Afer almost 10 years from its original release, an interesting story surrounds Lab Zero indie game: one that allow us to talk about monetization in fighting games, mobile gaming and much more.
But let’s start from the beginning.
Just last week Lab Zero announced, in addition of the new incoming character Annie of the stars, the arrival of a new season pass of Skullgirls with 4 additional characters. On top of that, they are releasing for free all the previous DLC for the game.
The news appeared suddenly, as the game passed through hard times and was deemed dead. Especially after the scandal involving its creator MikeZ, the resignation of good part of the team and his forced exile not many people were betting on the future of the game.
But how could Skullgirls, an already niche Fighting game, survive this tsunami of events and proceed with an impressive resurrection?
To understand that, we need to delve in the world fighting games monatization and mobile gaming.
But let’s check how we arrived there in the first place
A GAME ABOUT GIRLS, FIGHTING AND MAYBE A SKULL SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE
Skullgirls was an ambitious title from the start.
An indie fighting game, Skullgirls was born from the hand of a passionate FG player, MikeZ, and the pen of the artist Alex o_8. The game managed to become a reality after the initials troubles thanks to crowfunding, raising almost a million dollars and setting an unexpected record for the genre, planting the basis for many titles to come over the years (Fantasy Strike, Them’s Fightings Herds, Yatagarasu...)
Despite its initial success, the game has been a niche title, suffering from slow development times despite quality and feedback-based choices (GGPO for netcode, training mode etc). Its initial limited roster also expanded thanks to the crowfunding, managing to give fresh air to a limited selection of characters (especially considering it’s a 3vs3 team Fighting Game)
Almost 10 years old, the game also suffered from re-release after cutting its ties from Konami, but the worst came out only last year.
Allegations from being a perverted creep. People leaving the studio after being “molested” and due to work condition. And ultimately, the forced resignation of MikeZ after almost his whole team left. The story and its drama is both depressing and sad for multiple reasons, but I don’t want to talk too much about it. The point is that, after all those events, the future of Skullgirls looked really grim.
And then, from nowhere, came the season pass DLC.
4 new characters. New stages. New modes. General Rebalance. all in one (or little more) year.
How’s that possible? Where the money came from?
The answer may be simple: Mobile gaming
MILK ME LIKE A COW
It is not a new that mobile gaming is the biggest video game market in existence (three times bigger than console gaming as a whole). Everyone holds a mobile phone after all, and low-effort, quickly made games can make millions of revenue.
Mobile games can be developed fast, cost little amount of money and open the doors for massive amounts of cash: it’s not a surprise that even historical video game companies like Konami decided to switch their focus entirely on mobile gaming. Why spend millions of dollars and years of times in AAA games when you can milk way more with less risk and effort?
It doesn’t help that mobile game monetize its profits in subtle new ways, often akin to gambling and, therefore, close to be illegal in many countries.
Microtansactions and loot boxes ended up being a remunerative way of making money even in AAA traditional gaming, borrowing all its issues from their mobile ancestors.
Fighting games are “safe” at the moment, but new ways of monetization are being tested.
Most successful of them seems to be Street Fighter V with its many Season Pass and skin systems: but for many games that is impossible to implement, as in 2D fighting games (or those that treats 3D graphics like a 2D model) adding a skin would mean to redo the character almost entirely.
Some companies like Arc System Works have even clearly said that they are “not very good in terms of selling the games“.
And in all of this, Skullgirls may be an hint of the future.
A BET WITH THE CANADIAN DEVIL
Skullgirl mobile is the mobile (duh) version of the game. It is quite interesting with its story mode and such, and has clearly a lot of love invested in it.
So much that the character Annie of the stars was released on mobile first, and the game itself having a lot of content missing from the main game.
While there is no concrete data avilable, Skullgirls mobile seems to be an huge success for Lab Zero, having over 1 millions downloads.
Those data gave the impression that the studio focussed on its mobile release, but it appears that the story may be different.
In fact, all the cash incoming from the mobile release may be the founding for all of the main game news and newly announced season pass.
If that is true, the idea of having a mobile release fuelling the main game is not that absurd, and may prove to be a successful standard for the future of fighting games monetization.
As usual, only time will tell: for the moment, I’m just happy for the future of the game.
p.s: as usual, those are just my thoughts and reflection on the topic. Skullgirls mobile succes may have noting to do with the release of the season pass, and I may be just a hack: yet, those topics are whorth talking about IMHO.