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Accessibility vs. Depth — What Brings More Players to the FGC?

Femi Famutimi
9 min

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Accessibility vs. Depth — What Brings More Players to the FGC
Getting this right could go a long way in helping shape the future of the scene

Stop me if you’ve heard this before— so and so year is the year of the FGC! Familiar right? Well, yes. This has been the trope for many years, with each year promising unrivaled growth for the fighting game community. 

The thing is, it isn’t a lie to say that the community is growing, but it has been a slow and steady process. One of the things that will contribute to this growth is new games, and with Street Fighter 6, Tekken 8, and Mortal Kombat 12 on the horizon, the FGC can begin to prepare for an influx of new players. 

But, what will be the bringer of this deluge of players? New games are great and all, but people lose interest in games all the time. We have, unfortunately, seen that with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl and to a lesser extent, Multiversus. So, what exactly is the formula for bringing players into the FGC? 

There are two major factors that people point to as the reason for the growth of the FGC, and they are; accessibility and depth. They are both important, but it seems the task before us is to determine which is more important. 

To that end, it would be necessary to expound on what we mean by accessibility and what is meant when we say a fighting game has depth.

What Makes a Fighting Game Accessible?

When a game is accessible, it typically means that it is easy enough to pick up and has as few barriers as possible. Fighting games have picked up something of a bad rep of being hard to master and even hard to pick up. I remember, as a youngster playing Killer Instinct for the first time and struggling with the concept of sustained combos and combo breakers. I would have gotten frustrated and dropped the game, but thankfully, the only other game I had to play was Street Fighter. So, I was sort of forced to learn to get decent at fighting games, at least. However, with the passage of time, fighting game developers, in a bid to bring in new players, started making games that were less technical and more beginner friendly. 

I, for one, remember picking a little-known title back in the late 90s called ‘Destraga’ which, for me coming from a Street Fighter II Turbo and Killer Instinct background, was a huge shock as it was the first time I had ever seen a game that was willing to let me do special moves at the press of a button. It also brought in some other innovations, including the large stages to fight on and so on. This was awesome for me, and the ease of entry made me play Destrega quite a bit. 

There were other games to follow suit, with the most recent perhaps being Dragon Ball FighterZ with its auto combos and frenetic pace. A game that can be played with as little stress as possible is what one would call an accessible game. But, to leave it at that would be giving too shallow a definition. An accessible game isn’t simply a game that is easy to play but one that holds your hand just enough to make the prospect of playing it a lot less scary.

Other factors to consider include the accessibility options for various kinds of players, including those with physical difficulties or the absence of one of the key senses. Fighting games are becoming more sensitive to this situation, and it was very exciting to learn that Street Fighter 6 would be adding some really cool innovations for the visually impaired, which will allow them to experience the game too. Also, Street Fighter 6 will introduce Dynamic controls which will more or less help the player in matches. For this reason, it is safe to say that Street Fighter 6 will be a very accessible game. 

So, if more games provide options for players that enable them to experience the game without being turned off, then that’s what accessibility is about, and this is, without a doubt, a great way to bring players into the FGC. However, is it enough to keep people around?

The Question of Depth.

How do you know that a game is deep? Difficulty? Grandness of scale? Depth of lore? Or maybe even the number of game modes it has? None of these on their own can make a game deep, but they can contribute to depth. 

A game is said to be deep when it has several layers to it that throw the player new curveballs that they must master and deal with. For instance, if a player throws a fireball at you, what do you do? Some of the answers that come to mind are; 1) throw your own fireball to destroy it, (2) Block, (3)Jump. These are all good options and are examples of a deep game. Many games give you these options, and that’s great, but deep games go further. So, maybe you can throw an EX fireball that will absorb the opponent’s fireball but will still go through to hit the opponent. Or, maybe you use a character that has a low-profile move that could get past the fireball. That’s another layer to the game. Let’s take it a step further; how does your opponent react? If you throw an EX fireball, they could block the second hit or perhaps throw another projectile to get in the way and save themselves. Perhaps they could even parry your projectile and launch an offensive. All these are several options that ultimately create a situation where players get to play how they want to and in a way that suits them. 

That is a deep game. Now, this could mean that the game becomes difficult as there are too many options to think through, but this isn’t always the case. What a lot of games do is create mechanics to give more options. Street Fighter V was an example of this. When V-Trigger was introduced, it was essentially a comeback mechanic to ensure that players didn’t simply run away with games. It introduced a way for players to go down fighting and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But it could also be abused, so what was done? Other mechanics were added, including V-Shift, which enabled characters, with the help of some meter, to dodge attacks. This was on top of the V-Reversal mechanic, which was a way to break pressure and get some breathing room. 

These mechanics force players to change the way they play and makes them adapt. The above example is by no means a perfect one, but it does help illustrate what we are talking about.

There are great examples of deep-fighting games, two of which are Tekken and Skullgirls. I mention these two because they are something of opposites. On the one hand, Tekken is a difficult game to learn; with a plethora of moves and so many movement options, it could make your head spin. But it is a deep game that requires quite a bit of thought to play. This is why fans of the game have stood by it for years and years. On the other hand, Skullgirls is relatively easy to learn, and it has simple combo structures that are beginner friendly. But the moment you scratch beneath the surface, you find a new world of possibilities, tactics, and so much more. 

Between accessibility and depth, what brings more people into the FGC? Personally, I believe it is way more important for a game to have depth than for it to be accessible. You might not agree with me, but while an accessible game brings people in to play the game, depth is what keeps them and turns them into fans.

The most ideal scenario is a healthy balance of both which ensures that a game is accessible enough that anyone can get into it but also deep enough that those who take the time to really delve into it are rewarded with an exhilarating experience.  Fighting games need to strike a perfect balance between these two important concepts, as this is a great way to grow the scene.

Sure, huge prize pools and developer support and encouragement for the grassroots are all important, but eventually, we have to look at what the game itself offers. If you make a good game, then all the other stuff you do around it becomes a lot more effective.  

Street Fighter 6 will release in June, and everything around it shows that it is certainly an accessible game. With various control schemes, several game modes, accessibility options for different people, and so much more, we have a game that is exciting people left, right, and center. But, it will only retain this promising crowd if it proves itself to be an onion with layer upon layer of gameplay options. Patches will help, of course, but the base product needs to be a star. If it can pull this off, then we might be in for something truly spectacular.

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