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Micro Transactionality: Monetizing Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat X's recent release has been marked with great reviews and debates over the monetization scheme. Today's post looks at what's wrong here and looking at another example of when DLC monetization is handled correctly .

Mortal Kombat X was just released to rave reviews with many critics citing it as the current best game in the series. What isn't so great is the developer's decision to fill MK X with just about every form of poor micro transactions to create a monetization model that is getting in the way of enjoying the game for what it is.

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Pre Order Moves:

I'm preparing a review for Mortal Kombat X that will look at the gameplay so I won't go into too much detail here. Mortal Kombat X as in the previous title has multiple modes and content to unlock -- Characters, costumes (not spelling those with a K) art and so on.

The first bit of monetization was in the form of the pre order bonus that nets you Goro, everyone's favorite four armed fighter from the original game. If you didn't pre order the game, you could buy it separately for $4. Pre order based DLC is an annoying form of monetization as it effectively punishes anyone who wants to wait for reviews before buying a game.

This is an interesting debate as the use of DLC as an incentive is a popular one and the fact that it remains available after release I think makes it fair. Payday 2 had pre order DLC that I don't think it ever became available to purchase which some people are still talking about today.

The other part of this pre-order phase is buying several other pieces of DLC now. The Kombat pack which also came bundled in the ultimate edition is the game's equivalent of a season pass. Buying it unlocks sets of new characters and skins that will be coming out over the year. There is no price or special reason to buy it now other than supposedly getting them early before they become unlocked for everyone else who buys it later on.

monetization
Goro's pre order exclusivity represented a major piece of game content that is a reward for early adopters but should be cheap when the first sale hits.

This kind of a season pass continues to bother me as you are basically having the consumer gamble on content that is not in development or in some cases not even thought about yet.

Batman Arkham Origins fell to this when people bought the season pass and found that development stopped after one piece of story DLC.

To be fair to Mortal Kombat X, the game is already a massive hit and the chance that they will stop development is minimal, but again there is no benefit to the player for buying this now.

Price Check:

Speaking of buying, let's talk about the price. Mortal Kombat X retailed at full price of $60 for the game itself. The inclusion of the kombat price drives the price up to $90 and that doesn't include new costumes or micro DLCs that the developers have in mind. What that means is the actual price to get everything in Mortal Kombat X for fans who want to support the developers day one, is going to be over $100.

However I'm willing to bet that most people aren't going to spend that and wait for sales or the eventual game of the year edition which shows the problem with this kind of DLC -- It punishes fans. Now I'm sure that some of you are going to comment and say that the fans are fine because they get to enjoy this content first by spending the premium price and that is a fair argument.

It's one that I hear a lot on the Payday 2 forums when people complain about the constant use of DLC as a form of continued development. The big difference between Payday 2 and Mortal Kombat X however is the investment. Payday 2 only cost $30 at launch and has both free and paid content added over time. With Mortal Kombat X, I have yet to hear of any plans for free content, only paid DLC that will come over time. The only exception to this was a free costume that the developers released as compensation for problems with the game on day one.

But wait there's more, as we haven't gotten to the nitty gritty and why people are so annoyed at the monetization in Mortal Kombat X.

Kurrency:

Just like in the previous games, you can pick up koins that can be used to buy content in the krypt (the spell checker is going to have a field day with this post.) But there are two new forms of currency in Mortal Kombat X which people aren't happy about.

monetization
There is a huge roster of characters already in the game, but that doesn't excuse the fact that already finished characters are locked behind DLC and a release date.

The first are easy fatality coins. Normally every character has a fatality that requires a complicated button combination to pull off and the player is rewarded with a very violent finishing move.

Now, every character has an alternative and very easy button combination that they can use to activate the same fatalities except this cost the player fatality coins.

You can find some coins in the krypt hidden among the tombstones, but the main way to get them is by spending real money to buy more of them.

The second new currency is story skips coins which I bet you can guess what they do. After failing any story level, you have the option to skip that fight by using one of these coins and the same options for acquiring them as fatality coins are there.

For the console version, there is even a skip the krypt DLC for $19 which lets players unlock everything the krypt has to offer instead of exploring it. I've said it before but content skipping DLC is one of the worse things to have in your game as you are basically saying this content doesn't mean anything and that you should be able to skip it.

This is a horrible form of monetization that goes back to EA putting in the option to buy cheat codes in their games. The problem is that their role isn't to help the player get better at the game or provide content like new costumes or characters but to take money from lesser skilled players. 

Someone who has to use these coins is not going to get better at the game and they are going to get killed if they go online without the necessary practice offline. Now we can argue that their use is purely optional and that you can ignore them just fine, however it's the fact that Netherealm felt that this was a worthy feature of the game that is the problem... I'm sorry, a worthy feature in a $90+ game.

Ripped From Limb to Limb:

The use of these multiple forms of monetization is very troubling for both Mortal Kombat X and the state of the AAA market. I have to return to the point that developers said that games were going to go cheaper as we continue to go into the digital age and yet not only are games getting more expensive, but it feels like features are being cut out.

Here's another example, several of the game's DLC characters are not only already in the game as opponents to fight, but people have found ways to unlock them through modding. These are characters that are going to be sold as additional content down the line but were already completed enough to be on the disc/ in the initial version of the game.

You could defend this by saying that there are already enough characters in the roster to begin with. But if that's the case then shouldn't content that was developed pre launch and to the point that the characters were integrated into the game count as content that comes with the launch version?

The fact that we have to have this discussion over Mortal Kombat X is very troubling as for all intents and purposes, this is an amazing game and another winner for Netherealm. But to have all this monetization that doesn't grow the game but just take money from the fan base is such a poor choice.

monetization
Payday 2's continued support and development hinges on their monetization model. However the game has been worked on beyond just adding paid DLC.

Again I have to return to Payday 2 despite what critics say, is a good example of using monetization as a form of support.

Every new piece of paid DLC comes with guns, achievements, mods and mask parts so that you're not just buying things piecemeal.

The developers have released game changing free content that has altered Payday 2 from the original version over two years ago.

If Netherealm promised free support along these lines as a means to continue growing Mortal Kombat X for multiple years, then this would be a different story. But I just don't see that happening and I bet whenever a Mortal Kombat 11 comes out, all this content and growth over X is going to disappear. That is the crux of the problem with DLC from an AAA perspective -- They see it not as a way to cultivate a game over the long term like Payday or Team Fortress 2 but as a means of simply squeezing every possible dollar out of the game before the next sequel begins development.

Finish Him:

The key point that makes DLC worth it to the consumer is that it promotes continued support and development for their favorite games -- Making a great game better. But when the developers are using monetization just to further their own profits at the expense of their fanbase, then it's just the same song and dance we see among mobile and social game developers.

Mortal Kombat X is already a great game and we shouldn't have to talk about poor monetization, except we need to have this talk or it's only going to get worse for fans who are forced to buy it and developers who feel pressured to put it in. 

(Check out Game-Wisdom for posts, podcasts and daily videos about game design and the industry)

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