When Microsoft announced the new Killer Instinct, I was a bit surprised and a bit floored. One of my favorite fighting games was making a return, but it was coming back as a free-to-play title under the development arm of Double Helix. The "free-to-play" set off warning flags in my head because free-to-play is fickle beast. Microtransactions that are too high can ruin a game that's actually pretty good.
Killer Instinct isn't the first fighting game to go free-to-play. Tekken Revolution and Dead or Alive Ultimate: Core Fighters are two other fighters trying out the business model. Both games use completely different versions of microtransactions for gameplay and characters.
Tekken Revolution is the first out of the gate and was released exclusively for PlayStation 3 in June. The game offers up eight fighters from the get-go, but actually playing the game costs coins that replenish at a set rate. You can either wait for those coins to pop back up, or buy more coins for arcade, online, and ranked matches. The other 10 characters unlock as you reach specific tiers of gift points, so it's just a waiting game to increase the roster. On top of that, alternate costumes are available for purchase.
Dead of Alive Ultimate: Core Fighters hasn't been released yet, but is also exclusive to PlayStation 3. DoA gives you four free fighters to start: series mainstays Ryu, Hayate, Kasumi, and Ayane. Each character beyond that costs $4 and the story mode costs $15.
Killer Instinct on Xbox One trends closer to Dead or Alive Ultimate: Core Fighters and offers a single free playable character (Jago) at download. Additional characters out of the 8 character roster will cost $4.99 each. Players can also buy two special bundles for Killer Instinct, starting with the Combo Breaker pack, which gives you all eight characters for $19.99. The second bundle is the Ultra Edition, which nets you all 8 characters, character accessory packs, all character costumes, and the original Killer Instinct for $39.99. For decent price price, you get everything Killer Instinct has to offer at launch.
Eight characters is a bit low for a fighting game roster - Persona 4 Arena started with 10 and that was on the low side compared to Injustice's 26 characters - but being free-to-play means we can probably expect more characters to be added over time. At the prices above, Killer Instinct is really a straight-up fighting game with a free-to-play demo. This lowers the barrier for entry, something that has worked well for the growing populations of free-to-play MOBAs, card battle games, and MMOs. You could buy just two characters, but at that point, you might as well pony up the extra $10 and get the rest of the cast.
At these levels, a free-to-play fighter doesn't bother me. It's when we reach rosters rivaling Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 that I begin to worry about the free-to-play future. 50 characters at $4 or $5 a pop could lead to some strained wallets or a picky playerbase.
Killer Instinct is a launch title for the Xbox One. So far, Jago, Sabrewulf, Glacius, and Chief Thunder have been announced as playable characters.