What would fighting games need to be mainstream again?

Even though I suck at them, I really love fighting games and it saddens me that they don’t seem to get much love from the gaming community, aside from the most dedicated fans. Today, I’ll look at some concepts, which may provide an answer to the question – why fighting games aren’t popular and what could be made in order to make them be in the spotlight again.

Disclaimer – I’m a marketing person, so I won’t be talking much about game mechanics in-depth, since I don’t feel qualified enough to do so.

Fighting games need more high profile influencers

Maximilian Dood is the biggest fighting games influencer on the planet, there’s no doubt. There are some problems with it, though. Despite the fact that he’s the most known one, he only has 1,31 mln subscribers at the moment, which ranks him at 4000th place in The USA, when it comes to subscriber count (via Socialblade, 28.09.2020, 16:42 CEST) and 1725th place in the gaming sphere of Youtube. This, well, isn’t exactly impressive. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been there for years and gaining a following of over a million people is quite a feat, but building such an audience in about 13 years is rather a testament to an influencer’s dedication, than to the sheer virality of his content. And, of course, he mostly covers fighting games. It’s also quite hard to exactly pinpoint who are the other fighting games influencers, who are less popular than Maximilian. There’s WoolieVersus (165k subs), who tends to play a lot of different types of non-fighting games and pumps out a ton of content, which isn’t extremely advertiser-friendly. There’s also Sajam (71,7k subs), who tends to do similar stuf to Woolie, and there’s good old Justin Wong (62,4k subs) – the man responsible for the famous EVO Moment 37 and KayaneTV (44k subs), who’s been consistently gaining less than 500 views daily for quite a while…

The situation is dire. Of course, I do appreciate the amount of work people I’ve mentioned above, but the influencer scene lacks a big new name. Justin Wong is basically a fighting games’ Fatal1ty (one of the first esport stars, back from the days of Quake) and yet he’s still relevant to the community (unlike Fatal1ty, whose nickname is, ironically, a follow up to the famous finishing mechanic from Mortal Kombat).

Although a lot of people will be displeased with the point I’m going to make, having KSI or Ninja streaming a fighting game regularily would make a lot of differences in the perception of fighting games by the public and in sales of these titles. And having, say, 10 guys who are twice as big as Maximilian on Youtube and who specialize in fighting games would definitely help the case.

And there’s a lot to be desired when it comes to their marketing as well.

Fighting games community’s biggest strength and weakness is the same thing

Let’s look at most prominent AAA games. Most people, when they wanna play a football game choose FIFA or PES. FPSs are ruled by more titles, but CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch/Paladins (I’m kinda counting them as one title), Call of Duty/Battlefield series are also a staple. MOBAs are dominated by LoL and DOTA2. There are also a bunch of other genres and titles. The point is – people tend to stick to a single, maybe two games in the genre. People who tend to play fighting games do things differently, though.

There’s about 20 fighting games in my Steam library and I realize that such an amount isn’t considered impressive by any means. FGC’s members often seem to hoard fighting games. It’s partly due to the fact that although core idea behind these games is pretty much the same all the time, the execution is entirely different and each game has its unique ideas. This creates an interesting scenario in which such players are often willing to make purchases even when it comes to relatively unknown franchises in which they had no interest beforehand. This leads FG developers to the point where they have easy access to a market filled to the brim with potential buyers who are often eager to spend. On the other hand, this creates a number of extremely worrying issues.

Firstly – the size of potential customer base is small, compared to less strict and easy going audiences. Unless you have a strong and well known franchise, like Street Fighter, Tekken or Mortal Kombat, your game is going to fly under the radar of the vast majority of the video games market.

Secondly – jargon. FGC uses a lot of terms which are gibberish to other people. How to pitch a game to your potential customers, then? „Anime tag fighter with strong focus on okizeme, encouraging IB, rollback netcode, unique cancelling mechanics, and no fuzzy guards. It’s gonna be meaty… after meaty, after meaty. Oh, we also included a ton of frame data in the game.” would be understandable and possibly interesting to FGC, but not to anyone else. And it seems that a lot of companies making video games are doing just that – selling their products with technical intricacies. It works well for this specific audience, but it’s not gonna do well at all if we were to pitch it to pretty much anyone else.

Thirdly – unhealthy lifespan of products. Most games I enjoy playing have a healthy playerbase. It means that there are people on each level level of the game – there are noobs, normal players, advanced players and meta-game badasses. When it comes to fighting games, though, I can barely think of such games. Maybe Tekken 7, Brawlhalla (I’m gonna get shit thrown my way for calling it a fighting game) and both Street Fighter V and Soul Calibur 6 to an extent have what I’d consider a healthy playerbase, which allows you to easily fight people around your skill level. On the other hand, I tried getting into Dragon Ball FighterZ lately and, partly due to the awful lobby system of this game, I wasn’t getting simply defeated. I was being maimed there and it seems that there are no other people left there – just meta game badasses, who grind for 5 hours daily in training mode and then spend 3 hours actually playing the game. While it poses an interesting challenge, most of the people who’re going to buy and play the game will bounce simply because their user experience is going to suck for them.

Another big pro and con of the community (and a stupid design choice)

The first time we all played a fighting game was probably at a friend’s house or at an arcade. And there was more to it than just playing a game. I remember my first time, I was at a friend’s house and he booted up Tekken 3 on his PSX, we also had cookies and Coca Cola, and some ice cream later on. It was such a fun day that I still cherish it, even though I was probably 7 or 8 at the time. Fighting games are played the best with your friends, because it’s all about a time well spent (interestingly, there are people in the community who don’t play these games to have fun, but to dominate at them and they’d probably disagree with this statement). Unfortunately, finding time to play is getting harder the older we get and, partly due to this stupid plague, people don’t really organize good old LAN parties anymore, so people are forced to play these games online, and this is an entirely different experience.

Source: gameinformer.com

The most important part of your fighting games rig is not a fancy arcade stick, or a high class computer – it’s a 10 ft ethernet cable.

If you play fighting games online, then you exactly know what I’m going to write now. If not, then let me explain. Most fighting games on the market use delay based netcode, which pretty much equalises the ping both players have. It works well when both players have good internet connection, but its performance deteriorates massively when:

  • at least one player doesn’t have a decent connection,
  • there’s a great distance between players.

It often ends up with your game feeling like your characters are fighting underwater. There’s also a rollback netcode, which kinda predicts what you are going to do next and displays it on your enemy’s screen, but if you do something else, the game corrects your actions and position on the screen. It’s clearly a superior design choice, but not many developers are using it. Popular opinion says that the game with the best netcode in the genere is Killer Instinct. A game from 2013. Developers need to work harder on their R&D if they want to make their games more appealing to wider audience. Great quality of a product won’t deter anyone from using it. By the way, rollback based netcode also has to be done well. I’m looking at you, Capcom, and at Brazilian Kens.

Source: u/QuarupleX_ r/StreetFighter reddit.com

This also means that local scenes often tend to do their own thing and, as much as I wish it wasn’t true, developers would rather target their marketing efforts towards their domestic market (usually The USA or Japan) and to the second biggest market (usually the other one). This creates a situation in which other markets, which could also be a great source of income, are neglected. I see no reason why fighting games wouldn’t be as succesful in Europe, for example. Or even more niche markets, like Pakistan, which seems to have probably one of the greatest local Tekken scenes in the world – it’s true, google Arslan Ash. He was playing with his buddies for the most part.

What can be done to make fighting games more relevant? Conclusion

Fighting games have a bunch of issues which bug their community and developers. What I believe should be done in order to bring them back into the spotlight are these following things:

  • more high profile influencers/streamers need to be created or some big names not traditionally linked to the FGC could also be used,
  • marketing campaigns should focus not only on the FGC, but also reach out towards new players from the general video games playerbase and be more out of the box,
  • stop using jargon to sell, because it won’t carry you to the spotlight,
  • maintaining healthy playerbase is a must,
  • developers shouldn’t be affraid to reach out to new markets, because they can possibly be a great source of customers,
  • and most importantly – these games gotta be good.

Using more money to advertise them and focusing on UA campaigns wouldn’t hurt as well, but it’s obvious.

There are also some other topics, which could be worked on, like running more tournaments, gatekeeping, resentment towards esports, having the ex-CEO of the biggest fighting game tournament in the world being alledgedly a nonce and so on, but I feel that this post is getting kinda long, so maybe I’ll make another one talking some of these other issues in the future.

Also, I’d love to work on a fighting game in the future and I hope that such an opportunity will come one day.

Thank you for reading this article. I’d greatly appreciate if you shared your thoughts about topics which were talked about in it. Also, if you feel like it, you can add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter. Have a great day!

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