Fighting games have gone through a lot in the past 10 years and thanks to several titles the genre started to bloom again. Versus City wrote a very interesting article on how fighting games could be better these days and shares some interesting opinions.
Versus City is a blog which covers fighting games and other news straight from Japan. This article caught our attention, as fighting game fans and gaming in general so we thought we’d share this article with our readers, of course, on behalf of Versus City.
How to make fighting games better
Note: Just to make things positively clear, none of these ideas are in the works at my company, they’re just stupid thoughts that came to mind
I recently read through a thread on shoryuken.com which asks the question “How Could Fighting Games Change for the Better?”
This is an issue that’s more problematic than fans realize. Recent popular fighting games are selling in the neighborhood of 1 – 3 million units worldwide, which is nowhere near what the most popular games in other genres are making. You have games like Monster Hunter, Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim and Call of Duty all selling over 5 million per installment, and that’s the market that everyone wants to chase. The problem is that not all genres are suited to attaining those kind of numbers. We won’t be seeing a game like BattleChess 2012 breaking any records in the near future, but fighting games do have a chance of making the kind of top tier money other games are enjoying. And we really need fighting games to hit those kind of numbers because eventually, selling 1 – 3 million copies with one fighter isn’t going to be enough to justify the production of the next. The real question is how does that happen? What needs to be added, subtracted or tweaked to get the ball rolling?
PUSH BABY, PUSH
When it comes to fighting games, it’s no longer enough to simply teach a user how to play the game through a basic, text-based tutorial. We have to give users something that’s fun to play while at the same time teaching them how to do things. We have to keep them engaged by giving them content that grabs their attention.
The first and most important thing we need to see happen is to change fighters from a “pull-based” game to a “push-based” game. Right now, if you want to be really good at fighting games, you need to seek out info; you need to search for videos to help better your play. You definitely need to do a lot of “pulling” to get what you need, but you shouldn’t have to. Rather than incorporating in-game mechanics that are solely for the benefit of the beginner, give them information to soak up and to digest. More importantly, give them all of this information in-game so that they can see all of this without having to go to their computers to look for it!
The best example of what I want to see in my fighting games comes from Uncharted 3′s multiplayer menu, and the Uncharted TV integration (pictured above). Here, in the bottom right corner of the screen are 90-second clips from users and developers that showcase behind-the-scenes videos from the dev team, special trailers for DLC, and user-created videos. This is a fantastic feature, and I was immediately impressed by it. Now, let’s take this idea a step further! Imagine that when communicating with the servers to play online, the servers analyze your battle data and then push appropriate media to your game. How awesome would that be for any type of player? If, for example, your battle data shows that your win/loss ratio against grapplers is poor, wouldn’t it be amazing if the game knew this and started pushing anti-grappler tutorial videos to your menu?
Sure, there’s going to be a lot of people who will argue that people who are too lazy to search for the info themselves deserve to lose, but there are a surprisingly large number of people who don’t live on the internet. And who’s to say this feature will be limited just basic strategy? It can be used to push all sorts of useful stuff to everyone. Imagine if the game pushed a feature match with high level players to your menu because your battle data shows your win ratio is over 80%, or if you weren’t pulling off max damage combos off a specific move consistently in a match, the game pushed to you a half-minute video on how to better utilize your combo opportunities.
All of our consoles are connected to the internet, and the next cycle of consoles will undoubtedly be connected too. So I’m shocked that not one fighting game developer has taken the initiative to really utilize this amazing tool we have and do something special with it. It seems that just about every dev is going through the motions and delivering the same stuff as the previous dev. Along with RTS and shooters, fighting games are the genre that benefits the most from online play, but it lags so far behind the other two genres in usability and features that it’ll take years before they can catch up. Sadly, it’s been left to the community to spread the word about fighting games, and that shouldn’t happen. Publishers should be spending more time getting information out to the public while the community acts as a secondary resource for communication.
tl;dr version: Fighting games need to do a better job of pushing important news/media to the end user to generate interest and most importantly, revenue.
EMBRACE THE UGC MOVEMENT
User-generated content has been the big thing over the past couple of years in the game industry and I’m shocked that no fighting game has fully embraced this. I look at Persona 2 PSP and inFamous 2′s Create-A-Mission mode and think why the hell hasn’t something like this happened with fighting games yet? Soulcalibur, Tekken and Virtua Fighter all have fantastic character customization modes, but we need to take things one step further. Features to fuel UGC, like scenario creation mode would be awesome in a game like Tekken or Soulcalibur, especially if you could use pre-existing assets to make up your own cutscenes. Let’s say that someone wants to recreate the fight between Ryu and Sagat from the Street Fighter 2 movie, and have a win condition that Ryu has to defeat Sagat with a HP Shoryuken. Why can’t we as developers give our audience the tools to create something like this in our fighting games?
I think a lot of hardcore, competitive fighting game fans have a hard time accepting that there are people who enjoy the same games they do, but for totally different reasons. There are fans out there who really love the cast of characters, the animation, the music, but that’s as far as their interest goes. They’re not interested in going to tournaments or leveling up their game. Some people are born competitors, and some are born creators, so why not give the creator group some awesome tools to fuel their passion? This generation of gamers have shown that they’re interested in more than just playing games. They want to be part of the creation process, they want to express their creativity in other ways, and if we want to keep those people engaged, we have to give them the tools. This is a high-value/low-risk need that has yet to be answered by anyone, and I think that whoever fills this need is going to reap some big sales.
It doesn’t even need to be something complicated like a Create-A-Scenario mode either. I remember a few years ago watching Maj’s SF4 Combo Challenge series and thinking to myself, “holy god, why can’t we put a combo mode based on H.O.R.S.E. into a fighting game?” Imagine setting up a challenge like “With Ryu, perform a 10 hit combo using 2 FADC and ending with Metsu Shoryuken”, then uploading this for other players to try out.
Games can even tie this in to the push technology that I mentioned before for something really special. We could have user-generated content delivered straight to user’s games based on their playing preferences, and it’d be cost-efficient; most of these tools probably exist because the developers have to use them to create the official story mode dialogue or mission mode trials. Start adding review/rating systems governed by the players on top of the content so that only the best gets pushed to the general user. You now have an eco-system where the players are creating and reviewing each other’s work, so the developers are free to work on aspects of the game that require their full attention. This is the same model that a game like LittleBigPlanet thrives on and it’s something that the fighting game genre can adopt and run with.
tl;dr version: We are well into the “me” generation, the generation of gamers that wants to play AND create. The sooner fighting game developers wise up and give users more tools to create and review content, the better.
BETTER ONLINE COMMUNITY
I want to avoid talking about the quality of online code here because I feel that it’s an aspect of the game that partially out of developer’s hands; no matter how good the code is, someone somewhere is going to complain that the netcode isn’t good enough. Besides, fighting games is one of the few genres that require lagless play to be really good. FPS and RTS games can mask the lag without too much work.
Besides that, fighters do a really, really, really bad job of fostering an online community within the game. There is absolutely zero sense of community when you’re playing the game online, and that really hurts the game in the end. If the end user doesn’t feel like they’re part of a community or group, they’re more likely to stop playing. Why are games like World of WarCraft so popular? It’s because they nurture their communities! Over here in the world of fighting games, we’re all isolated islands that sometime bump into one another by chance, and it’s a damn shame that no one has tried to fix this.
Up until Soulcalibur V, not a single fighting game has tried to provide players with the tools necessary to build a community. SCV was a step in the right direction; you could add specific players to a rival list, but that’s as far as you could take it. There’s no way to interact with those players other than comparing random data and tracking their progress through various modes.
What needs to happen – and I realize this is a huge undertaking – is that a community site needs to be built that can be viewed on the PC and in-game. Ideally, this community site would provide you with all of the tools and information you need to better yourself as a player and to build your own communities within the game. I envision a site that would be built right into the main menu of a fighting game, that has an in-game friends list (a combination of your X360/PS3 list plus community site friend list) so that you can chat with your friends and invite them to games. You could also join and create multiple groups if you like. And you’d be able to create special events and invite your friends so that they know when to meet up, and they can invite their friends to join in.
Combine these ideas with the ones I have about user-generated content and push-based technology, and you have a community site that gives you access to all sorts of content from other users and developers directly, lets you analyze your own playing habits, and helps you build a formidable community within the game.
For the competitive player, this community site is where you can view all of your battle data in an easy-to-read format, maybe in the form of a pie or bar chart, so that you can easily track what you’re doing right and wrong. You’d be able to upload your replays directly to the site so that other users can view and rate them, and you can forward them to your friends too.
However, two issues arise if you want to build this kind of site. The first is user registration. You’re going to need users to sign up to the site, even if it’s available in-game. This issue can be easily dealt with if the site can link up with other social networks like Twitter or Facebook. I know a lot of people may not like that, but I think it works well in several ways. The first is that it’s easy; you don’t need to register anything, you just need to link accounts. The second benefit is that theoretically, people may behave a little bit better if their Facebook account is linked to their community site account. Then again, Shoryuken.com has shown me that may not be the case!
The second issue is, obviously, money. If something like this is going to be made, it’s not going to be cheap. Companies need to make money, and me being vehemently against DLC that affects gameplay, I’d rather money be made off a community site. But how much do we charge users, and what benefits are there to paying into a community site?
It’s all about providing better utility, baby. Give people the basic functions, but if they want more of what they like, let them pay a premium. Virtua Fighter does this already with their VF.net service. You can pay $2 a month for access to your basic stats, but you can’t create replays unless you pay an extra dollar per match. However, for $8 a month you can save up to 3 replays per day.
I’m not against paid content, but I am against making users pay for content that should be in the game as a basic service. I think making users pay for basic content is petty and to be honest, doesn’t treat the customer with respect. In the long run, it serves everyone better to make customers pay for premium services. I don’t want to bring out numbers to justify my point so I’m not going to delve into how much users should pay. However I definitely feel that all users should be able to upload replay videos to Youtube, for example. But if they want to upload 720p/1080p replay videos to Youtube and have the ability to annotate or edit the replay, then yeah, charge them for that.
To make it clear, I’m totally for balance updates to fighting games. In the long run I think that they’re for the best because they can increase the longevity of a game, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of how they’re done now. I think the most natural reaction for developers is to patch something as soon as something potentially game-breaking is discovered, which is really the wrong thing to do. Fighting games are at their very best when emergent thinkers are able to break through various barriers placed before them and find new strategies to counter what’s thought to be overpowered. But there’s always a breaking point where people are just going to throw their hands up in defeat and say “screw it, I’m going with another character!”
That’s something that developers need to avoid, and they can do that through smarter and timelier updates.
What does smarter updating entail? It means to stop doing arbitrary updates to the game and its characters, and to start using raw data to figure out if a move really warrants a buff/nerf. Again, using the push technology that I mentioned before, developers can obtain valuable data on the user’s playing habits and playstyle to provide them with content that suits their needs and wants. This data can be added to a comprehensive database that can be used to help with balance issues. If a move is being used too often, hitting too frequently, or is the deciding hit in a round too many times, total user data will let us know this and can raise some red flags for the developers that maybe this move is just a little bit too good. On the other hand, if a move is cleanly losing to other moves far too often, that’s an indication that the move may need to be reviewed to see if it requires fine-tuning.
Of course, developers would have to do some serious data-mining to get the best results from raw battle data. It’s not enough to just look at the data and determine that a move needs to be tweaked. They’d have to take into account user skill levels, moves that come before and after a move flagged for review (ex. on its own, 3s Chun’s c.MK is good, but considering what it leads to, it goes from good to amazing), and how often a move is used different matchups.
Yeah, it’s an arduous task and I wouldn’t enjoy being the one having to do it, but if developers are diligent enough to extract useful information from user data to better balance our games, it’ll be worth it. And they’ll have a lot of time to do so if they time their updates better!
One of the things I truly hate about playing on the PS3 as opposed to the 360 is that there seems to be a firmware update almost monthly to fix something. On the other hand, Microsoft does a fantastic job of limiting major updates to twice a year (spring and fall), and making sure that these updates are significant. They often change the look of the dashboard or add more functionality to the system with these updates, and that’s how fighting game updates should be handled. Sure, we should get patches as soon as possible to fix serious bugs (freeze glitches, etc.) but when it comes to balance updates, developers need to take their time, examine the raw data, and make thoughtful decisions. It’s embarrassing to have to nerf a good move, and then unnerf it in a subsequent update. That type of stuff should never, ever happen.
TREAT PLAYERS WITH RESPECT
The current trend with games now is that we have to cater to the casual or core gamer, that we have to make things easier for them — or coddle them, to be more blunt — so that they’ll want to keep playing our games. I say this is a bunch of silly talk and all that’s going to do is make the game boring, and not fun to play. What we as developers should be doing is rewarding good play, not rewarding players who aren’t playing well. Don’t take this to mean that I want things to be super difficult to execute; all I want is a visible disparity between an average player and a very good player. And right now that doesn’t exist, design-wise.
Let’s take Ryu’s Shoryuken in SF4 as an example. Tons of players complain about this move because it benefits from having a very generous buffer window, so you can literally do something like d, d/b, d, d/f, f+Punch and still get the move to come out.
To be honest, I don’t mind this kind of design, because it will help players who aren’t good at the game learn how to play. The problem is that the reward factor is skewed heavily to one side of the spectrum, and there is about zero incentive for everyone else. If you’re going to stick with sloppy inputs that’s cool, but we should be rewarding the players that do take the time to practice with more benefits.
Games such as Soulcalibur V and Virtua Fighter already do this, and they do it well. Astaroth’s command throws have “perfect input” versions that give you more damage over the normal input, and Wolf’s Giant Swing does the same. There’s no difference between the moves other than damage, which is different from what Namco did with Jin’s Laser Scraper Just Frame in Tekken 4. That’s the wrong way to do things, folks. You want to reward a player for doing something well, but you don’t want to make the reward so great that it screws with the balance of the game. However, this kind of disparity needs to exist in fighting games if they’re to move forward and walk the line between pleasing both the hardcore and mainstream/casual audience. There needs to be a gateway open for the latter group so that they can play the game the way they want to, but they’re rewarded for playing it better.
Going back to Ryu’s SF4 Shoryuken and applying this line of thought to that move, if a player takes advantage of the shortcut, fine, let them do that. But if they get better and start hitting that move efficiently with perfect inputs, increase the damage by 10 – 15 points. This way, the average player still benefits from the shortcut, but the competitive player benefits even more because of better damage output. And this is all the hardcore player wants in the end, right? They want to be rewarded for their hours of practice and study. We can take this a step further by adding in cool-looking animations if you’re able to pull off these moves with precision. Hit a perfect input for Zangief’s SPD? Get an even cooler animation and different camera angles compared to the regular one, plus slightly more damage for your effort.
I’m sure a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I believe that when it comes to the meat of fighting games, the combat system, the character balance, etc. the sooner we start treating this genre as a sport, the better off we’ll be. This doesn’t mean that we have to embrace e-Sports. That’s an entirely different thing that I don’t want to get into with this article. What I mean is that we need to embrace the virtues of sport. We need to embrace the idea that within a set of hard rules, creativity can blossom and flourish, and that you will be rewarded for playing smarter, and playing better than your opponent. We need to embrace the idea that our users, our customers, are intelligent and don’t need to be coddled; they just need to have clear, tangible and worthwhile goals.
Huge thanks to Andrew Alfonso (www.versuscity.net) for writing this article and for allowing us to share it with you.