Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash
Fighting games have historically had trouble capturing a large audience. After all, the general public are probably going to be hesitant about dropping $80 on a game where you need to sink in tens of hours just to understand how it functions. Barring the Super Smash Bros. series, no modern fighting games have seen much attention outside of the fighting game community. However, one new game has been garnering some attention: Player First Games’ MultiVersus.
MultiVersus is a free-to-play platform fighting game featuring characters from a variety of Warner Bros. properties, such as Batman, Arya Stark, Tom & Jerry, and LeBron James. After an early access alpha release on July 19 and an open beta release on July 26, the game officially released on Aug. 15.
MultiVersus has become one of the most-played fighting games according to Steam Charts, a site which monitors player counts for games on the most popular PC game launcher, Steam. MultiVersus has the largest peak player count for any fighting game on Steam: 153,044 players on July 26. These are not merely the players who installed the game, this number is the amount of players playing the game at a single time. For reference, Guilty Gear -Strive-, one of the biggest fighting game releases in 2021, has a peak player count of 30,939.
Even MultiVersus’ daily peaks (at time of writing) rival the all-time peaks of other well-established fighting games, at roughly 20,000 per day. Additionally, this is only counting the player base which plays through Steam, and MultiVersus likely has similar player counts on PlayStation and Xbox.
Instinctively, people may pinpoint MultiVersus’ roster as the reason for its success. Many of its characters are among some of the most recognizable faces in popular culture, and that certainly did create a lot of buzz around the game when it was first revealed. Additionally, the fact that MultiVersus is a crossover platform fighter draws many comparisons to the Super Smash Bros. series. It’s possible that MultiVersus merely latched onto the popularity of the Smash Bros. series. However, another recent release has shown that these elements do not guarantee a successful game: Ludosity’s Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl was a Nickelodeon-oriented platform fighter which was released back in October 2021. It also had iconic characters such as Spongebob, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Garfield, and generated some excitement when it was revealed. However, the game did not retain that excitement upon release, with its player count never even reaching 10,000 on Steam. So what does MultiVersus have that Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl doesn’t?
It’s actually what Multiversus doesn’t have that sets it apart: a price tag.
MultiVersus is completely free-to-play, with all characters and modes available for no cost. The game instead makes its money off of purchases for cosmetic items, such as costumes for the characters. MultiVersus is far from the first fighting game to follow this model, with games such as Rising Thunder and Fantasy Strike largely following the same model. However, their player counts are fairly low even among the fighting game community.
One of the most popular free-to-play fighting games, Killer Instinct (2013), has an all-time peak of 676 players. Admittedly, there may have been a larger player base on the original Xbox One release, however these numbers are still incredibly low. There is one game that mirrors MultiVersus’ success, however: Brawlhalla.
Brawlhalla is also a free-to-play platform fighting game, and regularly reappears in the spotlight as they collaborate with other media franchises such as WWF and Kung Fu Panda. While it never reached MultiVersus’ all-time peak, its daily averages rival theirs, and have been consistently at that level since February 2020, with spikes in these numbers every time the game announces a new big crossover.
It seems likely that MultiVersus’ success is a result of the combination of its price and press, rather than just one or the other. It received far more attention than any of the other free-to-play games mentioned, and because it was free that attention transitioned into a much higher player count on launch than the other popular games mentioned. And while it doesn’t have the same popularity it had on launch, the continued popularity of Brawlhalla and its parallels to MultiVersus seems to suggest that the game will retain its audience for quite some time. It will be interesting to see how MultiVersus develops from here and how other developers may learn from its model.