Updated on February 12, 2016: Mortal Kombat XL will be released on March 1, 2016. It will include all released content for the game for $59.99.
Original story: Mortal Kombat X seems to be a great game.
It's well-reviewed, the fatalities look fun and I was a fan of previous games in the series. Like many of you, I decided to give Warner Bros. and NetherRealm my $60. Then I started to look into actually buying the game.
X is probably the most immediately obvious symptom of the current need for premium games to incorporate free-to-play systems as a competitive advantage. I thought I could just pay $60 and get the game, but the very act of buying the game keeps me from certain players.
Hell, I already missed out on Goro because I was a chump and decided to "wait and make sure the game works." Bonkers, right? My punishment for being a smart consumer is either going without one of the game's coolest characters or paying for him as DLC. These bonuses for pre-ordering the game exist to make sure you're punished by the act of waiting for reviews, which seems silly for a game that is reviewing so well.
But wait, there's more! I can spend $30 extra to pay for four more characters, along with some bonus skins that will be delivered later. It's a pre-order for future content, on top of the original $60 I paid for the game. But don't worry, you'll be able to try some characters without buying them, and some characters that you have to buy separately already exist in the story, so you'll at least get to fight them.
This in and of itself isn't that big of a deal. We expect a certain graphical fidelity for fighting game characters, and some of these characters are licensed. There is a lot of work and money that goes into their creation, so I don't mind the fact they're being sold on top of the cost of the game.
What's frustrating, and exhausting, is that I have to sit down with a spreadsheet to work out what edition of the game gives me the most of what I want, what characters I missed out on by not pre-ordering, and what skins or other bonuses I'll get from buying from this retailer instead of that retailer, and then I have to figure out if I'm so lazy I want to pay money to make fatalities easier, or if I just want to watch videos of them.
God forbid we go back to a time when players had to learn button presses; if it can be monetized, it will be. This is the new normal.
There is nothing inherently evil about any of this, as businesses are going to business and it's their job to see how much money they can get out of the most dedicated fans. This is another way free-to-play ideas are creeping into premium games; publishers are in love with the idea of finding as many high-margin, high-cost ways to sell games and bundles at launch as possible. The people buying editions of games with all the content and those plastic statues are premium gaming's version of whales, and the industry is going hunting.
All of this is designed to bring in the hardcore fans who aren't willing to wait for sales, and don't mind taking a risk on a pre-order before waiting for reviews. The ones who need to play it now, and don't mind getting caught up in the hype.
This is common in gaming, but Warner Bros. seems to be particularly aggressive at chopping up content and playing with free-to-play systems like the $20 all-at-once unlock for people who don't want to spend time working their way through the krypt system to see everything that comes with the game. Every system comes with a for-pay shortcut if you want to take advantage of it. Websites are finding great success in creating guides to the game's DLC.
Which is where I ultimately drew the line. I spent too much time thinking about what version of the game to get, what DLC to buy and what I ultimately care about when it comes to a Mortal Kombat game. It became too much, too complicated, too overwhelming. I put my money back in my pocket and resolved to buy the game ... when the inevitable "Komplete" collection is released that just gives me all of this content at once, on one disc, at a lower price.
Gaming does more to reward those who wait than damned near any other hobby. I'm happy to get the better deal later. This is all too much.
My decision won't likely make much of a difference; I'm not voting against the current game as much as I'm voting for the second edition of the game with more content for less money. Warner Bros. is banking on people like me as much as it's banking on those who will pay over $60 on day one for all the content. The question is whether the money they lose on casual fans like me waiting and paying a lower price is worth the strategy of aggressively gouging their most dedicated fans.
Sadly enough, I bet I know the answer to that.