For several reasons one genre that interests me more than most others going into a new console generation is one-on-one fighting games. We all know more or less the benefits of more horsepower behind video games, but if you look back, fighters have benefitted differently from platform transitions than other genres have. That’s part of what sets them apart in the gaming community as a whole.
For starters, I don’t think the extra raw power will change the way fighters are played very much. Really, the core gameplay of fighters hasn’t changed all that much since the 90’s when 3D fighters came into play. Games have gotten prettier, resolutions higher, and backgrounds more detailed, but the most mechanically advanced fighters ever were probably the ones made on Capcom’s CP System III arcade board and Sega’s Naomi 2 (read: Dreamcast) in the late 90’s. I’ve nearly stopped playing Street Fighter IV since Capcom re-released 1999’s 3rd Strike.
If new hardware has any real impact on the fighting game genre, I think it’ll come from the touted new social features as well as the way digital content will supposedly be handled in the future.
Fighters live and die on their multiplayer communities. At the beginning of this console generation, the whole genre was in trouble outside of Japanese arcades until all the major franchises finally started implementing netcode along with a host of other online features. If Sony’s socially-powered direction for the PlayStation 4 proves to be the norm next gen, then I think it could be pretty big for fighters.
The modern fighting game community that has emerged around tournaments and other events is heavily based on online recorded video and livestreaming — exactly the kinds of things Sony is trying to promote at an operating system level on the PS4. Imagine being able to share and view replay videos or guides right on the console’s OS. Imagine tournament matches being streamed live right on the console on your TV. That kind of direct exposure to console owners could potentially make fighters a lot more popular, especially if Microsoft follows a similar road with the next Xbox.
The other change coming to new hardware that I think will have a big impact on fighters is the way updates and patches may be handled. Nintendo already allows developers to patch and update Wii U games an unlimited amount of times for free, as opposed to PS3 and Xbox 360 games where developers have to go through licensing and certification fees which slows down patches and makes DLC more expensive to produce. Sony has suggested they’re cutting the red tape out of the process. If all platforms are like this next gen, developers would be able to update games much more aggressively to keep them balanced. Capcom wouldn’t have to make each balance update a commercial release in and of itself.
Sony has also hinted that they could support developers who want customers to buy into work-in-progress alphas and betas (examples being Minecraft, ArmA III, and DOTA 2). Fighting game developers already conduct “location tests” with early versions of their games in Japanese arcades in order to properly balance them. If rolling alphas or betas become a thing on consoles, they could conduct the same process with millions of people prior to full release.
Depending on things like the changes we’re seeing in PC gaming right now, Sony’s PS4 presentation, rumors about the next Xbox, and the emergence of other platforms, I think the coming console generation could bring huge changes to the way fighting games are developed and how they grow. Really this could happen for any multiplayer game, but I think those multiplayer aspects are more important to fighters than they are to many other genres.
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