Netplay has been the subject of debate in the fighting game community since the internet became public. Arcades used to be the primary communication between players, but in 2020, the internet reigns supreme. As the days of a global pandemic trod on, adjustments to public events have only become more illuminating in how the success of fighting games hinges upon its netcode- a test that many games currently fail.
Before we continue, it’s a good idea to read up on this thread of tweets from KingHippo. While he does touch on the issue of netplay in fighting games, I think the issue is larger than pointed out in his thread. He brings up a series of other very valid points, and I agree with what it is he says, but I think the points on netplay are more relevant than his thread might convey. His thread does focus on accessibility, but I also believe that as world events continue, the need for more reliable netcode becomes much more crucial.
EVO 2020 has officially been canceled, but the tournament has instead been replaced with EVO Online, and it becomes easily apparent that the existing lineup of games simply would not do the job with an online tournament. While there will be special content for the existing games, open tournaments will be held online for 4 titles: Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat 11, Skullgirls, and Them’s Fightin’ Herds. What unites these 4 very different games? Their known excellent netcode.
See, one of the longest issues with fighting games is that many of the biggest names in the fighting game scene have fallen behind industry peers. Compare the online popularity of Street Fighter V to say, Call of Duty– two very different titles, but somewhat similar in status as declining-but-still-popular veterans of the gaming scene. Street Fighter V’s netcode has been questionable since day one, and its attempts to fix it have continued to exhibit problems. One of the core issues is that V doesn’t appear to have been built to accommodate rollback netcode, and there is a lack of experience in implementing the superior solution to delay-based netcode in their fighting game department. This leaves the game in a state where it often has incomplete and horrible desyncs and rollbacks that can wholly interrupt the game and cause severe issues for both players. Meanwhile, Call of Duty’s online primarily complains about spawn points in the multiplayer and now redeployment glitches in Warzone. While there have been periods of downtime, there is not nearly the issues playing this game online that Street Fighter has.
Don’t delay, Rollback is the way pic.twitter.com/Ohtv5czMGS
— Twitch (@Twitch) May 18, 2020
This is made all the more apparent how bad fighting games lag behind the rest of video games when even Twitch tweets about the complaints of delay-based netcode. And, unfortunately, it’s an easy dunk. Tekken might be one of the most electric (get it?) and exhilarating games to play and watch, but its online scene is plagued by awful connections with no fix in sight- and it used to be worse when you couldn’t even tell what type of quality connection you’d be getting before accepting a fight. Most of the scene’s best streamers and competitors connect with each other to run sets and avoid problems with the online matchmaking to compensate, but other select games simply do not have that problem.
Killer Instinct has been around for quite awhile now, and while it doesn’t have the same vast player base as the most popular games, its netcode is easily regarded as one of the best around. Infil wrote a very long post detailing what makes this netcode what it is, and explaining it for what it is in possibly the best guide to any fighting game ever made. Simply put, the experience programming around rollback netcode behind Skullgirls and other titles has given these games a massive leg up on the competition in fighting games. Simply listen to Sajam in that Twitch tweet and listen to how simply grateful he is to be able to play a great game with superior online compared to Granblue Versus. The difference is almost literally night and day.
Another element to employing proper netcode is that new players get turned away from fighting games altogether if they can’t play online. Competitive types might dismiss new players from the pool, but it’s crucial that for a game to be successful, it needs to be able to support players online. Whether or not it increases the competitive player pool is almost irrelevant (even though it absolutely will)- new games simply won’t get made to appease better online without the pressure of drawing in casuals. After all, companies want increased sales, not decreased ones, and who is going to want to play a game with friends if they will constantly be frustrated attempting to both get through the many walls of jargon and understanding of core principles and then also have to deal with a horrible online experience on top of it all? And what competitor wouldn’t want to share a great experience online and expand their playerbase as much as possible?
As Infil points out, both companies and players should care about having a good online experience. This is the reality of the present, and fighting games have long struggled to compete in any capacity with other gaming scenes at providing reliable netcode. It’s high time for that to change.