Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct is "the world's most generous demo", Microsoft has said.
It is not a free-to-play game in the traditional sense, Ken Lobb, creative director of first-party published Xbox One games and the person GoldenEye's Klobb gun was named after, told Eurogamer in an interview at Gamescom.
Killer Instinct's launch plans and pricing were announced during the German show last week. The fighting game will launch alongside the Xbox One with up to six characters, depending on how many you buy.
You can download the game for free with Jago available but extra fighters cost £3.99 / €4.99 / $4.99 each. Alternatively, you can buy the Killer Instinct Combo Breaker pack, which includes six launch characters and will grant early access to two post-launch DLC fighters. This costs £16.99 / €19.99 / $.19.99.
Finally there's the Killer Instinct Ultra Edition, which Microsoft describes as "the best value" for fans. The Ultra Edition costs £34.99 / €39.99 / $39.99, and includes the six launch fighters, early access to the two DLC characters, accessory packs, extra costumes ("the characters look different. It's not just, we make their pants blue") and an emulated version of the original Killer Instinct arcade game.
"I just want to get as many people playing as I can," Lobb explained. "Some people are like, 'oh, free-to-play.' No. It's not free-to-play.
"What is free-to-play? It's a thing you really can't ever own at all. Day one, if you want to buy our game, buy it. You own it. There's no grind for little coins that unlock things later. None of that."
Lobb, who worked with Rare on Killer Instinct 1 and 2, continued: "The free part is, day one, you can download Jago for free and you get the whole game with Jago. The story mode comes later, but you get his full tutorial, full practice mode and you can go online and play against everybody. So you have the full game with just Jago.
"Then if you decide you like Thunder for example, you can buy Thunder for five bucks or equivalent. Maybe that's all you want, so why should you have to pay forty bucks? Just pay five and then you have Thunder.
"If you buy the $40 pack, there are a couple of other little things you'll be able to buy, but you're done. It's not like there's some buy coins to unlock thing. That's why I've always said this is not a free-to-play game."
"What is free-to-play? It's a thing you really can't ever own at all. Day one, if you want to buy our game, buy it. You own it. There's no grind for little coins that unlock things later."Ken Lobb, creative director of first-party published Xbox One games
In addition, there is a "top-off" solution for those who buy a few characters individually then decide they want them all. However, this incurs a "little penalty" of a couple of dollars, Lobb said.
"But it's not like, oh shit, I just wasted fifteen bucks buying three characters, maybe I shouldn't buy them all. No, buy them all and then you'll get a discount.
"I play a lot of free-to-play games, and some of them aren't bad. But the reality is, I just want to push a button and own the thing. That's what's wrong with some free-to-play games. Especially for something like Killer Instinct, you just want to buy it. If you're a fighting game fan you should be able to say, here's my forty bucks, I'm just going to play.
"A lot of free-to-play is about grinding and levelling your character. You can't level a fighting game character. We have to have a balanced play field, so I don't think that works in this space."
Lobb said Killer Instinct's business model is part of a desire to increase the number of fighting game players around the world, which, the designer believes, has diminished since the glory days of the 16-bit consoles.
"What we're trying to do is get the most people possible back into fighting games," Lobb said. "When I worked on KI1, when the Super NES and Mega Drive were at their peak, there were millions more fighting game players. The community is super robust right now, with a lot of fans, but it's smaller than it used to be.
"I want all the people who will be like, oh yeah, KI, I loved that! But I don't know if I can learn it again. Play Jago. See if you like it. That's the idea.
"I like to call it, we've just made the world's most generous demo. And if you want to buy the game as a bunch of little premium DLCs, go ahead. It's not free-to-play."
"We've just made the world's most generous demo... it's not free-to-play."
Microsoft plans to release Killer Instinct in seasons, with the first eight characters part of season one. In 2014 Microsoft will release season two, including another eight characters. The characters released as part of these seasons will all be compatible with the base version of the game, and will all play together. "You can pay $20 again and now you have 16 characters, or you pay $40 again and you'll get the everything version," Lobb said.
"But if you want to cherry pick your favourite five or six out of the first few years, go ahead, and you've paid fifteen, twenty, twenty five dollars, right? Instead of having to buy two full retail price things that don't even play together."
Additionally, Microsoft will employ a League of Legends style system for switching out the character that is free to play at any given time. Jago will be free at launch, but around three months later he will be switched out for another character. "So in that sense you can play for free over years and sample more than just Jago," Lobb said.
Ultimately, Microsoft hopes to add content to Killer Instinct for the duration of the Xbox One's lifecycle - assuming it's a success.
"But obviously like everything else, it depends on whether it sells," Lobb said, "but my expectation is yes. That's the goal.
"What happens if we make a game that's a generation, but it's really one game? That doesn't mean we won't refine the engine. That means we refine the engine and suddenly the older version looks better or does something different, without you having to pay.
"Imagine a world..."