experiences. But this feels like one step forward and 2 steps back toward my wallet.

Jennis Kartens
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Given that interview, I have the impression the companies HQ is located below the wall street sewers....

George Oliver
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As long as they continue with the main SoulCalibur series in a normal package i don't mind. They get to make extra money on the side and as long as I get my pretty traditional SoulCalibur 6 I'll be happy too and people who just want to pay to mash buttons will be happy as well.

Josh Bycer
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I think somebody forgot to tell Bandai Namco that having your game being called "pay to win" is never a compliment.

Ian Richard
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That was my thought. I enjoy free-to-play games... but pay to win sure as heck isn't a selling point.

I almost hope this was a mistranslation. If not... sigh.

sean lindskog
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SoulCalibur, without the Soul.
It's just Calibur.

Sony Lindberg
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I believe the whole Pay-to-win system to be an affront to every gamer out there. The game might be F2P or even a version where you have to buy the game but the server cost is free. However, that doesnt make it okay to expect your gamers to have to pay real cash for the best gear, end-game content or even to further skills.

Iv been playing Runescape for a while now (7-8 years) and while its not entirely f2p you have the choice of paying for a membership (30 days) that unlocks the entire world, 4 new skills, tons of new quests and new content. And im fine with that. (the price is a meager 5 Euro/30 days)
The "free world" is still receiving updates and new quests and all the holiday specials are always open for both Members and Free players.

AND you can hit endgame content as a free player, but with less content and less fun getting there. You still have to mine all the ore (unless you buy it of other players with in-game gold).

However, if they were to make it a Pay-to-win game i would never put my virtual foot on their servers anymore. Even if im loosing 8 years worth of progress and fun.

I dont know why Bandai would do something like this. Sure, its a Japanese company and in japan f2p games and Pay to win systems is much more accepted, but doing this on an international level, i dont know.

Make the game a pay-to-get-awesome-looking-gear-and-visual-features, and if they have to add a small fee to keep the server cost in check.

David Paris
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"Pay-to-win" doesn't really even apply in a single-player setting, so it seems like they stumbled over communication here. Are you just paying to make it easier? Pay to make it possible to be completed at all? (So really more of a demo + unlock model) Although I want to jump up and say Namco, Noooo! I have the feeling that what they were trying to convey wasn't what the article portrays it as.

"Pay-to-win" is generally used to depict a competitive multiplayer environment where you can pay money to directly improve your results against other players. Clearly this isn't the case, so the wording seems wrong. What is actually being paid for?

I kind of suspect sensationalism and that Namco's actual approach is getting lost.

Justin Kovac
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It kinda sounds like a lot of F2P games that sell upgrades and shortcuts.

Now we need to actually play it and try it out to see how the system is set up and content progression.

Ben Newbon
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So they've ditched everything people like about Soul Calibur to try to attract the people who don't like Soul Calibur? Way to value your fanbase!

Ujn Hunter
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At least they didn't make it into Call Of Soul Calibur Duty, eh? I want a slice of that pie!

Riley Dirksen
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Maybe I'm in the minority but I can only play a fighting game in single player mode for about a day. Isn't multiplayer pretty much core for fighting games?

Ujn Hunter
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No, you're probably the majority... I'm the minority... I play fighting games single player all the time. That being said... I have zero interest in playing this F2P/P2W fighting game at all. I'd have probably paid $60 for it however if it was a traditional fighting game on disc though.

Josh Bycer
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There has been a recent push in fighting games to offer more robust single player content, either with story modes or more in-depth training options. Both the recent Mortal Kombat reboot and Injustice Gods Among Us had fairly sizable singleplayer content.

But the big money maker for fighting games is still in multiplayer, especially if you can get your game picked up by the competitive community and get featured in an EVO tournament or something.