Fighting games have appeared on home consoles for more than 20 years, yet they struggle to advance beyond basic game modes. It's time to set the new standard for this genre.
Fully realized fighting games will have long-term benefits for the entire genre. They attract players who normally wouldn't consider purchasing a fighting game and maybe, just maybe, convert a few of those casual players into dedicated enthusiasts over time. That leads to a larger fighting community that attracts more developers working on more fighting games with bigger budgets. And they're fun! Tekken Bowl is fun! Mortal Kombat's Challenge Tower is fun! These additional modes add value to your hard-earned, $60 purchase. They make you feel like you bought a complete game, rather than a fighting system.
In contrast, heavy postrelease downloadable content strategies are a short-term boon for individual developers. Let us consider Street Fighter X Tekken, a game designed to be one of the most complex--yet accessible--fighting games to date. It features dozens of different mechanics, as well as a few shortcuts to make those mechanics easier. But, while playing the game got easier, one crucial factor was missing: a reason to care.
In contrast, Heavy postrelease DLC strategies are a short-term boon for individual developers.Chances are, the majority of people for whom those shortcuts were intended are not going to use them. They will play a few rounds with a friend, see a few videos online, or maybe rent it over a weekend and think, "OK, I've seen enough." That's because there is very little to actually do in the game other than prepare for, and play, online. That's all well and good for Capcom's target market, but if the developer really wanted this game to resonate with a wider audience, it should have provided more ways to play.
Rewards are a good place to start. People enjoy being rewarded, and it encourages them to keep playing. In its recent DLC pricing announcement, Capcom listed a lot of neat extras that will be given away for free, including additional gems, color packs, and quick combos. What if, instead of trickling these items into our laps over a few months, there was an in-game economy, a la Mortal Kombat, that awarded you currency for playing the game that could then be redeemed for these items? That gives you a goal to achieve and a reason to keep playing. Granted there are those goofy titles, but they're difficult to work for since their unlock conditions are kept secret and are relevant only during online play.
Capcom is not the only developer grappling with this. SoulCalibur V, The King of Fighters XIII, and more fall into similar straits. Most likely the ideas and concepts presented here were also presented in design meetings for all these games. But, at the end of the day, video games are a business, and there are deadlines, release windows, and so much else to consider. Realizing features outside of the core design requires something that is becoming a rare commodity in game development: flexibility. Instead, most fighters play it safe, and we all go down together.
So, what should the new standard be for fighting game modes? In a perfect world, the selection for all fighters would include the following at a minimum:
Arcade: default game mode that lets you fight your way through the roster to the end boss
Story: narrative-driven mode focusing on presentation and storytelling; main single-player offering
Mission: meaty helping of challenges that put a twist on the mechanics and offer significant rewards
Training: instructional suite for all skill levels; combo demonstrations with timing indicators required
Versus: offline competitive versus mode, including survival and tournament modes
Online: online versus mode with tournament support, spectating, and replay sharing
Again, this list represents the base level of game modes each fighting game should include. Extras, such as minigames, cosmetic items, and character customization, are also acceptable (and encouraged) but are not as essential as the staples listed above. Then there's the issue of DLC. At best, it can extend the life of a fighter and instill extra value, a la Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. At worst, it locks out a significant portion of the game, thus hurting its value. The debate still rages over a unified theory of DLC, and in all likelihood there are plenty of knuckleheaded strategies to come.
If executed properly, the new fighting game standard will give more players a reason to start throwing down in the digital ring. It will grow the genre to support the dozens of fighters current and forthcoming, including Skullgirls, Dead or Alive 5, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, and more. With any luck, developers will rise to meet this challenge and help open up the genre for more players to enjoy. But what do you think? Do our concerns ring true? Was there an item that got left off the list? Leave a comment in the section below, or contact the author with the buttons at the top and bottom of the page.