The competitive community is what keeps people playing games, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to more revenue for the company, which is (unfortunately) why it looks like there is going to be a shift to the F2P model, where revenue stream for a game is extended throughout its competitive life. Fighting games have always had a weird revenue model:
Arcade machines cost money for each play, and the companies kept them interesting by releasing a lot of different games and versions.
Console versions of fighters traditionally also got many versions of a game, which you would have to buy individually. This has been true from the SF2 days all the way up to SF4 and MvC3 for Capcom. Companies like Aksys take it to an extreme with so, so many versions of GGXX and BB.
Many fighting game series stagnated in the 2000s because arcades weren’t pulling in as much money over the course of the game’s lifespan, customers were tired of paying for a whole new version of a game every year or so, and consoles like the DC and PS2 weren’t quite ready for DLC and all that was to come in the PS3/360 era.
In the current console generation, there has been a move towards paid patches and updates as well as paid DLC characters, costumes, etc. While this model allows for companies to make money over the course of a game’s lifespan, the competitive community (who keep the games alive by playing them) complain about getting nickel and dimed. I still can’t believe that I paid $5 each for the 3 DLC characters in KOFXIII, when I picked up the game itself for $20 about six months after it released.
The performance of most AAA single player games (that may have a shoehorned in multiplayer mode) depends almost entirely upon the sales in the first week or so that it comes out, much like Hollywood movies. Sure, there are those who will pick up the game later at a discounted price or buy it used, but the company gets little to none of that money. It’s okay for those types of games because they generally have a 10-20 hour lifespan and little replayability.
A competitive game has a literally endless number of new and exciting hours of gameplay because you’re playing against other people and discovering new things to do against them. The games’ performance can be tied to how long people continue to play, but the company still needs to bring in revenue if they are going to continue to support those games through online play, patches, DLC, and all the other things that we competitors want from them but are unwilling to pay for.
New games are going to need a system of revenue generation that many competitors (myself included) are very wary of. Look at Tekken Revolution, where leveling and paying for in game bonuses gives your character an unfair leg up on the competition. League of Legends allows players to buy new characters that others might not have access to unless they grind for in-game currency just to be able to play them. Yes, they offer free heroes on a rotating basis, but one of the best aspects of most competitive games is that all characters/strategies/etc are available to all players at all times so that they can learn to use them or practice how to counter them.
The model of revenue generation that I’m hoping takes over is that of DOTA2, which allows for buying of tons of cosmetic upgrades and customization of the game and characters but has no effect on the competitive aspects because all of the characters are available to anyone playing from the very start. If something like this came to fighting games (as it sort of did with Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown), where the game is free or cheap to download and all characters are included and cannot be buffed by leveling up or “buying up”, then we could see the financial performance of fighting games become more tied to the competitive community or at least the hardcore fans who are willing to pay to make the game more customized or fun for themselves while still keeping the competitive aspects fair and in tact. That would lead to companies having money on hand all the time for balance patches, new DLC characters, sponsored tournaments, and other great stuff.