It is once again time to talk about some fighting games — this time on the topic of what sells them.
A lot of fighting game developers, particularly in recent times, have been trying to appeal to the casual audience more; a popularly held opinion about fighting games from those on the outside of the community is that they are extremely difficult games to get into — games in which a player must get hazed in order to eventually get good.
Different developers have taken different approaches towards appealing to the casual audience — numerous games such as Capcom’s Street Fighter V introduced input buffers to make combos easier and the recent Guilty Gear Strive took away some of its more niche mechanics in order to increase its appeal.
I want to go through what I believe is the reason people pick up fighting games, and why developers don’t necessarily need to sacrifice creativity and restrict player expression in order to achieve this appeal.
Super Smash Brothers
Even in its most technically difficult iteration, Melee, Super Smash Brothers has managed to appeal to not just its hardcore audience, but anyone who has ever played a video game. What could possibly be the reason for this? Why do they have so much success where other developers don’t?
On a pure gameplay level, Smash has the most pick-up-and-play factor of any fighting game. Whether you are a veteran to Smash or a complete newcomer, understanding the basics of the controls is both easy and fun.
A large part of this is down to Masahiro Sakurai and his team’s masterful work of taking a character from their original game and making them work perfectly in Smash. This means that even if you only want to press the special button to make Sonic do his signature homing attack, make Kirby eat people and look different, or make Cloud do different Limit Breaks, you can do just that and have a ton of fun.
Speaking of characters — Characters! These are massive selling points for fighting games and this is another area in which Super Smash Brothers absolutely knocks it out of the park. To be fair to other developers though, Sakurai has managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible with all of the guest characters that he has in Smash, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that appealing and unique characters are a huge selling point for players in other fighting games, too.
I first got into fighting games around 2012-2013, and my first game was Ultra Street Fighter IV. People who played this game know just how technically difficult this game can be with its lack of input buffer and the existence of single-frame tight combos; it’s fair to say the game was a rather brutal learning experience. Despite that though, I stuck with the game thanks to characters like Chun-Li and Juri who made me want to keep playing.
Smash may have one of the most legendary character rosters with seemingly no limits, but that doesn’t mean other developers are lacking with their characters. I love badass, sexy ladies, so characters like the previously mentioned Juri from Street Fighter, I-no or Baiken from Guilty Gear, Kitana from Mortal Kombat and Ivy from Soul Calibur are all right up my alley. Having at least a couple of characters that appeal to different players is really important in getting a new player through that barrier of entry.
Guilty Gear Strive
Arc System Works’ most recent installment of the Guilty Gear series, Guilty Gear Strive, sets out to accomplish similar goals to other games I mentioned throughout this piece, with the ultimate goal being to bring in new players.
I previously played a bit of Xrd 2 Revelator, the last Guilty Gear title, and even as someone who knew about how difficult it can be getting into more complex fighting games — especially those that have been out for a long time — Xrd 2 Revelator was terrifying.
In Strive, ArcSys’ approach involves removing some of the more “niche” mechanics and adding some new stuff. The crucial thing is that these tweaks don’t necessarily change the way the game is played, but they do help new players.
The way they went about Counter-Hits is a good example: now, if you hit the opponent when they are in the start-up animations of an attack, the game will reward you with a “Counter”, an attack that has increased damage and combo potential. In Strive the camera has a cool dynamic zoom-in and briefly slows the game down when this happens — which helps you as the player visually confirm and react to this situation.
What’s most important, however, is the fact that it looks great and feels good for a new player — and that’s really what matters.
It’s an odd situation with Guilty Gear Strive; despite the series being notoriously complex and hard to get into, so far they have managed to sell more units than any previous installment in the series — around 500,000 copies as of the time of writing. Most of this is due to the game’s outstanding visuals, unique characters, and the way the game makes the player feel.
I have managed to reach the top floor of the ranking tower within Strive — though it didn’t last long before I was slapped back down. Whenever I go online to play, I always notice that floors 4-6 always have a ton of players in those lobbies. These are the newer players who are just having a blast with the game because of the reasons I mentioned above — not because the game’s depth has been somewhat neutered.
Dan Fornace, the creator of Rivals of Aether, posted an incredibly interesting Twitter thread on how his approach to developing fighting games shifted from “making games for newcomers” to “making the best game possible for fans of the genre”. He speaks about how no matter how hard you try to make something “simpler” some players will never get deeper than the surface, similar to the way that some players may give up on a single-player game after the first area.
The most important thing that games like Guilty Gear Strive and Super Smash Brothers are doing is making everything the player does look as cool and feel as good as it possibly can. It’s these factors that will hook a player in, and should they fall in love with the game, they themselves will learn more and dive deeper. But even if they don’t, they will have had an enjoyable experience with the game nonetheless — and that’s how you get people invested in the long term.
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