Failure is a harsh word. With the recent layoffs at Sony-created developer SuperBot, it’s just another sign that their maiden voyage in gaming may be a swan song. First off, I wish everyone affected all the best in finding future employment, and second, layoffs after a project is completed are not uncommon occurrences. Yet, that doesn’t seem to apply here, though, and no amount of public relations can spin the dismal figures that PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale has amassed since launching in November of 2012. Data suggests that sales between the PlayStation 3 and Vita are well below one million globally, and while that doesn’t include digital purchases, you can’t imagine it fluctuating much. As difficult as it is to say, what else can this be called than a failure?
What happened here? Fighting games are arguably more popular than they have ever been, and one highlighting the impressive stable of Sony characters, both first- and third-party, should be a no-brainer. Regardless if the concept was borrowed, innovation is taken constantly in this business, and it’s likely the purest form of flattery another company can give. This goes beyond a simple blanket statement of, “No one was interested, so it didn’t sell“, instead pointing to a disturbing trend with Sony exclusives. I’m going to outline three factors that directly contributed to SuperBot’s arena fighter falling flat.
Fighting games are simple in concept. Beat someone up using a vast arsenal of moves until the opponent’s life bar has depleted; once accomplished, you win. Unfortunately, SuperBot decided to take a different route, and it cost them dearly. It’s no lie that PS All-Stars direct influence was Super Smash Bros, yet what they didn’t take from its inspiration was the simplistic beauty of its combat design. In its stead, they developed a system that replaced the damage you deal out directly from basic attacks, and instead, they build up a super meter that you use to unleash powerful attacks resulting in a kill. Basically, the only way to hurt your opponent is by building enough meter to unleash one of three possible supers. For an entry-level brawler, that’s complicated stuff, and it confused the message many were used to and, frankly, expecting based on where the idea came from.
Arena fighters are the water wings of the genre. Is there strategy and depth to them? Absolutely, but they pale in comparison to what fighters such as Street Fighter, Tekken, and Marvel vs Capcom offer in their combat designs. When you play this style of fighter, people want to get in, pick their favorite character, and beat their friends to a pulp, and they do this by watching numbers or life bars decrease. Adding supers as the only means of doing damage was a clear mistake that confused fans and non-fans alike. If you are going to steal from the best, why not take the entire concept and be done with it?
While lacking the decades of history and affiliation that Nintendo‘s roster has, the PlayStation stable is nothing to scoff at. Offering classics that helped build Sony‘s gaming brand and recent, more realistic takes, it seemingly has something for everyone. Saying that, nineteen characters (twenty if you count two Coles) is not sufficient to launch any fighting game with these days, not to mention one that is all about fan service and character selection. BlazBlue is the only recent fighter to launch with fewer and has since remedied the error, but also keep in mind the game offered a system infinitely more in-depth and a completely fleshed-out story with branching paths.
I understand that there are factors at play here that hinder the process of bringing necessary additions such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro back for another run, but you can’t launch something that is supposed to represent an entire brand without the pillars of it.
Former mascots aside, PlayStation gave birth to many storied third-party franchises and games. From Final Fantasy 7 to Resident Evil and beyond, not one representative from these games made it in, and there are many more just like them: Ethan Mars, Wanderer from Shadow of the Colossus, the boy from ICO, the cloaked protagonist from Journey, and the list carries on. The point is, off the top of their head, even the fringe Sony fan can name ten more characters that would have easily been at home on this roster. There is nothing wrong with the characters who did make it in and the game is playable with them, but the fact remains that it’s simply not enough. Even with the two new additions through DLC, twenty-two characters is not even close to being indicative of the PlayStation brand. The single biggest misstep in PlayStation All Stars was making the roster more about who didn’t make it in, rather than who did.
Sadly, this horse has been beaten to death, and its constant failures are blamed for the abundance of underachieving games on the PlayStation 3. Why this keeps happening is beyond me, and it’s a relatively new problem, as Sony didn’t have trouble marketing games in their previous two generations.
Marketing was once again nearly non-existent for this exclusive, which is further puzzling due to the fact this new IP actually carries the company’s brand name with it. With that said, one would think a more vested interest in the game’s success would be taken, but all we got was one lackluster commercial that was for all purposes and far too late. The teaser for a commercial tactic used by Sony doesn’t work, and it builds an expectation for the final product that is only bound to disappoint in the end. And disappoint it did. The game couldn’t have launched at a more ideal time either, as the 2012 holiday season was relatively barren aside from two juggernaut franchise sequels. This would seemingly have been a perfect opportunity for a new and appealing fighter to capitalize and stand out. Another opportunity wasted from the marketing team, and another lackluster performer at retail for Sony.
This trifecta formed together to create a near impossible scenario for PlayStation All-Stars to succeed. One thing you’ll notice I haven’t mentioned, and something others have held to, is that maybe people just don’t care about Sony‘s characters enough. To that, I say nonsense. Sony characters are some of the most recognizable in gaming’s past and present. They have franchises that have sold extremely well and feature a wide variety of characters fans can, and do, get behind. Millions more are out there to join in on the fun a PlayStation brand arena fighter offers, and it’s a marketing/public relation team’s job to make the consumer care. Couple this with confusing design decisions that turned off the mildly interested and the most hardened of Sony fans, and you have your reason as to why this game did not come close to meeting expectations.
Despite all of this, it isn’t all doom and gloom. The game looks and plays like a dream, which anyone that actually picked it up can attest to. Combat systems can be adapted in fighters, something that happens frequently from inevitable upgrades in the genre. There is so much that could have been added in terms of story and characters that it almost seems as if the company was holding back, which is something I believe SuperBot has done. My take is that this was a place holder offering for a more complete version to arrive later this year, similar to what Capcom has done repeatedly with their fighters. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out as planned, and the disappointing sales may have jeopardized the future of a PlayStation All-Stars sequel or upgrade. Let this be a lesson to any developer releasing a brand new game to market: come out with everything you can muster and hold nothing back, because you may not get another chance.