NetherRealm Studios is a celebrated fighting game studio that’s brought us tons of hits in both the Mortal Kombat and Injustice franchises. Even with that success, the studio isn’t immune from hard-to-impress fans who are increasingly demanding. Thus, the “NetherRealm cycle” comes for all its games eventually.
The cheeky term is one that’s been coined by the fighting game community. It signifies when a popular NetherRealm Studios game starts to decline in popularity. What once had fans excited at launch now produces complaints from a bored community that’s hungry for more. It was inevitable that the cycle would come for the studio’s most recent success, Mortal Kombat 1, eventually. What’s surprising, though, is just how fast it’s happening.
It’s only four months into Mortal Kombat 1‘s life and the bloody fighting game is already getting pushback from fans. That’s not just some whining from impatient players, though; the community has some legitimate grievances this time.
If you want to understand how miffed the Mortal Kombat 1 community is right now, just watch this damning criticism from YouTuber iScreamFGC ,who compares its current state to the early days of Cyberpunk 2077. That’s a loaded complaint, but it isn’t an outlier. Despite initial excitement over the game at launch, players have begun to point out areas in which it feels rushed now that the honeymoon phase with it is over.
That’s not a new critique either. Three months ago, world champion fighting game competitor Justin Wong stated that Mortal Kombat 1 felt like 80% of a full product. The common complaint from players who share this sentiment is that the game lacks features that are now expected of a modern fighting game.
We are working on additional online features for MK1. Can't announce any dates/specifics at the moment. Which feature would you like to see the most/first?
— Ed Boon (@noobde) November 3, 2023
Mortal Kombat 1 released on September 19, 2023 with no online crossplay, an unreliable ping display, no options to filter out high ping or Wi-Fi players, and constant desync issues. It didn’t help that Street Fighter 6 had just launched a few months before it and featured a much more robust set of features at launch. That contrast only became sharper in the months following Mortal Kombat 1‘s release and helped bring underlying complaints to a boil. And that timing isn’t great considering that another beefy competitor, Tekken 8, is right around the corner.
You can see the difference in its player stats. Take a look at both Mortal Kombat 1 and Street Fighter 6 on SteamDB and you’ll see a major difference on PC. At the time of writing, Mortal Kombat 1 is sitting at around 2,700 players versus Street Fighter 6‘s nearly 9,000. That’s a stark difference, especially considering that the latter came out months before the former. At its peak, Street Fighter 6 had over 70,000 concurrent players; Mortal Kombat 1 has yet to break 40,000.
It’s easy to blame the growing disinterest on fans with short attention spans, but there’s a deeper reason for that response. Last year saw industry standards move by leaps and bounds from the bygone eras of poor online experiences and split player bases due to different consoles. Games like Street Fighter 6 raised the bar, and it’s hard to bring it back down. It’s reasonable that players are annoyed that Mortal Kombat 1 still doesn’t have crossplay support, though that’s scheduled to come early this year. That missing feature makes something like a $10 fatality feel like a slap in the face.
In its defense, NetherRealm Studios was pulling from a fairly standard genre playbook at launch. For years, it was normal for fighting games to release in a bare-bones state and build over time. That’s changed in recent years thanks to games like Street Fighter 6, Guilty Gear Strive, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and The King of Fighters XV that rejected that trend. Due to a pandemic that cancelled in-person tournaments, the genre was forced to grow up and work harder for the approval of both hardcore players and casual fans. Mortal Kombat 1‘s missing features and server struggles have left the release behind amid raised expectations.
The current state of #MK1 servers, low key MK11 had better servers.
– No Wifi Filter
– No rooms / lobby
– Option to decline high ping
– Switch characters on ranked
– Point distribution
Not to mention P1 having an advantage, hoping there's a patch soon addressing these issues.
— ODFullauto (@OdFullauto) September 27, 2023
Like WB’s other recent fighting game, Multiversus, Mortal Kombat 1 lacks the key features needed for it to be a long-tailed fighter that’ll be played for years to come. Sure, it features plenty of new modes for players to sink their teeth into. It has a fun story, a creative (though repetitive) board game mode, and a load of minigames, but sometimes it’s the surrounding details that make or break a game like this.
When players are left begging for crossplay and basic matchmaking options that come standard in other games, you know a developer is going to be fighting an uphill battle. For now, all fans can hope for is for these issues to get fixed before the NetherRealm cycle truly completes. And time’s running out considering that Tekken is poised to toss its body into a volcano.
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