What does a modern fighting game look like?

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raisinbman
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What does a modern fighting game look like?

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We’ve seen Capcom crash and burn with SFV and MVCI, so what keeps other fighting games afloat and what direction are they going in now? I think there are 3 camps – Triple A, B Tier, and indie. With triple A, we find they’re going all in on esports, and tend to be the most contentious. In the B tier, clearly these games aren’t triple A, and their production values show, but at it’s core is a good fighting game, and possibly a supportive dev behind it. Then there’s indies, nuff said. In triple A, what do we find? Games like SFV, Tekken 7, DBFZ, and MK11. While they are popular, the question of ‘is esports worth it’ seems to come up more and more with lootbox issues, esports being the only focus to the detriment of the rest of the game. Could these be a source of the fighting game bubble bursting? Next we have B Tier, with companies like SNK returning to fighting games, but not putting in huge production values. And of course, we have indies like Them’s fightin’ herds.



With great power comes great responsibility, and it isn’t unique to fighting games. But although we’re getting absolutely stunning games at the top of their class in terms of fidelity, and story, it’s a tough balance to keep, as we see the costs and pressures seep out to the consumer. It seems to be the rule and not the exception for these games to need cosmetics, lootboxes, and DLC to pay for these things as well as esports needs. As the forefront of the genre, Capcom learned(or didn’t learn) very early on, even before the period of games I’m covering. Fighting games fans, or at least the loudest ones are pretty vocal about this stuff. Street Fighter x Tekken was one where they were caught red handed in trying to sell launch characters as DLC characters, more or less. The weight of that ultimately ended up capsizing that game(And as a side note, that game had its issues but was completely fine after some patches). And on another note, we saw Capcom revisiting another street fighter 2 trend with rereleasing and updating their fighting games. No one should’ve been surprised by this, as we see this from Capcom throughout their entire catalogue, and of course, it wouldn’t happen if people didn’t buy into it. One of the smartest people in gaming, Imran Khan pointed out that Capcom is a very money-focused company, and with that lens, it makes sense – do what’s safe, and reap the profit. MVCI didn’t get much of a chance with monetization because it was hoisted by its own petard, but with Street Fighter V, we see Capcom coming forth with a model where you don’t have to pay for DLC characters. Street Fighter V had its own issues beyond monetization, but to my knowledge, they’ve held to this. There is an INCREDIBLE amount of cosmetic and paid DLC, a percentage of it to represent or even directly fund esports efforts. With the game, you run into a bit of a chicken and egg situation where the question is asked ‘would people play this without money involved’, and while I can’t answer that, it does bother me greatly in seeing esports being seemingly the main drive for Capcom in releasing SFV too early, and the only content we could expect being costumes and esports-related curios. Netherrealm is another big one in this way - without getting into too much detail, it does seem like Netherrealm fans either accept it , or the majority of people just don’t mind at much. They’ve settled into a pattern that I’d imagine most savvy players know – MK release, DLC, Injustice release, DLC. I remember specifically, they added some sort of Brazilian actual sports or esports skins for mk10. You can’t really put something out like that without knowing the audience and support isn’t there. With Injustice 2 though, a coworker at the time who I was getting excited with the game about, I don’t think he was a super hardcore gamer, but he dawned upon the realization in that with the gear system and lootboxes, you’re starting off less cool looking and MAY get to build something cool again. I didn’t want to believe him at the time, but he was right. You would think, in terms of monetization and ‘gear’, equipping batman with the dozens to hundreds of suits he’s worn throughout the years would be something they could do, This ultimately it ended up being something that was a side system that didn’t effect competitive. These storied DC characters shouldn’t end up looking like MMO characters when Netherrealm could’ve done much better. Netherrealm continued with this in locking various pieces of character kits behind their Krypt in MK11, akin to Overwatch. A glitch was found early on that let players bypass it, I’d say a bit of karma. There isn't one answer for 'what model do fighting games release by' nowadays. UNIST(and related games), Guilty Gear, etc. release new entries, MK11 is supposed to be supported much longer than previous entries which puts it in bosts similar to SFV and DBFZ as far as we know. Ultimately, laws have started being made against lootboxes, so despite their success, they’re either going to be replaced or removed, it seems. Even then, we have companies pivoting to season passes, which are much more transparent, and hopefully less dangerous. All this trouble for one of the simplest game types to produce DLC for: characters and costumes.



The most interesting I think, are the B tier games – not indie, and not triple A. SNK seems to be fairly comfortable with it’s output being here with KOF and Samurai Shodown. Others include Ex Fighting Layer, UniCLR. People still end up enjoying these games, and don’t have the sheer overhead to deal with in order to consider themselves successful. It’s really interesting to see these games continue on without the more controversial aspects of the industry included. While KOF and SamSho had some clear issues, they did not gather the ire of the industry, and in particular, brought SNK back from being pachinko-only to looking back at the fighting game world once again. SamSho in particular saw so much success before the game even released, they gave away the first season pass of DLC for free for preorders and people who bought within(the first month?). This will NEVER happen with another fighting game again for those keeping score. This is combined with them having 3 free DLC characters so far, 2 being crossovers. It’s all really fascinating stuff, and it makes me wonder if this sort of release makes the most sense for fighting games henceforth. It’s a tale as old as time that the newest version of a game needs to be bigger and better and costs even more, but here, I think the question they’re posing if ‘what if it didn’t have to?’. Gaming fads are chased endlessly from MMOs to FPSes to Overwatch clones, battle royale imitators and probably even more in the future. SNK also seems to be willing to put forth it’s offerings on things like the epic games store, next gen, and Stadia.



In the indie tier, I can’t speak authoritatively too much, but you have games like Skullgirls and Them’s fightin’ herds. These two in particular are interesting in that they share DNA in the form of their engine – but they aren’t the only ones. Skullgirls development cycle has presented numerous boons for the gaming industry itself, including bringing fightstick behind-the-scenes tech to modern hardware. I think in these indie fighting games, we see what the FGC strives to be – to compete and share with others, but ultimately, bring the medium, as a whole, forward.



How can fighting games improve for the future?

There are a couple areas. Communication is number one. The reason I started a fighting game podcast is in order to get what information I can get out there in a concise manner. While it makes more sense for the Japanese companies and smaller companies to not have the best grasp on communication, we’re not in the teenage years of the industry anymore. Even bigger games like DBFZ don’t use their dubbed voice acting in trailers when releasing international trailers, for instance. I had to go into my options, and flip voice acting options to English in my US copy of DBFZ. I don’t have to do that in ANY other games. Sure, the option to have Japanese language is important to some gamers, but we’ve just got to grow up a bit here. It has taken longer for fighting games to do this sort of thing because it hasn’t been necessary, but with the advent of SFIV, there’s really no excuse anymore. We’re still getting trailers and content that’s Japanese only, and non-natives are supposed to deal with it. If I were a casual fan and I saw a trailer in Japanese only that wasn’t presented to me, I wouldn’t even know if the game was being released in my region, and possibly turned off. We do see certain companies making efforts to get communication improved with Bandai Namco putting Michael Murray and harada front and center, and I believe SNK has hired someone in a similar capacity in the last couple years. Even still, for as good a game as DBFZ was, it went through a long silent period with no patches before a new season was announced. An open line of communication would’ve helped here, or even a roadmap for the future. While some may make fun of living games, and of course, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, we live in an age where Nintendo can say ‘DLC is coming, please be patient’ and only announce 1 character(and a weird character at that, piranha plant), others can too. At least in my case, knowing a game will or won’t have support would be great – not every game can be a blizzard game, and even after it’s been sunsetted still have the possibility of being patched.



Another is language – each fighting game has it’s own ecosystem and language, and subsequently groups of people that play them. As someone who started on Street Fighter as my ‘first language’, trying to learn other games, even if they use street fighter commands can be rough – anime games have their own notation with numbers, as does street fighter with its abbreviations, as does tekken, etc etc. Obviously, some stuff just doesn’t translate when going from 3d to 2d for example, but having to learn another language, if possible, shouldn’t be a barrier. Most FPSes agree on your left stick letting you move around, and your right stick controlling your camera, with your trigger buttons being your(wait for it…) gun trigger. Same could be said for MOBAs. Copyrights and stylistics come into play here, but if the community really wants to grow and be welcoming, I think it’s important to ‘translate languages’. We see various approaches to inviting other communities to cross pollinate their games in the form of Smash Ultimate, Injustice 2(hold back to block, universal combo mechanics), DBFZ, Granblue through many methods including easy modes or autocombos.



This one is a bit controversial, because I believe there was a patent involved once that’s since expired – training modes and move guidance. Every game should be able to demo what I’m supposed to be doing that it’s challenging me to do. There is the attitude from most fighting game devs that’s hands off. Now this is a choice, and it ultimately depends. With games like DOTA they don’t look to cage your creativity, giving you a toolset and letting you decide to do with it. But I often question what exactly certain characters’ gameplans are in fighting games, and if the dev honestly believes they’re able to compete with the rest of the cast. Additionally, we live in an age where tier lists, character overviews, and other things come out anyway right nearly after the reveal. I guess what I’m getting at is it’s nice to have a cinematic trailer for the character, but learning a character and how they play is a different beast entirely. I just think some guidance should come from the game itself instead of having to brave the internet slums to find just the right tutorial or group of people who’re in the know.



I’m not too big on Smash, but Echo Fighters are important. Prior to this, ‘clone’ characters were looked down upon(which possibly could have been in jest, but a lot of truth is said in jest). We saw Killer Instinct and Skullgirls come out with ‘clone’ characters that were justified, but this sort of branding and attitude could really present an opportunity for fighting games to move forward with less toxicity.

On Guest characters



While I don’t know if it was the first genre to do so, fighting games are intrinsically tied with guest characters. Sometimes its by request of game devs or relationships between devs which ultimately lead to full-blown crossovers. Increasingly, I do sort of question the motivation to get guest characters into fighting games. Marvel became a much different company between MVC3 and Infinite, and some say it shows behind the scenes in how Capcom was told to handle the property. While I don’t have many substantive facts, I know, for instance, decades ago when making a DC fighting game, the devs were told ‘superman can’t kick and must punch instead’. You can still see this DNA in the Injustice games, even. Combined with that, the use of guest characters or licensed characters means, by time the next entry in the series is used, those who played them may not have a character anymore. Sometimes, their moveset can be inherited, but it isn’t the same. And although I don’t agree, lots of gaming pundits seem to be especially irked by guest characters(in particular, Spawn is super-disrespected sadly). Could resources and money be used elsewhere in fighting games? That all being said, both Nintendo and Netherrealm seem to be jumping the shark with no fear when it comes to crossovers – to the point Terminator and Robocop reference when they last met in video game land. The sky seems to be the limit for these giants of the genre. Additionally, we see crossovers in less well-funded games like SamSho, FEXL, and many various arena brawlers have cameos like crazy. While the hype for series like MVC is great, the actual sales numbers weren’t for Capcom.



What we see with Fortnite makes much more sense – fortnite makes money, has a big audience. So we see Marvel, DC, McDonalds, and any other company with a brain are all keen to get their properties in there.

Crossplay – I think this is a no brainer, and one of the biggest asks of the community. We see a surprising number of companies willing to play ball here, but clearly Sony isn’t. I will guess that there’s a cost involved here, and as fighting games aren’t the breadwinners of their respective companies I’m sure, I don’t know when we’ll get this unless console/service providers start to provide this themselves. With Microsoft’s recent change in heart and generous wallets, who knows? This may be closer than we think. I also imagine this isn’t the cost priority for the game either, and even if it was, I would think the next item would be the following:



Rollback netcode is one of the oldest and biggest asks for the community. I can’t claim to be an expert on such things, but there you go. Improving online should definitely be a priority, and with the pandemic we’re in, we’re starting to see talk of such things: Sakurai said he had tried it but it caused problems, Harada said with the coronavirus he’s looking back into it. If I had to speculate, this probably wasn’t a priority for Japan because their internet is so much better, and they’re not really a console-centric nation. With arcades still existing there, the ability to play face to face is much greater there as well. It might be a bit of nepotism, but it makes sense that if they’re successful in Japan and happy and japan, how bad could it be elsewhere(Which may reflect in some of the earlier points I brought up)? Times are changing, though – like with SFV not having an actual arcade edition on launch and the other examples I mentioned. Killer Instinct notably has it, and there are a lot of smaller games with rollback. If this is the de facto best method, I don’t know if it just hasn’t been a priority, or like with training modes, copyrights were involved, or possibly even licensing, but hearing more from top names about it gives me hope. In fact, some games were given the boot at this year's hypothetical EVO for having bad online - coronavirus definitely isn't a good thing, but we may see push come to shove here due to it.



There are other considerations like a wide roster, engaging gameplay systems, but these all I think move to support varied playstyles and ultimately draw an audience. But the funny thing about fighting games is they’ll find their fans no matter what – even DESPITE their creators(Smash Melee), I think the key will be to find the balance where the industry doesn’t lose faith in them anymore.

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