We're in a fighting game renaissance, but how does the future look?
As a big fighting game fan since childhood, I grew up in the arcades and struggled for victories in Street Fighter, SNK, and especially Marvel vs. Capcom. But after the release of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in 2000, I noticed a huge decline in subsequent releases. In fact, it seemed as if fighting games had slowed to an absolute crawl. Your average fan was lucky to have a single release every three years.
The declining profits of arcades and increasingly low audience, due to being unable to draw in a casual crowd, caused fighting games to enter a decline. Games were still released, but the popularity of the games drastically dropped. Sure, the late '90s gave us games like Marvel vs. Capcom, and Dead or Alive and SoulCalibur were first introduced in what many would consider the "Fighting Game Drought." These were good games, but for some reason fans just didn't come out in droves to play. As arcades died, fighting game profits sunk, and less games were produced.
The SoulCalibur franchise was introduced during what some might call the new dawn of fighters.
Some franchises didn't handle this well, at first. Mortal Kombat had a series of "meh" 3D games as it tried to adjust to making games exclusively for consoles. Midway ultimately shut its doors, while the remains of the Mortal Kombat team were bought by Warner Bros. Interactive and became NetherRealm Studios. Meanwhile, Capcom didn't seem to know what to do with consoles, simply porting over its arcade games to PS2, Dreamcast, and Xbox. SNK had to close its doors, and members of the team went on to found the Playmore company. And although games like SoulCalibur, Virtua Fighter, and Dead or Alive sprouted from this time, these games might not have seen day's light at all if Capcom, NAMCO, and others hadn't toiled to maintain relevance.
But then, in 2009, Capcom released Street Fighter IV, a delightful throwback to the old-school design sensibilities. Fans rejoiced. Since then, the game has had two updated re-releases and several patches. The hype still hasn't died down, as Street Fighter IV is frequently the most popular entry in fighting game tournaments across the globe.
Street Fighter IV's release triggered a sort of renaissance for fighting games, which still continues to this day. Now, fans of almost every fighting game under the sun have been blessed with new, amazing titles to sate their hunger. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released in 2011 and is highly popular in tournament play. Even Mortal Kombat has bounced back, with 2011's reboot earning rave reviews. NetherRealm Studios' latest release, Injustice: Gods Among Us, may yet do the same.
Street Fighter IV ushered in a new age of fighting games, and brought Capcom back to the forefront of genre excellence.
Even fans of cult hits like Guilty Gear were pleased this console generation, with games like BlazBlue and Persona 4 Arena offering beautifully rendered animation and amazing technical depth. Namco and Capcom finally teamed up to give us Street Fighter X Tekken, a game that, while not quite well-received at the beginning, has become something of an ultimate underdog in the fighting game community.
Even new IPs and old games weren't left out, as Lab Zero released Skullgirls, a beautiful fighter designed by and for fighting game fans. Skullgirl's devs recently broke records with a Kickstarter campaign to develop five new DLC characters. Veteran fans were pleased to witness many companies creating remasters of their previous work, including Super Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Marvel vs. Capcom 1 and 2, and Darkstalkers.
But will this renaissance collapse upon itself? Could we see another fighting game drought in the near future? Some fans fear this will happen, due to the over-saturation of the market. The prevailing fan theory is that by releasing too many fighting games at one time, consumers will become burnt out and cease to buy new titles. When the fans cease to buy, the developers will see that fighting games don't make money anymore, and they'll simply stop making them. But does this theory hold water? Does your average fighting game have to worry about store shelves being empty while bargain bins house yesterday's gems?
I don't think so.
Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat, and even Skullgirls have proved something. You can make a GOOD fighting game--a GREAT fighting game, in fact--with well-designed mechanics, fun characters, intriguing stories, and hectic, knuckle-busting, fightstick-breaking gameplay. People will buy it. If you can smartly introduce it to the market, people will notice. Word will spread fast on the internet, and dedicated communities will grow. New fighting games may or may not break sales records, but well-considered efforts will be remembered by fans. And as long as these passionate fans exist, fighting games will too.