The case against powerful new DLC characters in fighting games

Here’s another good podcast from the guys at Eventhubs:


They make a good case for the positives that can come when new DLC characters are immediately and obviously quite strong in a fighting game, looking at the current example of Cody in Street Fighter V.

VesperArcade also put some thoughts along these lines in a video format here (first 10 minutes are mostly positives, later on he covers negatives, some of which I also cover here):

They both make some valid points that I can agree with, but personally I believe the negatives outweigh all of those positives massively: So I’ve actually been very happy with the relatively cautious approach to the balance of additional DLC characters that Capcom has taken with SFV. In fact I would say it’s one area they have gotten perfect with SFV and they should not change it at all.

Here’s some of the negatives I see if DLC characters are really strong in fighting games:

1. Players feeling forced they have to buy the DLC to compete (or learn how to compete against) giving a strong impression of a “pay to win” model. Honestly this point alone for me crushes all opposition as it’s such a huge issue that a good competitive game really needs to avoid. The players this alienates the most are more casual players too, who do not buy all the DLC and keep up to date with everything happening in the game. Seeing an overpowered new character all the time when they try the game out again may actually put them off the game, and may even cause players to quit playing it entirely – even if those characters are later patched – a casual player is less likely to notice that, and the bad first impression can have a lasting effect.

2. Note that most MOBAs (lane pushers) that were used as a comparison in the EH podcast have an “out” to get around this problem somewhat with new characters via their banning systems. (Aside: it’s still really frustrating in those games if you’ve played them, as you often feel forced to ban a new character just because they are overpowered rather than making any kind of ‘strategic’ banning decision…). Not that I even like or agree with these banning systems, but without them, a new OP character would be even more problematic in a fighting game where there would be no way to avoid playing against them.

3. Upheaval for tournaments & pros is related to this too. How soon tournaments allow a new character to be played can already become a problem, but this would be hugely exacerbated if they are very strong and everyone is expecting a nerf soon after their release.

4. Increase the need for balance patches into the game more frequently if adjustments are needed to be made for too-strong new DLC characters and their effect on the character balance meta-game of a fighting game.

5. If a cycle of OP new characters which are then nerfed later becomes a pattern, then in contradiction to the first point here, this can actually become a disincentive for players to buy or even try out a new character, as there may be the impression that any ‘good stuff’ they find will simply cause the character to get nerfed harder. New DLC characters could become a sort of ‘fools gold’ way to eke out temporary wins online for example, before they inevitably get patched – and again, I’m speaking from some experience of this directly in lane pusher games. This type of situation could be especially off-putting to tournament players who may prefer then to wait for the balance to settle before even bothering to invest time with new DLC characters.

In summary: I do not think these risks of introducing an overpowered new DLC character are worth taking at all.


A quick search around for this kind of issue tells me it’s happened a lot before with DLC guns in FPS games – NOT a model that fighting games should attempt to be emulating if they want to remain as good competitive games.


Agoners Extra:

I discussed this with FightingRoadhog too, and his opinion was “get the character right first time or don’t release them at all! If you err either way you have failed, so let the under/over be an arbitrary/random monument to your ineptitude and fix it asap” – so in essence he’s arguing for a very slow approach to releasing new characters, making sure they are very well balanced. One way to do this could perhaps be by adding beta tests and ‘public test realm’ type of things for new characters – which is again how lane pusher games have tried to do it. But even games with “public tests” have still not always really managed to release well balanced new characters anyway in my experiences – so it does make me wonder how effective public testing of this type of thing really is.

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