The Endgame for KOFAS

It’s been a fun ride but the experience has shown that you can only go so far with a mobile fighting game. On the other hand, there are some things that game devs can do to maintain player retention… and the challenges are similar for every game today.

Hello everyone, it’s Gunny here, and I stopped caring, I’m just gonna post my thoughts and not even edit it, who has time for that?  Same as on youtube, I’m just gonna post, and whatever.

Is adding another character enough to keep a game fresh and alive? For a console fighting game, yes, for a mini RPG game competing with open world waifu collectors, maybe not. New players struggle, while veteran players just get bored. Finding the sweet spot is very difficult but in an ideal world, the solution is to be ready and reactive whilst adaptable to player needs and demands.

The King of Fighters All Star launched first for Asia in July 2018, then the global release finally arrived in October 22nd 2019, to much rejoicing and merryment, until players realised how much time it was taking out of their lives, and for the FGC, the pvp netcode was appalling. Then the character summon banners appeared and the meta chasing began. Players began to see how gacha games were demanding in terms of devices, time, and money. It was a strange experience, where the developers were trying to give you things to do, but the average player felt like they were forced to play, where the reality was that most players were just greedy and suffered from FOMO (fear of missing out). The events to collect materials to power up your characters were interesting and varied, and the new appearing characters were enticing. If luck wasn’t going your way, you could spend some money to increase your odds, making NM happy, and leading to further development.

This was all standard gacha fare, but for me it was all new and enjoyable, I had a work style that allowed me to let my phone run in the background, and I was generally content to do a few quests manually every day (….), watching my characters level up. With my favourite characters at hand in full size 3d models, this was the ideal mobile game.

The problems came when the game started to increase in size and slow down on my device, and we started to see the mobile version of the PC master race issue- how it was working on one phone was certainly not the same as on another. One reviewer famously wrote ‘I installed the update, waited five minutes for this game to load but all I got was a black screen’. Netmarble started to lose players as soon as they launched, but this was normal, the ‘potato’ phone users were left out and every update pushed away more, but as any KOF fan knows, there is a huge market of players from poorer backgrounds and this seemed just a hugely wasted opportunity. But this is the gacha game business model, it’s cutt-throat, focused on in-game purchases as opposed to advertising, and once you have acquired or finished the content, there needs to be another update -or the game will die. There are always other mobile games to play.

That’s what every Dev is afraid of, and therein lies another vicious circle: if you have many quests to do, you get fed up and tired and bored, but if there’s nothing to do, you get tired and bored and go play a different game. It’s a simple fact – but many players can’t actually see it.

So the updates kept coming. While players with disposable income would upgrade their phones, and some would use emulators, it was clear that three things were killing off the player base:

  1. The simple inability to run the game smoothly on their device
  2. Quest fatigue
  3. Inability to win new characters

PVP connections was certainly another point but realistically, as with fighting games in general, this represents a fraction, although if we consider streams and the exposure gained, this was also a wasted opportunity.

The ever increasing slowdown and bugs on devices is a problem that console development doesn’t have to worry about, to such a degree (ps4 sabotage when there’s a ps5 version is pure conjecture). While SNK has to maintain versions for Playstation, Xbox, Switch and PC for Samsho for example, Netmarble has to maintain Apple and Android – but Android is split into various builds: Samsung and Xiaomi have their own modified versions, for example, with multiple launchers and turbo modes and add-ons and who knows what. How does anyone manage all this and ensure the game runs correctly on every build? The mind boggles. 

Then on top of that, for whatever reason, the Asian and Global builds were slightly different; we’ll never know why it simply wasn’t translated. There were things going on that seemed to be unique to Global. Global still has random slowdown on top Android devices, in comparison to Asia build, while “whales” (the big spending players) simply tell you to get the latest iphone. It reminds me of the PC master race bragging and shows how playing on console is just a much more comfortable experience (while graphically inferior)… either way, it just left the community with a sour taste in their mouths and the forums filled quickly with toxicity towards the Devs.

Even so, the devs listened. They took surveys and responded to several requests, which leads me to a point which SNK is probably crapping their pants over. Right now, the 11th November, I’m twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the King and Yuri banner to finish. I do not want to max these characters out, I do not care so much for them. The only reason would be to get a higher score on guild raid, there is no other reason. And that is of huge concern to netmarble, and any company offering a dlc character. If the majority don’t invest in the character, it was a waste of development. I am not investing in King or Yuri and I don’t see many around me motivated to do so when Leona and Goenitz still seem like better characters. All the events are just obviously the same thing in a different wrapper. It’s boring. I don’t need to tell NM that, they surely know but I guess they’re betting on more new players coming in than old players leaving. I should just leave and not complain.

Speaking of complaints, loud voices on social media or pests in comments do not guarantee sales. Even votes and surveys do not stop the human behaviour of fickleness. The traditional time for a banner was one week. People cried and complained so they extended it to two weeks, then three. The problem is that I took two or three days to get these characters and I was satisfied. As soon as I was happy, I started to play another game!!! I was still using these characters in PvP but as NM decided not to implement the pro championship (which would have forced me to spend all my rubies on EVERY banner if I wanted to keep up with the latest and strongest characters) I could just relax. This was NM’s mistake, as far as I can see. But I certainly can’t see what’s really happening behind the scenes. Neither can players, as they continue to complain, knowing that they can effect a change, possibly for the worst.

Looking over to KOF15 development, SNK has a DLC plan but I didn’t see any surveys or polls, so it seems they are very confident in their choices. But if one dlc character (or pack) doesn’t sell, it endangers the future of the next one. And that’s quite annoying, when you want to support KOFXV and fill it with popular characters. NM has pretty much proven that there is a set of mega globally popular characters, and then the other characters are simply huge risks. In terms of forcing a sale, the newest character needs to be top of the tiers. SNK made that mistake with a weak kof14 dlc pack one (after listening to fans) and corrected that with pack two (with the return of complaints from fans). Kofxv dlc should prove to be interesting indeed. They just revealed Whip and that could mean they are going to go hard on their dlc and leave the standard roster with a very vanilla base… More about that later!

Back to KOFAS, the King and Yuri banner will finish in 7 days, and they’ve launched world drop events or whatever it is called, another repeat of grinding for loot boxes that guarantee NOTHING. I’m tired of it, but I will say that just until the next banner appears. Rumors are that we’re about to start a new collaboration event, but it’s also rumoured that’s going to be 7 Knights 2, which is literally trying to get players to move to that title. There will always be talk of KOFAS shutting down, but it remains NM’s 6th highest earning game, so they likely have many plans for it, and they are still working on 2002 story mode. As for me, I have played this non stop for 2 years and it’s simply too much of the same. I think I’ll try to unlock Igniz and then quit, but unfortunately kof is a drug and I’m an addict so this is all wishful thinking. Kof15 might just wean me off, but I can’t play kof15 in my bed or in the bath… but what I can do is reduce the amount of time invested. Unless NM can lure me back with characters we all like, that time will eventually be spent on other games, and possibly money will go elsewhere also.

The solution to all of this, in my opinion, is to keep track of player tastes and reactions, releasing new content that matches needs and adjusting. For example, if nobody asks for an extension, don’t give it. Limited events are more hype. Of course with planning that needs to be finalised months in advance, and the fact that tastes can change, this can be impossible. Players can get upset and revolt when it’s too obvious that they are being targeted. King was fourth place in the survey but did it really sell? Was there a valid need in the game to invest in her? Not really. She’s OP for sure, but without a “whale” PvP mode, there’s only high scores to beat. Is that enough?  Not in my opinion. There needs to be harder bosses to beat.  The PvP should have been optimised so that players can show off the game on social media.  There’s a lot more to say but now it’s time to stop this article!

Good luck to NM and SNK, trying to keep players interested and happy is certainly a terrible job, and it must be hard trying to hear who is telling the truth about popular characters and who to gamble on. Jobs may be at stake so it is often no surprise when they bet on uninspired choices. Will players stick around and keep playing? Or is two years the max for a game’s lifespan even when you’re hardcore? Let’s see what happens!

And they’ve just announced the (last?) collab… it’s not 7K2… it’s GG!  Next time I’ll post about what collabs are really about!

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