New IPs won’t happen for AAA Fighting Games
Here’s a fun game: Name the newest AAA fighting game you can think of that’s based on a new IP. I originally thought Pokkén, foolishly forgetting the fact it’s a Pokémon game for a brief second. Then I answered Skullgirls, but I’d argue it’s just a massively popular indie game based because it was crowd-funded. Injustice is a new game, but it’s far from a new IP with characters more than 70 years old. Nevermind, this game isn’t fun, but it brings up the issue of the complete lack of new IPs for AAA fighting games.
Fighting games nowadays are steeped in sequels and well-known characters. While that’s not a bad, it leaves a lot to be desired if you’re sick of seeing characters and franchises every couple of years.
Just look at EVO this year (after reflecting on how hype this year was). Both Pikachu and Ryu were playable characters for three of the nine games that were showcased. Fighting games have been popular since the Roman era, so the demand for new ideas in fighting games is getting filled by indie devs.
I mentioned Skullgirls, but I just started playing Brawlhalla. It’s a wonderful free-to-play brawler on Steam that reminds quite a bit of Super Smash Bros. It’s a fun little distraction that’s worth giving a shot at least once with a couple of buddies if you’re a fan of Smash games, and it’s not the only Smash-like game. Rivals of Aether is the other title that comes to mind, but what’s baffling is why there aren’t more games that use percentage based damage where the objective is to knock your opponent off screen.
Super Smash Bros. is somehow just now in the process of establishing a sub-genre for fighting games despite being released in 1999. It’s unusual because you’d think the series’ popularity would inspire more developers to take that style and build off it sooner rather than later. It’d be like fighting games not implementing combos until 2006, 15 years after Street Fighter 2.
Reasons why AAA fighting games are in decline
There are multiple reasons why new AAA fighting games aren’t coming out as often and like an incoherent conspiracy theory, they’re all connected.
The biggest reason is smaller than normal audience. It takes an immense amount of time and patience to ‘git gud’ at fighting games. You need to learn how to play characters, match-ups and strategies that are successful, which takes countless hours, all while getting bodied against players who know what you’re doing. There’s a reason fighting game communities are so dedicated and passionate. You almost go through what can seem like an endless initiation to enjoy the game, which is bound to be a turn-off to more than a few people.
Since fighting games are for a niche select group of gamers,creating a new IP that no one has any knowledge of is a high-risk, low-reward scenario, which is bad for business, especially since AAA games cost a small fortune to develop now. If you make a new fighting game, it’s infinitely more helpful to bring in an established franchise like in Pokkén (Pokemon) and Injustice (DC) than create one from scratch because a huge fan base will increase sales even for a niche experience like fighting games.
MOBAs and hero-centered games like Overwatch are currently filling the AAA character-based PvP demand. Street Fighter 5 sold less than 2 million copies within its first year. Compare that to Overwatch‘s more than 10 million players and you’d be hard-pressed not to make a shooter or MOBA for your brand new character-based game.
With all these factors to consider, it’s safe to say fighting games will be staying within the indie sphere until one of the bigger franchises releases another sequel. Again, it’s not a bad thing unless you like seeing new fighters in crisp HD, but it does bring up a hurdle for the indie developers. It’s more difficult to get your game known and fighting games are carried by their communities.
(Also, the best answer I could find to my little game in the beginning was Fighter Within, which was a garbage Kinect fighting game that came out in 2013, so I’m not even sure if I should count it.)