EDIT: I should clarify that I mean popular TO PLAY. As in gets a lot of entrants. Not popular with spectators.
Since some people seem to think what gets played is a meritocracy, and others like to blame everything but the game itself for their game’s lack of a scene, let’s assess the many factors involved. These are just my opinions, of course.
**Brand Recognition **(and thus Sales)
Won’t ensure people will like your game, but will at least get people to try it, which is a huge step on the way to popularity. Seems like most people ended up not liking SFxT, but most people tried it. If SF4 or MvC3 had been released under different names they’d be nowhere near as popular as they are.
People, especially those who aren’t competitive, like to be able to do cool stuff in a game without much effort. If you have to put in work to do cool stuff, a lot of people lose interest. Many current competitive players probably wouldn’t be around now if SF4 had made it ST hard to do a DP.
Obviously this is subjective on an individual basis, but we can observe general trends about the kind of games that the community as a whole tends to consider fun. All I got really is that fast-paced games where it’s easy to do stuff (ties in to Accessibility) tend to be favored. BlazBlue died a death despite having a significant pre-installed audience in the GG fanbase, and the pace of the game is a common complaint from GG fans. Skullgirls has a ton of people waiting on the patch to increase the game speed and reduce the length of combos. SF4 can hardly be called fast, but is at least significantly faster than SFxT which seems to have flopped.
It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of games won’t even get a chance to prove their fun factor because people don’t give them a shot because of lack of brand recognition, or because you have to put in a little work to get to the point where the game flows well.
Massively important unless you’re so big that people can find people to play without it (MvC3 - though even that game would probably be more popular if it had good netcode). Netcode is likely why KOF isn’t significantly bigger than it is. Will definitely both get more people to buy your game and make them more likely to continue playing it.
A lot of people will play games that aren’t necessarily their favorite because that’s where the most competition is. There seems to be a threshold for game popularity, above which the game’s scene becomes self-perpetuating, constantly attracting new players to feed back into the system (SF4, MvC3) and below which a slow process of entropy eventually leads to the game’s inevitable competitive demise (BB, T6, MK9?).
Generally I think people play what they like. But in the case of people who play a lot of games and know they’re going to Evo, what games Evo decides to have may influence their decision to play one game over another. Probably it matters for top players, but they’re such a tiny percentage of the scene that they’re statistically irrelevant. Thought experiment: If Evo announced they were dropping MvC3, would people stop playing it? What about, say, KOF?
I’m very skeptical of this one because it’s essentially non-falsifiable and offers players of less popular games a very convenient reason why nobody plays their game. I’m talking about the argument that “oh nobody plays this game because everyone else says it’s trash!” That kind of attitude is a little too cynical for my taste; I think most people are capable of making up their own minds as to whether a game is good or not. The argument that everyone agrees that a game is bad because everyone else does has a fundamental flaw: how did everyone come to believe that in the first place? Take DOA back when it was considered self-evident that DOA was trash. Did everyone agree on that because everyone else did, or did they agree on it because they honestly thought DOA was trash?
Top Player Opinion
Really a more specific subset of the above. I think people are capable of figuring out whether they like a game for themselves. People love citing the opinions of top players when arguing why a game is good/bad, but it doesn’t follow at all to assume that they’re seriously swayed by them.
The vast majority of the player base will never see any of that money. Games like DOA, VF5, MK9 and SC5 that have been included in eSports leagues have never been the biggest games. It’s just not an issue to most people.
I’m sure there’s more you guys can come up with but I’m tired of typing this now so have at it.