Shoulda, woulda, coulda

Shoulda, woulda, coulda

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.

[gn_heading style=”2″]Confusing the message[/gn_heading]

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?

[gn_heading style=”2″]Roster, or lack thereof[/gn_heading]

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. [gn_pullquote align=”left”]”The single biggest misstep in PlayStation All Stars was making the roster more about who didn’t make it in, rather than who did.”[/gn_pullquote]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.

[gn_heading style=”2″]Once again, marketing[/gn_heading]

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.

Support and DLC is there, but is it enough?

Support and DLC ‘s there, but is it enough?

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.

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About The Author

GuestPost represents the work of past New Gamer Nation writers. Though they may not be with us anymore physically, we know they are with us in spirit.

  • http://twitter.com/JasonRoseEh Jason Rose

    I’m a prophet.

  • Maverick

    Can’t say I disagree with your assessment. I think marketing was the biggest one. Sony was on a roll with Kevin Butler ads then everything kind of went to poop. And they definitely needed more characters.  There are a lot of past franchises they could use, and they should have used more than one character from games. And some of the characters they did choose were just underwhelming. I even though the title was just too long, and not catchy enough. Playstation Battle Royale would have been fine. Hopefully Santa Monica Studios will give it some new life.

    • http://twitter.com/JasonRoseEh Jason Rose

      Thanks Maverick.

  • ObsessedGeorge

    Where is Snake?

    • http://twitter.com/JasonRoseEh Jason Rose

      In Smash Bros, PS All-Stars should have had Old Snake.

  • DarthDiggler

    It hasn’t been a stellar success, but PSASBR hasn’t been a failure.  The game has sold about a half million (which would be terrible if it wasn’t first party). 

    It just released in Japan recently, I think before we put this game in the grave I think it’s only fair to see how it sells in Japan.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayStation_All-Stars_Battle_Royale

    • pilotpsk

      While I don’t disagree, I think a lot of this is based on the expectations of the game. Just like RE6 was a disappointment selling 5 million copies, PSASBR is a disappointment selling 500k. The fact that they fired studio members and basically yanked the contract from them speaks volumes. So I think despite what it does in Japan, it is a failure in the eyes of PlayStation.

      • DarthDiggler

        Not meeting expectations does not mean failure.  Stop trying to reinvent meanings to words to support your arguments, its a weak form of debate.

        IMHO PSASBR is a game that should be preloaded on to PS3 hard drives.

        • pilotpsk

          Accusing me of reinventing meanings to words to support my arguments is also a weak form of debate. Take it easy. I’m not attacking you, I’m talking to you.

          Superbot and Sony officially parted ways over the game and that is after a few firings. They also plan to fire more people moving forward. What more do you need to see to consider the game a failure? Considering the game is borrowing characters from games that are not Sony exclusive (Bioshock, Tekken, Metal Gear) I am sure they spent a lot of money to get these characters in the game. If all this went down, chances are the game is not profitable. Sure some of this is just connecting dots, but do you really feel that what I am saying is completely off base?

          Even going with your suggestion of pre-loading the game on consoles, is that the fate of games that were not failures? 

        • http://twitter.com/JasonRoseEh Jason Rose

          Actually it does, it’s just corporate speak to hide the actual meaning of the word.

          Releasing SuperBot confirms this.

    • http://twitter.com/JasonRoseEh Jason Rose

      Why does first party diminish the expectations? 500k at this point is terrible across two platforms and trends speak to it not improving much. While layoffs happen, the fact that they just severed ties with SuperBot speak volumes as to it underperforming and yes, failure.  

      Also keep in mind, I wrote this nearly a week ago and had no knowledge that Sony would be releasing SuperBot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1338620597 Mike Jones

    its an arcade brawler…which means very few people are going to be interested no matter what content is in it….first complaint about it,it doesnt cater to noobs enough,i applaud them for taking a rather shallow genre and giving it the slightest amount of depth…so sick of everything having to be accessible  these days because tards arent willing to take a few days and figure a game out….the roster would never be fully fleshed out with every playstation character ever to exist,as sony doesnt own the rights to a big chunk of them anymore,so eh….and of course with a new console and exclusives like the last of us,beyond,GOW ascension,and a handful more,theyre not going to break the bank(especially given sony’s financial situation at the moment) at promoting a rinky dink brawler that NOBODY expected to move significant units in the first place….i fully expect them to keep it updated with patches and dlc,so be happy

    • http://twitter.com/JasonRoseEh Jason Rose

      Arcade brawlers pull in crowds. Now they dont’ have to be Smash Bros equivalent  but the foundation was there. 

      As I mentioned, we understand that there are hindrances to getting characters in the game, but you have to iron these out. You can’t release a game that is supposed to be indicative of your entire brand with only 19 characters and notable standouts, both first and third party, left out.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1338620597 Mike Jones

        lol…and as i mentioned,with all the things sony has on its plate for the next year that they have to spend money on,why would they ever go around ‘ironing out’ which just means spending alot of money buying the rights for characters to put in a game that obviously did not pull in a crowd….super smash bors was succesful because in the n64 era a brawler was a big deal and the fan base both on the competitive and casual scene kept it alive,not to mention for gamecube and wii you had a pretty limited selection of games to get as a core gamer….i think its ridiculous to think a new IP brawler will enjoy a fraction of the success that SSB did….but at the end of the day it comes down to the most simple answer-money…and on the list of priorities for sony,playstation all stars doesnt even crack the top 10

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Germaximus-Almightimus-Supremus/100001085190659 Germaximus Almightimus Supremu

    I actually like the combat system of how you need to power up before you can get a kill. 
    Games are just too expensive. Im pretty sure if this game sold for $20 at release it would have had a ton more sales.

    • http://twitter.com/JasonRoseEh Jason Rose

      I enjoy the system as well, but it confused prospective fans expecting Smash Bros and I couldn’t help but feeling how much better it would have been with life bars.

  • Nathan Hale

    This game was unbalanced to the point of broken. For Example, people who use Kratos typically only mash square to the entire game. Now his square attack takes up half of atleast 3 of the stages. His level 1 is also overpowered as hell. Seeing Sir Daniel in the game, i was so exited because he was basically my childhood, but hes FUCKING TERRIBLE. 1: He is SO SLOW. 2: his level 1 is one of the worst in the game. 3: All of his attacks suck. 4: He is considered the worst character in the game. A lot of others suck too like Spike, Heihachi, Parappa, Toro, Ratchet. I want to like them but they are just so bad. All the other characters are overpowered to the point of broken and i still cant believe i spent $40 on this garbage

    • Kevin Schimes

      You just described SSB perfectly. Also, the fact that you called Ratchet bad when he is one of the game’s highest-rated characters on tier lists is hilarious and shows your lack of knowledge on the game. Ratchet is universally considered the fourth or fifth best character in the game.