What Banks Can Learn From Mortal Kombat X, Round 3


Tiago Marques
Sep 7, 2016 · 8 min read
written by TIAGO MARQUES

One of my favourite design ideas in Mortal Kombat X that I would love to see translated into digital banking is the way you can customise your experience.


NetherRealm Studios occasionally provides additional “skins” for the characters, which allows the users to add a much appreciated visual refreshment to their favourite (and repeatedly played) fighters, but it is the concept of “character variations” that really takes the gaming experience to a much richer level.

Hipster warrior, hell minion or ninja assassin — there’s a skin for that.

In a nutshell, every character has a baseline set of moves and skills – but they also have three “variations”, each one with a unique extra set of attacks, special moves or weapons that are exclusive only to that variation.

For instance, some variations excel at devising creative traps and setups throughout the match, like Sub-Zero’s “Grandmaster” variation which places ice statues around the arena to restrain the opponent’s movements. Other variations focus on creating safe distance from the opponent and attacking them from afar (know as “zoning”), like Shinnok’s “Bone Shaper” long-range staff.

Each “variation” is fine-tuned for a specific style of kombat.

Instead of creating a one-size-fits-all character overbundled with features, character variations allow different gamers with different playing strategies to find a version of their favourite character that is more accurately tuned to their specific fighting style (or most suited to best their opponent’s).

It also adds diversity in the gaming experience as switching to a different variation redefines the personality and dynamics on the fighting match without forcing you to learn a new character entirely, as you’ve already mastered its basic moves.

NetherRealm’s upcoming “Injustice 2” game, based on the DC Comics superhero franchise, will apparently explore a different approach: instead of pre-configured variations, players will unlock “gears” as they progress throughout the game, which they’ll then be able to use to upgrade certain aspects of their characters, such as speed or strength, as well as their look and feel.

Although character variations as a video game concept seems to have made its debut with Mortal Kombat X, and the gears system for Injustice 2 shows potential (not much has been revealed at this stage), many other games before have played around with the topic of customisation.

In “Super Smash Bros. 4” (released a few years earlier), for instance, players can unlock and access alternative move sets for each fighter (similar to “gears”), configure and save up to 10 custom versions of each character with specific move sets (effectively creating your own “character variations”), and even share or download them online!

Super Smash Bros. 4 was probably an early source of inspiration for NetherRealm’s takes on customisation.


Compared to these customisation experiments in game design, personalised banking is pretty much still in its infancy.

Many banks have a “regular” version of their site and services and a “business” one (some even have a “wealth” version targeted at high net worth customers), usually with a slightly different branding tone, but that’s as deep as it gets in the current digital landscape of retail banking – and these apps and sites simply don’t offer the sort of flexibility and robustness that would make them truly aligned to individual banking profiles.

As an example, let’s have a look at my own disjointed case as a customer:

I use Monzo, HSBC, Barclays and American Express to manage my overall balance. I also use Circle, Pingit or PayPal to quickly request or send money to friends, and sometimes TransferWise to wire money to family in Portugal.

I use one app to note down and keep track of my daily expenses (I couldn’t really find one I liked so I just picked the least hideous-looking one at the time from the App Store, it’s called “Spending Tracker”).

In recent years I’ve started investing in the stock market to push myself into learning more about financial markets and diversify my savings strategies, but the site I use is so horrendously designed that I don’t even have it installed on my phone.

I should probably check what’s my “credit score” as my girlfriend and I will likely look into buying a house together at some point, but I haven’t gotten around to investigate this yet (maybe Experian or ClearScore?).

God knows how my private pension funds might look nowadays since I’ve haven’t looked at them in ages. And I have no idea where I’d even go to check the state of my public pension (or even if that’s possible).

I’m probably a bit more elaborate than the average bank customer, but like me there are plenty of people out there who feel their financial needs aren’t being met by their bank and are frustrated with the lack of tools they have to offer.

For instance, a single person has very different money management needs than a married couple trying to stay up-to-date on their household expenses, and a “joint account” frankly sounds like a very primitive solution by today’s standards. Likewise, a child or student relying on a parental allowance has a specific set of requirements regarding banking tools – both for them and their parents.

There are a few interesting examples of fintech companies exploring niche markets. Osper and GoHenry do what they can to help parents pay pocket money to their kids and help them develop good money habits, but what happens when these kids grow older and these apps’ unique selling point suddenly expires?

Digital banking for kids looks better than most banking apps for grown-ups.

Then they’ll have to migrate back to the high street banks, which are unable to provide them with the same level of personalised banking experience they grew accustomed to.


Maybe the use of “character variations” could be one solution to this design challenge.

Banks would provide the customer with a core set of financial tools, and provide them with optional pre-configured feature packs that best suit their banking needs and profile. You could also enable them to select individual add-ons (“gears”), all done in-app.

The Barclays Feature Store: still a long way to go.

(When I say features and add-ons, notice that I’m referring to personalised “relevant service”, not generic “offers” – currently the only add-ons I see on banking apps and sites are loans, mortgages and credit cards, which focus predominantly on sales for the bank, not on nourishing recurring relationships with customers.)

In the case of household management mentioned earlier, creating a shared banking experience could be as simple as providing a “family pack” (similar to how Apple or Amazon does it), with shared spending dashboards and parental controls all included.

An alternative product design approach could be to allow these aggregated features to exist as an collection of interdependent apps, each one focusing on a particular range of user needs. A portfolio of apps “powered by <Bank X>”.

However, a word of caution here: such strategy only tends to work if the customers see a relevant distinction between the various services offered, even if these do share a strong level of integration.

People don’t usually criticise Google for having separate apps for Gmail and Maps, but I often hear people complain about having to deal with Facebook and Messenger being two separate downloads instead of one. Likewise, people don’t see much distinction between “banking” and “payments”, which is why I also hear similar remarks about Barclays’ Mobile Banking and Pingit being two separate apps.

Other services still feel complementary enough without stepping on each others’ toes. For example, imagine Lloyds Bank had a solid online accounting service like Crunch under their belt – if when opening a business account with Lloyds you were offered their accounting services at a discounted rate, many customers would see the value in having both services provided under the same roof.

A third option (there’s always a third option) is one I’m particularly excited about: it’s called “open banking”, and has already begun getting Europe-wide traction thanks to the new legislation known as “Payment Services Directive 2” (PSD2).

The new PSD2 regulation requires banks to update their IT infrastructures so to enable their customers’ data to be shared via secure channels with any service provider that holds the required license, and be fully compliant with this system by 2018.

In very simple terms, that means that if your bank’s app and site just doesn’t cut it for you, you can still view your banking data, transactional history and make payments using a different provider (similar to how you can use your Gmail either on the dedicated Gmail app or on the iPhone’s agnostic Mail app).

That is phenomenal news for customers, as it opens the doors to new players in the financial services arena – meaning increased competition between providers, faster product iteration and deployment, and lower prices for services.

For banks it will represent a cornerstone moment of their evolution in financial services. Like I mentioned in my previous post, banks are heavily regulation-driven on their product roadmaps, so yes they will comply with the PSD2 regulation eventually – but will they become displaced as mere utilities in the process, while someone else takes the centre stage of their relationship with customers?

Or will banks see the bigger picture and upgrade their business mindsets as well as refresh their IT infrastructure, and start seeing themselves less as a bank and more as a banking platform? A framework powering various financial services, both in-house and third-party, and better tailored to different types of users, needs and values?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter, so please get in touch or comment below to share your opinion – and share this post if you liked it!

To be kontinued…

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Also on this series:
☞ Round 1 – Back in Klass
☞ Round 2 –
Kustomer Engagement
☞ Round 3 – Kustomisation (reading)
☞ Round 4 – (coming soon)

You might also enjoy reading these:
☞ How I Got Into Fintech, part 4 – New Life Foundation
☞ How I Got Into Fintech, part 5 –
Dreamers and Doers
☞ How I Got Into Fintech, part 6 –
So Much to Learn

Tiago Marques

Written by

London-based Senior UX Designer (freelancer). I write about UX, fintech, digital product design and gamification. And the occasional rant. www.tiagomarques.net