As a game design student, my enthrallment with gaming is typically attributed to my educational path; people say “oh, that makes sense” when they learn that my fascination with gaming has turned into a professional focus. However, when I state that I enjoy the competitive facet and culture of gaming, the response is typically “why?” — or more specifically “oh, you’re one of those people,” due to the fact that a majority of my friends are gamers themselves. Being a competitive gaming enthusiast is easier to explain to someone who is not familiar with gaming culture at all, as those unfamiliar with the concept are satisfied when I equate it to being a fan of any other sport; “You enjoy watching baseball even though you don’t play it,” is more readily accepted as a valid comparison to them.
It’s not nearly as easy to explain it to some of my gamer friends, who accuse me of being “a little too hardcore.” The play-to-win mentality is painted in direct contrast to the play-to-enjoy mentality; play-to-learn applies to both sides, but is generally considered to be a third category in and of itself. Casual gamers perceive play-to-win as “I can’t have fun, I’m trying to win” or “I only have fun when I’m winning,” — the attitude of the stereotypical uptight, “too-intense” tournament gamer. Competitive gamers are considered smoldering balls of rage, incapable of enjoying a game long enough to remember why they wanted to play it in the first place. This sort of profiling also occurs in the other direction, perverting the moderate “winning isn’t everything” approach to gaming into the mantra of scrubs and gimps — demographics admonished as undeserving of consideration or respect.
Finding the moderate path in this divide is no easy task. Creating and maintaining a system that rewards casual gamers while compensating avid fans for their investment and dedication is a nightmare that haunts content designers and engineers alike. Some would say that there is no way to achieve a happy medium; that there is no amount of compartmentalizing, no leaderboard algorithm, no match pairing system that could prevent a casual fan from losing interest after being eviscerated at the hands of a more competitive player.
The human element is the key to bridging the gap between communities; a single word of encouragement or advice is capable of teaching a new player far more than any tutorial could, fostering growth in individual players of all skill levels and thus strengthening the community as a whole. An active, enthusiastic community is capable of increasing a title’s longevity by years, even decades.
A community capable of keeping a game alive for so long does not necessarily need to be competitive or hardcore in order to do so. While it stands to reason that the players who stick with a game for years are going to be heavily invested in said game, attracting new players is as much a necessity for the players of a game as it is for the developer.
Without pulling in fresh new faces, gaming communities grow into cynical clusters of malcontents — devoid of wonder and brimming with entitlement. This is especially evident in the case of MMO communities, where players burn out daily when a highly anticipated new patch or expansion doesn’t reignite the passion they started the game with. When Square-Enix released the Wings of the Goddess expansion for FFXI: Online, the lack of new melee jobs or worthwhile end-game content sent me packing, eventually finding my new home in the Smash Bros. community.
The Smash Bros. community shares a place in my mind with Fighting Game Community in that their efforts are almost the entire reason for the longevity of games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. While Smash Bros. has found success as a part of MLG for several years, both scenes have thrived through community-regulated tournaments and unofficial forums for years afterward, with new top players emerging to this very day. The main difference between the two communities is that the Fighting Game Community is generally granted the privilege of dealing with developers that seek to embrace the innovation found in their games, while Smash and other unconventional fighters receive no such consideration from their creators.
In fact, I would argue that Masahiro Sakurai, creator of the Smash Bros. series, took actions while developing Brawl to actively spite the people that he felt took Smash too seriously, not taking into account that he may have alienated far more than his intended target with blunders like tripping or the cyclone of pent up gamer rage that is Meta Knight. (I don’t actually have a problem with Meta Knight, as there are far more polarizing characters in the history of fighting games. That said, I have not seen a character permeate and infuriate every level of his or her respective game as thoroughly as Meta Knight.) A platform fighter that has the luxury of a development team that follows it and adjusts it as gameplay evolves has yet to be seen.
I consider the disregard Sakurai had for Smash and its community as a whole to be a heinous blunder on his part, and can only hope that others do not follow in his path. Which brings me to my next subject, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. I have been following the development and portrayal of this game intently, seeking desperately for a title that had some ability to take the wind out of Brawl’s sails. When PS All-Stars was announced, I had great hopes that Sony might provide an inventive twist to the genre, but initial information and demonstrations left me feeling unsure. After having the chance to play the game with Community Manager Daniel “Clockw0rk” Maniago, I must admit that I’m a bit conflicted.
Featuring a somewhat unorthodox rule set that I can only say that I’m apprehensive of, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale provides no alternative way to KO an opponent than to build up one’s meter in order to execute supers that result in unblockable one-hit kills. While their desire for innovation is admirable, SuperBot’s ambition toward such an adventurous new system runs the risk of alienating casual and competitive players alike. By restricting the KO method in this way, the game is in danger of enforcing a standard of play that not only encourages, but actively rewards camping until the opportunity to build meter presents itself. Guarding is currently impenetrable except for supers, rolling away breaks block stun, and grabs are too slow; there’s no way a seasoned player would be caught by one unless they were blatantly not paying attention. Since players will not build meter by taking hits, a merely passable defense can shut down your opponent from making any sort of comeback.