Dynasty Warriors 9 Got Monetized to Death
I was one of approximately three critics who loved Dynasty Warriors 9 when it first released in 2018. Yes, the game had numerous technical issues and was more a reboot than a true sequel, but it brought a vast scope and scale to its historical battles not seen in any other game.
The game’s publisher, Koei Tecmo, doesn’t shy away from aggressively using different monetization models, and I’ve foolishly defended them over this in the past as a die-hard fan of their games. Sometimes this turns out fine. They’ll release new bonus costumes, music tracks, new stages, and other extra add-ons for their titles months and months past the original release window.
But other times it’s far more sinister. You can buy some of their games piecemeal, paying much more in total for each little chunk of content than you would have buying the $60 dollar standard version in the first place. It adds up quickly to scary amounts of money.
At launch, Dynasty Warriors 9 avoided all of that. It had a standard price of $60 dollars in the US, alongside a pre-order bonus of a few extra in-game materials and mounts. Certain physical stores had an exclusive steelbook. It also had a digital deluxe edition for $90 dollars that came with a season pass, promising new characters, stages, and weapons over the first few months of its life.
That’s all fine and normal. It even stayed fine for a few months. In May of 2018, after most of the DLC was out, I wrote what I thought would be my final words on the game.
I didn’t see what was coming.
At the end of 2018 the monetization madness began. A “Free Trial” version of Dynasty Warriors 9 surprise-launched, which made the game optionally free-to-play. The trial version lets you experience a selected chunk of stages with a few of its ninety characters. You can then unlock individual character campaigns one at a time for a couple of dollars each, or buy the regular game and transfer your save.
On top of that, the game got not one but two additional season passes, each retailing for the astronomical price of $44.99. More costumes, weapons, and other nonsense were added in both packs, taking the price of the full game all the way to $180 for a while…at least until the recent release of an $84.99 “Complete Pack.”
If I want to upgrade my old $90 “Deluxe Edition” to a full version with the two extra season passes I never bought, I’d have to spend an additional $63 for the “Season Pass Complete Bundle.”
The full price for going the piecemeal one-at-a-time route makes my skin want to leave my body. If you start with the trial edition and buy all of the available content, you’d spend a total of $666.34 as of this writing. I cannot fathom why anyone would ever do this. It’s predatory and terrible, because you can get the exact same amount of stuff for a “measly” $85.
Also, the standard version of the game that doesn’t contain any of these “extras” is now just $45 and still contains hundreds of hours of video game you’ll probably never finish. Looking at achievement statistics, only around 1 percent of players have unlocked a full set. I myself haven’t even completed the achievements yet in spite of owning the game on all three platforms, and playing for a combined total of more than 200 hours. I’m close on the Xbox version at 70 hours in, but when I get those last achievements I will have only played as around fifteen of the ninety characters.
I’d feel differently about the monetization if the second two season passes had been mentioned early on, or if the free-to-play version was available at launch, or if the game was free to begin with. But I don’t think any of this was in the original plan. This was a pretty standard $60 video game that then got bloated out with multiple paths to Koei taking more money.
It’s frustrating, because I still love the game. It features fast-paced action, a cool massive open world, optional co-op, more story lines and characters than any other game in the franchise, awesome weather effects, and a brilliant seamless battle system that you can move in and out of at will.
The thought that someone might accidentally spend $600 on it when there’s a way to get it all for far less is disgusting. I get that some players might only want to play one character, and for them, spending a few dollars is an objectively better deal than buying the full game. But for those that do get hooked on the free version and continue to buy more things, it’s a terrifying spiral that costs far too much.
Dynasty Warriors 9 has too many monetization models, and I wish they would stick to just one. It’s not a new tactic for Koei, but it too readily exposes the cold cynical cash heart beating at the center of their successful entertainment enterprise. It feels like the game was retrofitted to do well in Asian internet cafés…but then they left the full version on sale too, and packed in more expensive season passes.
This all sucks because Koei does a truly awesome job fostering their fan community on Twitter and elsewhere, and I think those fans deserve better than a massive pile of different purchases to make.
These small, niche franchises thrive on genuinely excited fandoms full of gamers who cosplay, speculate, and endlessly play these games. They’re the exact sort of fans that might accidentally pay too much for the wrong version out of enthusiasm or negligence, and I hate that Koei even allows for that chance just to make an extra buck.