Street Fighter V released earlier this week, and Capcom community manager Peter “Combofiend” Rosas stated in an interview with Maxim that the game was engineered to be easier for newer players to pick up and enjoy, and that player enjoyment equalled winning against an opponent. I disagree with this notion, because while winning is definitely the end goal, I don’t believe it to be the actual thing that makes any game enjoyable.
(Note: The interview was conducted by our own Brittany Vincent, and that fact has zero bearing on this piece.)
The difficulty involved in defeating another person is the usual scapegoat for why new players are quickly turned off by fighting games, but I find it hard to believe that this is the case. Winning or losing isn’t the root cause of the issue, but the underlying issue is one that has been ever-present and largely ignored in the genre for decades; while there are trial modes to verify player capability and practice modes to recreate certain conditions or attempt new strategies, there are no modes that actually impart foundational skills and knowledge to brand-new players.
As such, I believe that fighting games need better, more robust tutorials, and I’m going to explain why that is.
In the nineties, arcades were the best place to learn how to play. Trial-and-error was the only available path to any form of mastery, and this was a classic case of necessity by design. This process allowed the machines to generate profit from both single player and head-to-head avenues, so teaching people any sort of strategy or fundamental knowledge was immensely counterproductive to the game’s bottom line. You learned more from playing more, and you had to pay more in order to accomplish that.
However, we are no longer in the nineties, we’re living in twenty-sixteen. Arcades have almost flatlined in every country that isn’t in or bordering the continent of Asia, so the future of the fighting genre lies in internet-connected console systems and personal computers. We no longer have the need to incrementally pay in order to learn, and yet, developers of the most high-profile fighting franchises neglect to see their changing role in attracting and retaining new players.
I think it’s wonderful that the people who grew up playing fighting games are the ones making them today, but I feel they unintentionally lack perspective on what new players are actually looking for when it comes to entering one of the most daunting and intimidating genres around. Most developers, publishers and seasoned players believe that the new player simply needs to “win” in order to have fun. Unfortunately, that’s only half true at best.
There’s a large degree of foundational knowledge required in order to understand matches, and this knowledge is what facilitates a player being able to “win.” Acquiring that foundation takes a lot of time and energy that most fighting game developers, publishers and seasoned players seem to take for granted. It’s easy to see why that is, because these people are extremely likely to be so far beyond that initial skill wall that they have difficulty understanding what it’s like to have it in front of them. Once a player had hit a certain level of skill, they’re no longer trying to retain and recall fundamentals and are instead applying them at will. This changes your natural point of view in a very profound manner.
The ability to empathize with a new player in front of that initial wall only decreases with the passage of time spent beyond it, and this is a very natural, human thing. Professional athletes remember their trials from the time when they were coming up through the ranks, and they can certainly empathize with younger athletes in the throes of maturation, but they no longer understand that struggle from the same perspective. Hindsight subtly and radically alters their vantage point, and the farther back in time their breakthrough occurred, the less touch they have with those still trying to make it through. I, too, can be one of those people at times.
Winning is most certainly important, and it is definitely the end goal in most people’s minds. That said, crafting a better path to get there requires providing stronger educational tools and proper training, and I believe fighting games can do a much better job with this.
I think it’s wonderful to see so many online tutorials, how-to video series, even books written about playing fighting games and how to become better at them, but I think that this ethos places the wrong part of the job onto the community at large. A new player shouldn’t be expected to take a chance on a game they’ve heard about but don’t know, then be required to dive into an overwhelming amount of internet-based advice and knowledge that is likely far beyond the initial foundation they seek to acquire.
If anything, the foundational aspects of play — movement, basic attacks, links, blocking, detailed special move motion instructions, etc. — should be handled in-game by a mode that seeks to actually teach new players how to play correctly.
Most games are content with just having trial modes or training modes. While both of these things are important additions to any fighting title, they do very little to help new players gain a reliable foundation, nor do they adequately relate good fundamental practices. They do far more to confirm or refine the skills of those who are already familiar with the game / genre, and this is why fighting games tend to be geared towards people who are already comfortable with them.
This causes me to cringe when I hear that “we want to make (insert title here) easier for new players to pick up and enjoy.” I know that when I hear that, they’re changing the internal systems of the game to favor simpler execution — which is not bad in and of itself — instead of devising methods of teaching new players how to actually play their game. I also know that when I hear a player say “that’s what the trial mode is for,” I hear someone not realizing that trial and training modes accomplish nothing but preach to the already-converted choir.
Recently, I’ve heard a lot of talk about “walls” in fighting games, the “skill wall,” the “execution wall,” etc. None of these terms accurately depict what the true face of the problem is, and that’s the fact that these games unabashedly require an already-invested player’s level of dedication from those who will lack that level of investment. Additionally, those players haven’t been presented with any solid reason to become invested. I will certainly admit that, at some point, a individual player must decide for themselves to continue playing and to improve. A player’s progress in any game or sport is up to the individual, it always has been, and it always will be.
Trial modes that do nothing to relate fundamental concepts are like putting a child on a bike for the first time and saying “here’s the bike, now pop a wheelie.” Nobody should be placed on a bike and left to their own devices the first time they mount it, nor should they be handed a laundry list of things to complete without first being told what the pedals do, how they work, why you put weight on the forward pedal first, how to balance, how to steer, how to brake, all of it. They make training wheels for a reason, and just about every kid has used them. This is not a coincidence.
Fighting games need to approach training new players in a very similar fashion. In the case of Rising Thunder, they’ve removed the execution wall entirely by making all special moves require a single button press with no movement command. However, it’s no longer learning how to “ride a bike” at that point, because gaining that execution skill is the backbone requirement of every other fighting game in existence. It’s an interesting experiment, sure, but one that does not translate well to acclimating players to the gameplay demands shared by the rest of the genre.
In order to facilitate that process, developers must take the time to convey gameplay concepts and individual character nuances to players in a way that not only acclimates them to the game and its methods, but also takes the time to explain why these things are important. Theory and metagame come far later in the process, and that’s where the community should take over, since they’re the ones creating and unearthing new things on a daily basis.
Trying to relate those concepts to new players is like explaining algebra to a child still learning how to count; it’s bound to cause a great deal of confused frustration, and will likely result in someone going off play with something else. Developers don’t want that, publishers don’t want that, and the playerbase doesn’t want that…so why are we doing nothing to address it?
Communicating and educating new players on foundational aspects should rest in the hands of developers. Taking the time to carefully teach what actions or concepts are important, why they’re important and how to do them consistently will only result in more people playing the game. This makes more money on word of mouth purchases and DLC, which means that this practice would ultimately be very good for business.
Many old-school veterans will reflexively laugh at the notion of this, and I find that reaction to be not only shortsighted, but hypocritical to a fault. Fighting games, when played at high levels of understanding, are about reading a situation and adapting to changing variables in order to achieve a desired result. Expecting players to go through a gauntlet of trial-and-error skill acquisition — at least during a player’s relative infancy in the genre — is a refusal to adapt to the interactive education capabilities that the present day can, and should, offer.
It does nothing but hold on to an outmoded learning strategy in the face of a world that’s evolved far past the need for it, and this evolution is necessary. Hell, the word “evolution” is the very name of the largest and most legendary fighting game competition on the planet. We should be striving for that word and everything it implies, not shying away from it.
Fighting games such as Street Fighter V claim to be engineered for the benefit of new players, and yet, Capcom released it with no in-game options which would acclimate new players to it. The tutorial walkthrough that players are treated to when the game initially starts is nice, but it’s ultimately lacking, all because it relates concepts in a way that benefits existing fans and those familiar with the genre. There’s no introduction to mastering basics such as spacing and using normals, but there are plenty of “press fierce punch three times. okay, good, move on” moments. This is nothing more than a glorified controller test, and it teaches the player very little as a result.
There’s never an effort to explain why fierce punch is important or in which scenarios it’s best used. There’s simply a list of “do this, you’ve now seen this, you get it” tasks, and that doesn’t stop a new player from feeling like their only choice is to move on and get their ass kicked until they somehow figure out how to stop getting their ass kicked. While that was an accepted practice back then, it shouldn’t be acceptable in the here and now, especially when these games are no longer reliant on a player’s lack of knowledge in order to make more money.
In the console-driven era, that ethos teaches nothing except reasons why new players shouldn’t waste their time cultivating the game’s required skillset. In this, fighting games become their own worst enemy, and this practice only puts barbed wire on walls that are difficult enough to climb over as is.
Henceforth, I am putting the onus on major developers like Capcom, Arc System Works, Bandai Namco, SNK Playmore and others to create a full-fledged, single-player tutorial system in their games, one that will aim to teach new players fundamental fighting game concepts. It may not mean anything to dyed-in-the-wool veterans, but without it, the genre risks bleeding off more potential players than it ever should. Who knows, it might even help standardize comprehensive basic training methods in a myriad of other genres, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
In the end, we all want to play and have fun more than we want to win (even though we still love to win). More intelligent and capable players ascending the skill ladders together is what’s best for every game, no matter what it is. Plus, the additional customerbase is good for both developers and publishers, and it certainly benefits the tournament scene that’s always looking for its next phenom. It’s a win-win-win-win, and if we’re so addicted to winning, making this a standard feature in fighting games should be a no-brainer.