Guilty Gear is one of my favourite video game series of all time. These explosive anime fighting games kept me enthralled for a number of reasons – when I first found out about them, there weren’t many PC fighting games and copies of Guilty Gear X2 #Reload and Guilty Gear Isuka were added as free games to a legendary Polish video games magazine, CD Action. The thing is that Arc Sys Works, as many Japanese developers tend to do, seemed to neglect their community outside of Japan and The USA. However, during the last years, they introduced many positive changes and started putting greater emphasis on nurturing their playerbase and the thing they did a short while ago was, so far, their magnum opus. This is going to be a short analysis of their recent actions, their possible motivations and goals.
Arc Sys Works’ and Guilty Gear franchise’s situation
This paragraph could talk a lot about ASW’s history, but let’s keep it simple. They were founded in 1988 and did a were primarily a contractor for Sega. They made their first fighting game, Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Jōgai Rantō!? Shuyaku Sōdatsusen (which is known to this day for being busted and unbalanced) in 1994, and made their first Guilty Gear game in 1998. Since then, they released 7 Guilty Gear mainline games (If we include Guilty Gear 2: Overture and count Xrd SIGN and Xrd REVELATOR separately) and a ton of revisions and updates. Aside from Guilty Gear, they also created BlazBlue franchise, made a bunch of other fighting games (including Granblue Fantasy Versus and Dragon Ball FighterZ) and some games from other genres.
The last game in the franchise, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, an updated version of Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator, was launched in 2017 and still has some following, however it has some issues – namely an unhealthy playerbase (I know I suck at this game, but I think it’s not the best situation when there are almost exclusively people, who dedicate their muscle memory to 24 hit Millia combos; yup, I’m salty) and underwhelming netcode. This meant that ASW was urged to release the next entry in their cult classic franchise, so they announced Guilty Gear StrIVe (known then as Guilty Gear or Guilty Gear 2020; I’ll refer to the game as GGS further in the article) during EVO 2019.
As you can see, the trailer is stunning. I can tell that the last time I was hyped about a game so much was when Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord was released. And this I could only compare to when I found out that Jazz Jackrabbit 3D was being developed. It shows how strongly GGS’s trailer impressed me. It’s a shame that the Jazz Jackrabbit franchise is abandoned (Epic Games, make a new JJR game!). Let’s get back to the main topic, though.
ASW decided to release the game in November 2020, but covid came soon after the announcement and the game’s scheduled to be released on April 9th 2021 now.
The community, even though it seemed to respond positively to GGS, had a fair share of concerns, mostly due to the following reasons, which were confirmed during closed beta tests in April 2020:
- the interface wasn’t looking great,
- the gameplay didn’t really feel like Guilty Gear, mostly due to massive damage and some busted options, like May’s 80% Dolphin-Dolphin-Dolphin-Dolphin combo, or extremely powerful grabs,
- awful netcode.
I’m not going to talk about the UI or the gameplay mechanics, because they can be easily changed and are not in my field of expertise (also, they were changed). Netcode, though, seemed to be the elephant in the room, which had to be addressed. There are two types of netcode in fighting games – delay-based netcode and rollback netcode. Rollback netcode seems to be way better in most aspects of online play and it’s considered to be one of the most important features in fighting games nowadays. Community voiced their concerns and ASW decided to implement rollback netcode in GGS.
Here’s the part where Guilty Gear XX Accent Core + R comes in
GGXXAC+R (I hate fighting games’ titles) was first released in arcades in 2012 and provided a closure for long running Guilty Gear X2/XX series. Some people still consider it to be the greatest Guilty Gear game in existence and the title has maintained a small following even after the release of Guilty Gear Xrd. It can (or rather could in the pre-covid times) often be found during offline tournaments and, aside from dated graphics, it holds up pretty well to this day. Because of this combination of great gameplay and small following, it turned out to be the best candidate to introduce rollback netcode to. A small announcement and a sale turned out to be great business decisions.
First bird killed – providing a huge ground for testing
I think that we can all agree that rollback netcode which is seen now in GGXXAC+R is most likely introduced in order to figure out how such netcode works and what to enhance in GGS’s netplay. ASW isn’t known for keeping their old games’ online scenes supported, as f.e. Guilty Gear Xrd SIGN shows (it’s completely abandoned). The only logical explanation is to gather as much data about the netcode and gameplay as possible. Why wouldn’t they? All of GGXXAC+R players are now essentially beta testers for their new feature and player feedback is one of the most important factors when it comes to fighting games’ development.
Why wasn’t it introduced in GGXrdRev2, though? The answer is probably simple – this game is still kinda active and, if it had rollback netcode, it would compete with upcoming GGS. It doesn’t make sense to introduce such game-changers (pun not intended) to active titles, for it could lead to, what I call, market cannibalization, where two games of the same developer compete between themselves for the same potential buyers.
A lot of people had GGXXAC+R in their Steam libraries because the game was present for a dollar in Humble Bundle a few years ago, is super cheap on G2A. However, ASW knew that the rollback netcode announcement would be big in the FGC (fighting games community), so they decided to have a Steam sale.
Second bird killed – sales
ASW tends to host pretty big sales of their titles once in a while and, because of the announcement, they decided to hold one now. I don’t think that the sale was primarily about gaining money on GGXXAC+R. The game was sold for $3 only, and, according to Steam’s revenue share, ASW would get 70% of their sales before taxes were applied. Less than $2,10 isn’t impressive, but hey – it’s still money nevertheless and every cent counts. I’d say that they probably sold a couple thousand copies of the game, so it makes for a minor, yet a nice monetary influx. Of course, I’m talking about GGXXAC+R alone – they were also selling their other titles at a cheaper price and, even though the impact of the sale wasn’t as huge as in GGXXAC+R’s case, it’s visible.
However, the sale was most likely hard wired to the first bird – getting as many people to play the game as possible in order to gather data and feedback.
Third bird killed – brand recognition and perception of the brand
Introduction of rollback netcode worked well when it comes to perception of ASW among their customer base. It showed that the studio is working hard on providing the best possible experience and that it’s open to player feedback and that it knows what it’s doing. Also, there’s probably a bunch of new players who got introduced to the Guilty Gear series, which is also a big plus, even though it’s probably a minor goal (if a goal at all) when it comes to this case.
The netcode, though, feels awesome. I’ve taken a short break from writing the article and fought a few sets in the game. It’s just so fluid and, even though I had some minor frame skips and one minor situation during which rollback didn’t do something well and it turned out the other player wasn’t actually crouching, but standing and was during startup frames of his attack. This, however, compared to other problems which fighting games with delay-based netcode have to put up with, was almost unnoticeable.
Fourth bird killed – revival of a community
Maybe it was expected, maybe it was not, but as a matter of fact, GGXXAAC+R’s community has been brought from the other side and it worked probably better than ASW dared to think it would.
As you can see on the graph above, GGXXACP+R is the second best performing fighting game of ASW on Steam and, according to my research, is the 4th best performing fighting game on the entire platform at the moment, being topped only by Tekken 7, Street Fighter V and Dragon Ball FighterZ (I’m not taking Brawlhalla into consideration, because it’s not a conventional fighting game).
Low price, strong IP and groundbreaking technology resulted in an 8 year old game to be back in the spotlight, topping even a bunch of newer entries in the same series. It’s an extremely rare occurence.
This led to a situation in which people started hosting online tournaments for the game, started creating social media content about it and generally started talking about it. Fighting games don’t need much to be brought back to life and to reach new heights.
Also, in the light of GGS coming soon, it’s possible that more serious players would want to play GGXXAC+R in order to gather so called legacy skill – some movements, combos and such will be easier for them if they are familiar with the franchise.
Were they the first company to do such a thing?
SNK, another well known and respected fighting games developer (Fatal Fury, King of Figthers) made a similar update to one of their old games – Garou: Mark of The Wolves. They introduced rollback netcode to the game after it’s been on the market for about 20 years. They are also developing King of Fighters XV now. I guess that they are probably gathering data from GMOTW’s netplay and are using it to develop the netcode for the upcoming KOF game. It’s definitely less obvious than GGXXAC+R’s case, though. At the time when Garou received the update, we only knew that KOFXV was in development. And that’s pretty much all we still know about the title so far. SNK didn’t share any new updates on the project. ASW must’ve been aware of this case, though, and decided to do something similar, but better.
ASW did a tremendous work when it comes to introducing rollback netcode. Their motivations from the business point of view are pretty obvious, but it isn’t a bad thing. They probably did more than they could hope for and they deserve a round of applause.
Will GGXXAC+R remain one of the most popular fighting games? Heck no. The game’s old and the new entry in the franchise is under way, so it will surely diminish over time, but it doesn’t really matter. The game’s in the spotlight for the last time, probably, and it’s doing better than ever before. It won’t have to be maintained for longer periods of time, it’s already fulfilled it’s purpose.