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Smash Bros. tournaments are great, but the creator fears they scare away new fans

I can say with firsthand knowledge that Nintendo fans are some of the most devoted in all of gaming, as are members of the fighting game community. Both parties absorb all the information they can on their favorite games and can be highly opinionated. So when those groups are brought together with the Super Smash Bros. franchise, you end up with one of the most vocal fanbases in gaming history, and one that stages countless tournaments for high level players. However, as revealed in a new interview by our sister publication, Edge, Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai is concerned that listening so closely to their fervent demands might push away everyone else.

Edge magazine recently flew to Kyoto, Japan for exclusive interviews with Shigeru Miyamoto and developers behind many other upcoming Wii U games, as well as touring Nintendo's new R&D building in Kyoto. When Edge talked to Sakurai about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, he was asked about why the hardcore tournament crowd continues to play Melee and didn't adopt Brawl as strongly, Sakurai had this to say:

"If tournament popularity was the most important consideration, then I think we would create a Smash Bros game that included a multitude of fast moves with complicated controls. However, I believe this is actually the greatest shortcoming of fighting games at present, and that is the reason why I don’t do it."

Sakurai continued: "While there’s a lot of enthusiasm for tournaments on the one hand, there are also users who just give up on these sorts of games because they can’t handle the complexity and speed. While other fighting games continue to work on honing this tournament aspect, I think that we need to move in a direction in which there is more of a focus on inexperienced gamers. Companies that release products that target a very vocal, visible group of gamers tend to receive good reactions and they may feel good about it, but I think that we have to pay special attention to the less vocal, not so visible group of players, or else games will just fade away."

If you're a hardcore Smash fan that participates in tournaments and watches every Melee stream you can, this quote is likely a bit of a downer, especially when it seems counter to Nintendo's actions of late. The house of Mario did a stellar job hyping the next Smash Bros. at E3 this year, thanks in large part to huge tournaments featuring some of the top ranked Melee players in the fighting game community. The matches streamed on Twitch to tens of thousands, becoming a powerful marketing tool for the game. But now, just as Smash fanatics are finally feeling validated, the game's mastermind says making tournament play a high priority is currently the "greatest shortcoming of fighting games." At the very least, this is confusing messaging to a crowd Nintendo has apparently just embraced.

The reasoning gets even more complicated when this quote follows Shigeru Miyamoto's interview with Edge from the same issue. Miyamoto's thoughts on casual fans--"It's kind of a passive attitude they're taking, and to me it's kind of a pathetic thing."--don't jibe so well with Sakurai's reasoning above. While Miyamoto hopes to get players more engaged in denser games on the Wii U, Sakurai is voicing concerns that the highly committed tournament crowd is pushing away less vocal fans. It's mixed messaging for sure, but I think they envision the same middle ground where all audiences can enjoy the game. It's the same future I like to imagine for Smash Bros. as well.

Smash Bros. started out as a goofy party game that got four friends to trash talk and beat the crap out of each other while playing as iconic Nintendo characters. It's a credit to Sakurai's brilliant design work that people enjoyed the game so much that a very devoted tournament scene grew around it. But I fear they've put so much into the game that they overlook what was so appealing in the first place. The final game needs to be approachable to everyone, which should be Sakurai's main focus instead of addressing every small demand of the hardcore.

I witnessed Sakurai try to navigate this minefield when I attended a Smash Bros. roundtable at E3 2014. The event brought Sakurai face-to-face with some of his biggest fans--the above video will give you a taste of the intense atmosphere in the room. Early on, when Pac-Man was announced for the Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS roster, the excitement in the room was infectious, but things got tense when the Q&A began. Several self-identified tournament players and Twitch streamers asked questions similar to Edge's about pro players preferring Melee to Brawl. These guys have very strict expectations of the game they want Sakurai to make, and those kinds of demands can feel oppressive for an artist like him, not to mention the larger audience that merely seeks the simple pleasures of Mario punching Pikachu.

I sensed tension in the room that day, and I see it again with Sakurai's newest sentiments. The streamers and pro gamers may be the most fervent and vocal, but they likely make a small percentage of the 12 million copies of Brawl that have sold. Why should Sakurai so stringently edit his creativity to satisfy that small minority of players without trying to understand the needs of millions more?

When compared to the elite players, I'm pretty sure I'm the casual fan Sakurai is talking about. I've played literally hundreds of hours of Smash Bros. across the N64, GameCube, and Wii, and even starred in a universally acclaimed YouTube series about Smash Bros. But my head spins at the worries of tournament folks. Wave dashing? Edge guarding? Basing your entire play style on minutia like that seems to reject the joyous, idiotic fun that first pulled me into Smash. It's this search for pure competition that ignores all the unfair junk that's supposed to happen in a battle. Final Destination with no items? No thanks.

Ultimately, I think Sakurai is right to not overly engage with the loudest voices in the Smash Bros. community. In the wake of this new quote from Edge, another moment from that E3 roundtable stands out to me. During the Q&A a man stood up, saying he's a pro Smash player who promotes multiple tournaments. He challenged Sakurai to a match, and should he win, Sakurai would hire him to help balance the game. Sakurai flatly turned down the offer, asking if the man had ever actually worked on a game before. (He hadn't.) That exchange shows the gulf between Sakurai and the professional fan--until you've developed a game it's easy to think that you know what's best for your favorite franchise.

27 comments

  • ZestyChieftain - August 29, 2014 7:31 p.m.

    As a Melee/PM player I don't really have a problem with what Sakurai is doing. It's his game, and he's gonna do what he wants with it. The only problem I have, is what seems like a very large misunderstanding of the competitive community by Sakurai and "casuals". Contrary to popular belief, Melee/PM are not games based on just mindless aggression; it's not a contest of who can press what buttons faster. There is deep thought involved and if you just rush at someone with SHFFL aerials you will probably get 4-stocked. Brawl was so surprising to the Melee community, not primarily because it was slow, but because it lacked depth. After such crazy success from Melee, the MLG age, the combo videos, the hype, everyone thought that the next game would only build on it. But it didn't. Sakurai blatantly dismissed all of that, and even went out of his way to design a game to be the opposite. We all wanted a new game that would be at least as deep as the previous. That's what the competitive community wants. We're not asking for Melee or for the game to be "faster"; that is oversimplifying competitive fighting games. We're asking for a game that acknowledges that depth is important. And while this is a well written article, there is somethings it says that irks me. Yes, the competitive community is quite loud, but for every loud tournament player there is another casual to jump to Sakurai's defense who is just as loud. Please keep in mind that tournament players are passionate about the game because they put in countless hours to understand and be better at it, and some players even go to tournaments to make real money, but casual players will pick up Smash play it, and leave it in a corner. I don't understand why the casual crowd is so feverishly against competitive players in their discussions. The word casual literally means "without care". Like some people in this article have previously said, although Melee was competitive, casuals could still play it as a party game. Making a game more competitive has no effect on your casual experience. I play Super Street Fighter IV as a casual. I don't know how to cancel or combo but I just like messing around with my friends. Even though SSF is considered a very high level fighting game with crazy cancels and combos, my experience as a casual player is not affected in any way. It is no different for Smash, especially since the game has items. Lastly, what Sakurai told that gamer in the Q&A is totally correct. No one has any right to criticize Sakurai unless they have designed a game for themselves. However, the competitive community understands Melee and competitive Smash to where it is a science. We took Melee and turned it into a game that took even Sakurai by surprise. We developed a meta that shifted over a decade, we continued to discover techniques and things about the game and we're still discovering things even now. For all intensive purposes, the competitive community redesigned Melee into its own game. Saying that only people who have designed games before can criticize him or even discuss Smash with him is honestly a little egotistic.
  • arashi - August 29, 2014 7:02 p.m.

    I agree completely with ZeeCaptain and "God". High level play and casual stupid fun aren't mutually exclusive; we know that because both these elements coexist in melee. I'd like to point out that no competitive player has ever said "Get rid of the items" or "take out every stage but Final Destination" (That would be completely absurd considering that Final Destination is one of the less balanced staged because it has no platforms, yet casuals seem to think it's the most balanced for that same reason). The point is, the hardcore fans aren't asking for anything that would alienate casual gamers. Sakurai's fear is that he is alienating fans, but ironically the only thing he has achieved by trying to make the game only appeal to casual gamers is (guess what?) alienate his most loyal fans. I've pretty much said all I'd like to say, but I do have one more question for the casual players who grew up playing with items in 4 player free for alls like I did: You don't want to play the game with a stage list or without items. That's fine, do what you want. Hardcores want to play the game at a fast pace without items, they want to out maneuver and out wit their opponent in a manner that, for the record, is completely unique from any other fighting game that exists. What reason could you possibly have to want that experience eliminated from the smash? How does that threaten the casual experience? Is it not in fact hypocritical to force casual play style as the "correct" way of playing the game upon hardcore fans?
  • Jaguar8481 - August 29, 2014 5:22 p.m.

    I think people are forgetting that the moves in Melee that everyone in the fighting community like so much were pretty much an accident. If it took the community a long time to figure them out, then they weren't that important to begin with. The game is suppose to be a party game were four friends can beat the crap out of each other using their favorite video game characters and laugh and scream at each other. Sure it has some technical aspects that if you are a pro you'll excel in the game, but the reason the weapons are there is so that the pros while playing a casual fan won't overpower them so much that the casual no longer has fun. If the game that comes out is a great party game that everyone can enjoy, and also some how is balanced enough that the pros can play tournaments and be happy that would be really cool.....however if it is just a great party game and there is no real balance, then continue playing melee, cause I'll be having a party of 14 people ranging in ages of 8 to 36 playing the game and we will all have a huge blast.
  • ZestyChieftain - August 29, 2014 6:14 p.m.

    Actually the two most basic techniques were not exactly on accident. L-cancel was actually brought over from 64 where it was called Z-cancelling, and was intended to allow players to bring up shield faster after landing from an aerial. Wavedashing was also intentional. It's original purpose was to prevent players from clipping through a stage if they air dodged into it. Wavedashing was even featured in a NIntendo Power article as an "official technique". I just wanted to clarify that, as people seem to have a misconception about these two Your points are still valid though.
  • ZeeCaptain - August 29, 2014 12:40 p.m.

    I am a fervent smash brothers player and I can say just this. Did melee feel at all alienating to the casual player? In my experience, no. It maintained a balance of great depth in gameplay that appealed to hardcore fans and also kept accessible enough for casual fans. That has been my long-standing issue with the direction that Sakurai has been taking. It alienates OUR audience, whereas the old approach did NOT alienate theirs. For example, wavedashing. Wavedashing is a completely optional movement technique that wasn't even discovered until the game had been out for quite a while. It clearly didn't alienate anybody. It was a harmless technique that only added depth to melee, and thusly started this whole quest to discover just how deep the game could go. It took nothing away from the casuals and added great things for the hardcore. And yet we can't have any other subtleties added to the game to support us. WHY NOT? There is no reason here. And to showcase a more immature and unimportant point, the casual players simply DO NOT CARE. They care about the cast, the items that are in the game, the shit that just doesn't matter as much. They will be fine no matter what changes occur. And they will never love the game as much as the hardcore fans will. Why can't they make a game that will appeal to the REAL fans? Is this how you show dedication to the consumer? Where is the loyalty that we show to them? The last thing that we, the hardcore, the minority need, is for the casual audience that doesn't even understand what they're talking about to raise their voices in praise of Sakurai's decision to, not completely abandon, but to mostly ignore our requests. Its not like he'd be ruining the experience for you by making the game deeper. I feel like the challenge that we've given him to face is to make a game that contains within it a lot of depth for the hardcore fans to explore, while also keeping the experience enjoyable to the casual player. That should be his goal. He isn't doing very well when he just tells one side that they're not important.
  • nintendo365 - August 29, 2014 11:43 a.m.

    Sakurai is definitely right here. Yeah, pro-esque/hardcore players are the loudest, but they really cant speak for the series. It may be a good game, but if its geared towards only the hardcore- only the hardcore will really care, and in a casual age its just poor business to make it that way. I think I fall into the "Casual" bucket here in the realm of fighting games. I don't want this game to be another Skullgirls- yes the game was great, unique characters, and a unique style, but the sheer speed of that game turned me off soooo quickly. Its too much, and I know that anyone that challenges me to it is probably REALLY good, and will kick the shit out of me, so I just said fuck it and gave up on the game from the demo. Fighting games generally split the playerbase (NOT the fanbase) in two, there's are the guys who play it and are good, then there's the hardcore that know how to cancel, 15-hit combo into ex, chain attack, and do all these advanced techniques. All the while, I just wanna have fun. It's why games like Call of Duty, Titanfall, GTA, Tekken and FIFA are so popular. You can get into the real meat of it, and get competitive and have a great time, or you can dabble and just play for fun and still have a great time- It wont require light speed reaction time and knowing everything about the other players. It helps if you do, but its not implied as a prerequisite. I'm not saying I don't like the hardcore aspect of it, I love to watch tournaments- I recently went to the Smash@Clarendon tourney in June, and it was a fucking blast to watch, and to play against and with these giants, I follow EVO every year, and I watch the CoD Champs every year, but notice how those tournaments have a massive turnout, but you go online to find a match in UltraSF 4, or Tekken Tag 2, or Soul Calibur 4 and its the same 5-6 lobbies of people. Just because your Fanbase is huge, that doesn't reflect your Playerbase and I'm thrilled that Sakurai knows that about this genre.
  • sangdrako - August 29, 2014 4:29 p.m.

    Did Melee ever alienate you? (that's what pros want) Do professional sports (which ever you like, if you like any) prevent you from saying " you know what, I feel like playing a bit of /blank/, but there's so many pro's that I shouldn't play it"?
  • arashi - August 29, 2014 7:23 p.m.

    "It's why games like Call of Duty, Titanfall, GTA, Tekken and FIFA are so popular. You can get into the real meat of it, and get competitive and have a great time, or you can dabble and just play for fun and still have a great time- It wont require light speed reaction time and knowing everything about the other players. It helps if you do, but its not implied as a prerequisite." This is exactly what makes melee amazing though. You can play it competitively or just to have fun. I also find it disturbing that you (like many others) seem to think that the competitive players want smash to be just like any other fighting game. Professional smash is amazing BECAUSE it's unlike any other fighting game. In general, the hardcore fan base has never asked for Sakurai to favor the competitive fans anyway; just that he not ignore them. You say that it's bad to appeal to the hard core and only the hard core; how is appealing to the casual fanbase and only the casual fan base any different or even any better?
  • sangdrako - August 29, 2014 9:17 a.m.

    So casual sports players - Football, baseball, Rugby - need not play because clearly pros have all these moves and advanced techniques that make the game inaccessible to the casuals. Right. Some people, no matter how hard you try, will play a game better than you. If you can't leave with that, go somewhere else. Tournaments are made to show case skill, that doesn't mean the game is inaccessible to everyone who wants to play.
  • samdodge - August 29, 2014 4:49 a.m.

    I used to run Smash tournaments and we used items. I allowed players to vote on items to be removed but I refused to allow no Smash Balls since that was a character's ultimate move.
  • james-peter-bradbury - August 29, 2014 12:35 a.m.

    Filthy casual scum need to stop getting all the attention of developers. It's bullshit, they should not alienate core fans to produce a product that winds up mediocre for everyone. It should be easy to pick up, difficult to master. Melee wasn't a hard game to get into, the entire point of Smash Bros is that the complexity lies in using the simple controls well, not memorizing crazy combos. To act making Fox as fast as he should be will ruin the game, to pretend you can't serve ALL the needs of the core crowd while still bringing in new fans is completely ridiculous. Brawl was a terrible game, and if they're not going to give us a Melee HD rerelease they should make the new one correct the mistakes of Brawl. Even if they don't, I guess we'll have a shot at a new project M.
  • GOD - August 28, 2014 10:10 p.m.

    As someone who enjoys high level play, this kind of elicits a knee jerk reaction from me. Really though Melee is the perfect example of why Sakurai is wrong in this instance. It has loads of depth, complexity, and advanced mechanics, yet still was extremely accessible as a party game. I don't recall ever seeing anyone complain about Melee being too hard, do you? The reason why people in the competitive community were upset with Brawl is because it didn't make it any more accessible to the wider audience by removing some of the advanced tactics and significantly lowering the speed. These changes made no difference to the masses, and irked the faithful, so what was the justification? Supposedly he's working with Namco to ensure that it's more balanced than Brawl was, but if he's not interested in giving it depth for those interested in deeper gameplay then it seems like pure lip service. If you need more evidence as to why Sakurai can sometimes get carried away, see Tripping.
  • GOD - August 28, 2014 10:17 p.m.

    "Basing your entire play style on minutia like that seems to reject the joyous, idiotic fun that first pulled ME into Smash." Henry, I think this quote explains what's wrong with your article. You're citing the "idiotic fun" as the most important part of smash, and that makes you worse than the competitive voices because you're also saying that the competitive scene threatens what you like about the game. It really doesn't though. That same madness can still exist in a deeply competitive game, just as it already has in Melee. I like both the madness and the competitive aspects. I enjoy double jump cancelling Yoshi into a Nair to kick you off the screen, but I also enjoy Pokeballs only 5-Minute Melee. Give me good reason why these things can't both exist in the same Smash Bros. game when they already have before?
  • universaltofu - August 28, 2014 11:58 p.m.

    I can jibe to this.
  • Bansheebot - August 28, 2014 7:44 p.m.

    All I care is that it doesn't feel sluggish like brawl did. I don't really get the logic that games should be made to cater to the lowest denominator though. Casual gamers will play the game as advanced as they want to. Especially so in the Fighting genre, which imo is the most pick-up and playey genre out there. It's also why we have Difficult Settings. Hell, SSB has always put its difficulty setting right on the Character select just to make sure the player doesn't have to bite off more than they can chew. Having that capability to play the game at a more advanced and complex level just means your game has more depth. The people who just mash buttons don't miss out on anything, but the people who want more do.
  • shawksta - August 28, 2014 7:24 p.m.

    Sakurai's definitely pushing a more tournament and competitive viable game, with the appeal for new players. To him, Melee was one side and Brawl was the other side. As much as a perfectionist as Sakurai is, he has his own faults, but everyone does in their way of thinking. Smash 4 will hopefully merge the balance. It already has the assets.
  • watevermanimlost - August 28, 2014 7:11 p.m.

    The easy solution here is to re-release melee but only have fox as a select-able character and the "Pro's" Can play the same old thing instead of adapting to new things.
  • arashi - August 30, 2014 10:47 a.m.

    You realize not everyone uses fox, right? I won't even get into the other horribly ignorant problems with thus statement.
  • watevermanimlost - October 22, 2014 3:28 p.m.

    This is a joke.... are you horribly ignorant? So you're telling me that pro's don't just play melee? Why was there one in 2012 4 years after brawl came out.
  • J-Fid - August 28, 2014 6:19 p.m.

    This is really how you define Smash Bros. Is it a party game or is it a fighting game, because it is the only game that is both. That's what makes this situation so complicated. In my opinion, you can easily hide the fighting side of Smash inside of the party side, allowing casuals to never know competitive Smash exists, while letting the hardcores enjoy the thrill of competition. Those who support Melee are huge on Wavedashing and L-Canceling because they are unique elements that don't exist in other fighting games. These core elements aren't in Brawl, which irked many. Though as M2K has shown, you can play both at a high level. Lastly speed. As someone who loves Brawl, and is best at Brawl, even I feel that Brawl is too slow. It hard to watch others play. That being said, Melee is too fast for its own good (I always tell people to search "How fast is Melee?" on Youtube). I watch tournaments online, and I can't follow much of anything. I think SSB4's balanced speed will be one of its biggest accomplishments.

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