Brainstorming: Making Fighting Games Attractive to New Players

Ever since the release of Street Fighter IV (not Super), I’ve often found myself wondering about what a fighting game made with the aim of being attractive to new players would look like. Street Fighter IV was supposedly made with that goal in mind, but a couple of design decisions that Ono and friends made with respect to that game seem to indicate the exact opposite. The two primary offenders:

  1. Emphasis on Links: While not difficult for dedicated fighting game fans to adjust to, new players HATE links. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve tried introducing SFIV to that eventually quit because of links. Simply put, most players want to pull off fancy shit when they land a hit on the opponent. In games with chain combo systems, even the worst player can pull off something that at least looks cool even if it does shit for damage. Hell, chain combo systems are the reason I got into fighting games. SFII never interested me that much as a kid, but, holy shit, Marvel Super Heroes was the game that friggin’ defined my childhood. Why? Well, there are a couple reasons, but, the Magic Series is one of the biggest. There was nothing cooler to me than pulling off sick looking air combos with ease. Thus, it is understandable that newer players aren’t fans of links since it prevents them from immediately pulling off flashy combos. It also means they’re not going to be dealing much damage without an Ultra, which in turn leads to more boredom.

  2. FADC: Another mechanic that seems to drive new players crazy. Unlike links, FADC isn’t so much timing-dependent, but it does require quicker and more precise movements than newer players are used to. This another barrier preventing new players from pulling off the combos they want to pull off, and thus a turn-off.

Why the developers would emphasize links and throw in FADC when they’re trying to make what is supposedly and easier game for newbies to get into is just about the most bizarre design decision that the developers of SFIV could have possibly made. Sure, they made it easier for new players to pull of certain specials (fifty million different ways of producing a Shoryuken) and bad players can occasionally get a win off of a random ultra, but the most important decision they could have possibly made regarding the game’s ease of play was the one they decided to completely fuck up. If new players can’t pull off awesome combos, then they don’t have much of an incentive to keep on playing. They understand that there’s depth in the game, but they aren’t willing to get to dive in without incentives.

So, since SFIV completely failed to meet its purported goal of being friendlier to new players, I began thinking: If I were developer, what would I do to make a game as new-player friendly as possible without sacrificing depth. I mean, sure, a bunch of scrubs think throws, overheads, and chip damage are “cheap” and that they should be removed, but, that would be a stupid design decision since they contribute significantly to the depth of a fighting game. Without them, the game would boil down to landing a single hit and then holding back for the rest of the game.

After asking around about this hypothetical newbie-friendly game, here’s a bit of feedback I’ve received:

  1. It would need to be flashy: Capcom’s Magic Series games were always more popular at the arcades I frequented than any Street Fighter or KoF game? Why, because there’s a ton of shit on the screen and it’s fun to watch even if you have no idea what the hell is going on. Although it doesn’t matter to us nearly as much, a fighting game needs to look awesome if it’s going to pull away people from Halo and Madden. I think relatively few fighting games on the market have that sort of necessary pizazz. Really, the only game that I think satisfies this criterion is MvC2. MvC3 looks like it’s getting there as well.

  2. The characters need to be “cool”: Why is Tekken more popular than Virtua Fighter? Hell if I know the actual answer to this question, as I’ve always preferred playing VF to Tekken, but my guess is that it’s because of the cast. Simply put, VF is severely lacking in the bad-ass character department. Tekken’s got a bunch of colorful characters while VF, well, doesn’t. I mean, let’s be honest, VF has arguably the most boring character designs in the history of fighting games. Just the sight of Akira makes me want to fall asleep from boredom. On the other hand, Tekken’s got a very colorful cast of characters ranging from bad-ass old men to bears to robots to alien cyborg samurai to MOTHERFUCKING BOXING KANGAROOS. I’d say the latter is significantly more interesting to the newbie than the former.

  3. Motions should be simple: QCF, QCB, HCF, HCB, 22, DP, B_F, D_U and that’s it. No QCFx2, no HCBF, no 1319, and for the love of fucking God NO GEESE PRETZEL MOTIONS! New player hate complicated controls. I know, we don’t think they’re complicated, but a majority of us have been playing fighting games since the 90s. It’s painful enough getting new players used to QCFs. There’s no reason to make it any more painful for them (or their fighting game tutor :wasted:) than that.

  4. Chain combos should be emphasized: New players should be able to pull of decent combos with relative ease. Otherwise, you risk losing your newer players since they won’t be having much fun if they can’t pull off flashy shit. Emphasizing chains instead of links makes that possible.

  5. Combos should be short yet flashy: No one likes being stuck in a loop that last thirty seconds. New players want to spend most of their time actually fighting, not being trapped in long, repetitive combos by a much better player. If combos are short, then they won’t get as frustrated. But, it’s necessary that these combos still be flashy despite being short. Flashiness IS important.

I’ve received a lot more feedback than what’s summarized in these five points, but, these seem to be what matters the most to the people I’ve spoken with.

Anyhoo, I felt like this would be a good starting point for a discussion on making fighting games attractive to new and potential players.


Yikes. While I do agree with having a simpler combo system (I made a thread about it *cough). I do NOT agree with sacrificing the other mechanics of this game to entice casuals. This is because focus attacks and difficult motions for powerful moves add a substantial amount of depth. Difficult inputs mean powerful moves must be planned out accordingly. For example, 720 motions are in place because Gief would be extremely OP if he could pop off an ultra from the standing position. Focus attacks add depth in footsies and give characters a universal method of changing momentum and comboing their moves. If you remove those, you simply have an uninspired FG.

Btw have you seen the SF characters? Is robo-zangief not flashy enough for you? How about a luchador chef that bounces off the damn walls? Or an evil overlord who gives purple-flame abortions? Seriously, who else is famous besides Kuma and Jack in tekken? A wrestler with a jaguar face and a geriatric? pffffff.

I really don’t think this game was ever for casuals. It was just more of a throwback to the mechanics of II that we knew and loved.

I disagree to an extent, and the very reasons I do you covered in your post. For example, the lenient input, the wake-up/recovery window, the stupid Ultra system which effectively rewards the player with a powerful super (in addition to their regular super meter no less) for taking damage, the overall tendency in matches to get away with things more often and screw up than in earlier titles. The emphasis on less damage to allow more mistakes, the FADC system, which otherwise I agree is higher execution to an extent, allows you to basically throw the risk/reward of a Shoryuken/unsafe move out the window, the silly designs and aesthetics, etc.

Otherwise I agree with what you’re saying, but I honestly don’t think games appealing to the masses should be the focus. I think SF4 proves more than anything that advertising and flash/presentation is the deciding factor when the masses purchase a product, not the system. Also nostalgia. I really don’t think the system matters much to the bigger audience as long it looks good and is hyped enough.

Maybe I should have stated that majority of this is simply what I’ve gathered from other people. I have a bunch of friends who are casual fighting game fans, and what I’ve got listed up there is for the most part an amalgam of their opinions. For instance, I’ve got no issues having to buffer a 720 motion into a jab if I want to tick-ultra. Hawk’s my main is SSFIV, for fuck’s sake.

Anyhoo, I didn’t say anything about FA. My issue is with FADC, the motion of which provides another artificial difficulty barrier. This could easily be fixed by making F+MP+MK do a forward FADC and B+MP+MK do a backwards FADC instead of MP+MK and then FF or BB.

Simplifying motions can be done in such a way that it doesn’t eat at the depth of the game.

Flash and marketing are what get people to come and play. The mechanics, however, are what get the new players to stay.

Rhyme scheme. Fuck yeah.

EDIT: Ideally, a game should not only attract as many people as possible to it, but cater to the audience in such a way that a significant portion of the new players have a desire to become competitive.

If we want to talk about designing a game with gaining the most casuals then we aren’t really talking about making a good game. All casuals who buy a FG will pick it up for awhile, not look into any possible depth it may have, and then drop it in a couple of months probably. Therefore there is little need to focus on gameplay mechanics if they aren’t immediately apparent to player after playing for 10 seconds. Look at SSBB. I’m pretty sure absolutely no time was put into balance, whereas most the effort went into including everyone’s favorite character, making final smashes awesome, building cool levels, cutscenes etc…

What I’m saying is making these in-depth mechanics slightly more accessible input-wise isn’t really going to change the thought process of a casual when he picks up the game imo.

Also it’s too late for me to speak coherently. Gonna sleep lol.

^ The problem with that analogy is that Smash was simply intended to be crazy, preferably multi-player fun. It is not a FG, and was clearly not intended for a competitive environment which is why it has problems when people attempt to do so.

@ Darkshine: Agreed, but I think “catering to casuals” is a flawed mindset. And that is because I do not think companies really know what “casuals” (an already somewhat vague descriptor) want. So attempting to do so will mostly end up introducing flawed/unnecessary additions. Essentially, I think the product is shooting itself in the foot from the get-go. Rather, a better idea would be to take previous ideas and further tweak/make them work in less obtuse ways. An good example imo would be the earlier windows media players slowly improving up to the WM10 version. A worse one would be the changes from WM10 to 11; you may make it look better or more flashy (well, not even then, I think 10 looked far cooler than 11 but w/e) but remove and dumb down previous options available in the older version to make it more “accessible”. And this is unnecessary.

I disagree, as a newer-ish player ( at least on a serious level ), the input leniency and easy reversals are more of a turn off than a pro. I’ve heard similar from other people… especially people who don’t fully understand the concept of links and get mad at being randomly “knocked out” of their combos by shoryukens, or someone who can’t understand why QCF gets him whiffed SPDs as Seth or Hakan because they jumped back a moment before… If you want a game that newer players will be attracted to. I mean REAL new players who will add to the community, not throw away casuals, there is some overlap though… You make the game pretty, and you readily present information to the player…

I like FADC though… although I suppose you can argue that the input for it is a bit odd… That gets into an entirely different argument over whether or not creating execution for the sake of execution is good or bad for a fighting game.

I’d actually say that 3s is a better example of trying to make an SF game approachable to new players without breaking the game’s integrity, at least from a mechanical standpoint. I think it sort of proves your point about flash and nostalgia being better selling points though.

Of course… my comments are sort of supplanting “casual”

The main things you need are

  1. Nice 3D graphics
  2. Lots of unlockables and game modes
  3. Story mode with anime cutscenes
  4. Good online
  5. Fanservice

If you think casuals care about anything related to systems, combos, motions or whatever, you are wrong.

The opening post sounds like he wants a GG BB MB AH without the animu factor.

the whole basis for your long ass thread is void. Have you not realised how the fighting game community has exploded because of sf4. Look how many new players there are. If newbies dont like links they can either suck it up and learn the damn game or stop being scrubs that mash chain combos just to get a flashy ultra.

Learn to love your links dude

This guy just closed the thread/

“Smash is a bad analogy for fighting games, let’s use Windows Media Player instead!”

I think the point we are all making on this thread is that an emphasis on flash and spectacle will draw in a larger crowd. This is obvious. What I am wondering is how much execution can a game sacrifice to draw in crowds before its depth is lost in the process. Also it is important to note that new players =/= casuals. I am sure there are plenty of people out there who want to pick up a FG and learn its ins and outs. These are people I would want in the community.

For the point I was talking about, it was still a better analogy than Smash.

WM11 sucks BTW

Yeah, a bunch of people bought SFIV, but how many of those people have we retained? Nostalgia and flash are going to draw people in, but the game’s mechanics are going to be what convince them to keep playing. So, if you can make a game where execution is essentially irrelevant and everything boils down to character knowledge, fundamentals, etc., I feel you’re going to retain more players.

Possibly…but is that really what you want? Are you really trying to advocate Fighting games where execution doesn’t matter?

it is a fighting game because you “fight” another character in it.

Its a multiplayer fighting game. SF is a single player fighting game.

Yet unlike this community they stopped whining about the imbalences of the game’s engine and did something about it. If you don’t like it do something about it.

They have like 4 versions of SSBB. They removed stupid s— like tripping and added wavedashes and hitstun back. So keep whining about Super Ultra Fighter 4 and how its not a deep sf game thats better than 3S(which it isn’t). Hack the PC port of the game(either SF4 or wait until SSF4 gets ported to pc) and modify the code to what ** you ** want. Otherwise shut up and stop b—in about it.

^Why do some people hate talking about the pro’s and con’s of a fighting system? For every one post that ponders if a mechanic is useful or harmful, there are 10 that find the discussion absolutely meaningless and demand that they either find another game, get used to it, or stfu forever. Nobody here is demanding a change of the games currently out there, but wouldn’t it be interesting discuss what we like and don’t like about a game? Ya know a fucking discussion?

Either you are too stupid to comprehend this discussion or… no that’s just it.

I suddenly remember why I do not identify myself as a Smash player. Stop bringing up stupid shit & trying to take the thread off topic.

From what I’ve seen & experienced more players have been retained in SFIV than any previous SF game.

if you want people to stick with a game, to become competitive, to get the desire for it?

The game can’t instill desire for self improvement, it can’t install a desire to become competitive. Those are emotions that are dependant of the individual playing the game. Either you have the drive or you don’t.

Dumbing down the game (as if it isn’t dumbed down enough already in SF4 and SSF4) isn’t going to give people the drive to get better or goto tournaments.