Microsoft knew exactly what they were doing when they announced Killer Instinct for Xbox One at E3 in June. Most fighting games sold better on the Xbox 360 than PS3 during the last generation of consoles, but reportedly not by much despite Microsoft’s system being more popular. The PS3 was lucky enough to get Virtua Fighter 5 early on, to attract the fighting game audience to their then-still expensive console before the competition received one. The 360 eventually received an online-enabled version, which came well after PS3 owners were already enjoying it.
(I said “reportedly” because the NPD, who tracks United States sales numbers, can’t be bothered to provide any numbers themselves, so we have to rely on numbers from second hand sources. They’re usually posted in various NeoGAF threads, and not on VGChartz.)
Microsoft didn’t want to make the same mistake going into this generation. The tables have turned, all the way down to the company going in with the more expensive console this time around. Killer Instinct is providing a plethora of entertainment for early Xbox One owners. Despite fear of how it would turn out with Double Helix on board, a developer with a previously mediocre track record, many in the fighting game community are praising its quality.
This begs the question: did Sony miss an opportunity in not having an exclusive fighter of their own? Short answer: Yes. Considering the entertainment it’s delivering for early Xbox One owners, it’s left a small hole in the PS4’s lineup. Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition, as good as it is, doesn’t count since it’s on a wide variety of other platforms in addition to PS4. It’s possible Sony paid Warner Bros. to not release it on Xbox One, so they’d have some sort of fighter to themselves in the launch window. That would also explain why the TV ads have been Playstation-centric; they’ve also been advertising the Vita version.
It may not have been designed from the ground up for a next generation console, but Injustice does have one huge advantage over Microsoft’s title: it’s actually a complete game. KI is, at the moment, a little more than a glorified demo, with a mere six characters available as part of its “Season One” package -- with two more coming as free DLC soon. But most who like fighting games have likely played Injustice, and may have had their fill by this point.
It’s a s sticky situation for Sony, but there’s little they could have done to prevent this. Killer Instinct marks the revival of a previously-dormant a fighting game IP whose popularity was eclipsed by only Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat in the mid-to-late 90s. There are no other dormant fighting game franchises on par with KI, and reviving one wouldn’t have been as effective. It was rumored at one point that the company was working on a new Bloody Roar title, and some suggested they should give Capcom the funding to revive Darkstalkers. While having both franchises back would be nice, none of them were that popular. Darkstalkers was only popular in Japan, a country where fighting games are lucky to sell 200,000 these days. And given how long we’ve heard about efforts to revive it from Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono, it’s likely Capcom decided not to green light it themselves.
Instead of trying to revive those, they’d be better off backing upcoming Playstation-exclusive fighter Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, planned to hit PS4 and PS3 sometime after it releases in arcades next spring. It’s niche, but still on par with the two aforementioned franchises, especially outside Japan. It won’t attract a big market in the west due to its heavy anime aesthetics (especially with this new guy named Bedman) and it looking like a 2D game. Anime-inspired fighting games have a history of doing well on Sony systems, to the point that recent games like this one and Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold aren’t receiving ports to other platforms. It will be a full game when it releases, but keep in mind it’s an Arc System Works-developed title. Don’t be surprised if they make some quick sequels.
At this point, the best equivalent Sony can provide is a serious push for third-party fighters on PS4. It’s what they’re doing with Injustice, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they provided the same for the next Mortal Kombat title. The PS3 version of the Mortal Kombat reboot added Kratos from God of War, and they might do something similar for the PS4 version of the next game.
That is, unless they really are planning an exclusive fighter they plan to heavily hype, and can deliver it by the time the second season of Killer Instinct arrives. That’s not very likely, but sometimes these companies can surprise you.