With a silver tongue and an iron fist, fighting game luminaries share their thoughts on the current state of the genre and where it's heading.
Earlier this year, I wrote a few articles addressing some concerns I have with the fighting games genre. The first, Failures in Training, addressed the inefficiency of fighting game tutorials. The third, Fixing Fighting Games, dealt with anemic game mode selection and mapped out the features each fighting game should include. Both sparked a lot of discussion, so I put together a quick list of questions and presented them to a handful of fighting game developers and community members.
I would also like to extend a sincere "Thank you!" to all of the respondents. There is a ton of great insight and feedback here that makes me excited for the future of the genre. You can jump to any of our respondents using the handy table of contents above. Until next time, enjoy!
Seth Killian, Special Combat Advisor, Capcom
Why do people enjoy fighting games?
There are lots of reasons to enjoy fighters, but people love them because it's one of the deepest experiences you can have with another person in the video game medium. At their best, fighting games are like improv jazz, or a great conversation (maybe more like an argument?), and although they may have consistent patterns or flow, a match can be something excitingly new every time.
Fighters have a lot of interesting mechanics and systems to explore, but once you understand them, then the game really begins as you explore the mind of your opponent. In a good fighter, each character will have a strong personality and style, but then you join your own personal characteristics--your strengths, weaknesses, and overall style--with the character's to create something unique.
I can tell which top player is playing a particular character without needing to see their name because their unique flair shines right through in the gameplay. This is only possible because there are so many unique options and meaningful decisions in every match that a player's self-expression can really shine through. You can really inhabit the game, while simultaneously having a great feeling of mastery.
Also, there's the joy of beating the snot out of people--that should not be underestimated.
How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games or their community?
They can be very important. I'm not sure they benefit the wider community directly, but they can certainly add a lot to the games as a product on the single-player side, which is a great way to broaden the base of people interested overall and add value for players who aren't as interested in fighting against other people. There's no question for me that the greatest magic of fighting games lies in the versus modes, but for people with a more casual interest, or that just like the characters, story, or having some goofy fun, they can be right at the top for attractive features, so ignoring them can really limit your game's appeal.
Do you think the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?
I take this issue very seriously because the whole reason I joined the industry in the first place was to try and help restore the fighting genre. I didn't need the job, and gave up a lot to take it, but as a devotee, it was hard for me to see fighters slumping, and Street Fighter IV was the chance to help return the genre to prominence and respect. Fighters aren't the easiest games to truly understand, but I believe they're not just a great genre, but actually one of the greatest achievements in all of games and something we should fight to have recognized more widely.
I didn't need the job, and gave up a lot to take it, but as a devotee, it was hard to see fighters slumping, and Street Fighter IV was the chance to help return the genre to prominence.SFIV definitely reinvigorated things, and while "implosion" is a risk for any genre, it's particularly acute for fighters because of how challenging they are. There are probably two primary forces at play here: the challenge of the games themselves, and the "network effect" of having more players playing any one title.
The "network effect" is the way I think about how wins in a given fighting game develop meaning and value for the players. Basically, the more people that are playing any one game, the more meaningful your skill at that game becomes. You might be the world's greatest Clay Fighter player, but with only four other people still playing that game, there's less collective meaning in that title, less challenge, and, correspondingly, less incentive for others to get into the game.
On the challenge front, understanding even one fighting game at a competitive level can be much more difficult than, say, completing the 20 best-selling games of the year. So if you release too many deep fighting games, you are essentially tasking players with making that kind of commitment many times, which can create a dangerous strain. It's kind of like a teacher giving out homework. Even if the class is fantastic and the problems are really interesting, if the workload is just too high, students won't be able to keep up. If they are enrolled in a few classes like this, the problem only gets worse.
So, as publishers in a genre, if we are collectively targeting the same group too often, we risk asking the players to invest more time than they may have, and even if they are dedicated players (or good students, in the former analogy), they may not be able to keep up. On the other side, even if there are more players overall, but fewer playing any given title, the value of their investment and their skill is worth less. Balancing these two things is critical to maintain the genre, and it's especially challenging because you have multiple publishers who all want to find success and are actively competing with one another for attention.
How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?
While this is something that Capcom is actively working to address, there's no question that fighters are tough to master and require training.
Part of the glory of achievement is difficulty, but there are good kinds of difficulty (inventing a new strategy, outthinking a great opponent) and bad kinds of difficulty (making a move really physically hard to do), and the genre hasn't always been good about distinguishing between the two. There should be a greater focus on teaching theory in-game, but the Internet and the player community itself have been outstanding in creating thousands and thousands of resources for exactly this purpose.
Creating a great game--the kind of game that deserves to have its theory analyzed in detail--is also a lot of very hard work. Teaching that theory is also a lot of work and, on the development side, creation takes priority. This issue is complicated further by the fact that theory evolves over time, so it's not as simple as creating an industry-leading tutorial; it's also finding ways to update that resource as the metagame develops. That said, just because this is a really challenging task, it's still what the genre needs, and we have plans to continue pushing the bar forward.
Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?
[Fighting games] can't be meaningfully separated from versus play.If the contrast is between single-player and versus, then I'd say there are already great single-player fighting games. Devil May Cry was a pioneer in the genre, and there are other great games like God of War and Bayonetta. They share a lot of the same core combat concepts, utilize similar mechanics, and even get combo videos and the like. Even the old arcade game Alien vs. Predator had a genuinely interesting combat engine and combo possibilities.
So, much like Portal or Fallout 3 did with shooter mechanics, these games use the tools of great fighting games to create a different kind of experience. I'm not sure I would call them fighting games, however, because, for me at least, the genre can't be meaningfully separated from versus play--that's what keeps people engaged in the same fighter for over 15 years.
Why do fighting games need to evolve?
While I think there is still room for different ideas about what could make for a great fighting game, in the near term, I think the most productive evolutions will be around, rather than within, the games.
There's already interest from a good player base, and the games at their core are so good that they can literally provide decades of entertainment, but they also present a series of challenges and barriers to new players, as well as a set of burdens on existing fans. It's solving this equation that will be the key. Next steps are all a manner of improved educational outreach--from improved training modes, to live streaming, to new ways to connect players with one another. It's creating a community that can really drive things forward beyond a publisher's limited marketing campaigns and make the games take on a life of their own.
There are a lot of very challenging variables to balance to keep fighting games hot, but as with so many other pursuits, the best things in life aren't easy.