This is an opinion piece. My opinion does not reflect PushDustin’s opinion or Source Gaming as a whole. I fully expect some of you will disagree. Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments. Also, you can also hit me up on Twitter, Smashboards or via e-mail.
Since Snake’s unveiling in Super Smash Bros. Brawl at E3 2006, third party characters have become somewhat a norm in the series. Super Smash Bros. Brawl had two guest characters, and Super Smash Brothers for Wii U and 3DS had four guest characters (including DLC). However, has the series going a bit too far with third party characters? You might think “Smashchu, you’re mad!” So, dear reader, allow me to explain my stance, and why I believe the next Super Smash Brothers should return to form and only include Nintendo characters.
Third Party Characters in Smash
Fans have some misconceptions about third party characters in Smash. Sakurai has stated that not just any character can be added and one of the things a third party characters must bring some history with them. It is for this reason that third party characters have worked so well in Super Smash Bros. Sonic, Megaman, Pac-Man and Ryu have all been in numerous million-sellers. These characters are well known within the gaming pantheon, and even players who don’t have a wealth of video game knowledge will be able to recognize these characters. Essentially, these characters have worked because they are so well known and liked.
However, fans have taken the idea that any characters can, and should, be in Smash Brothers. But as Sakurai has said, that is not the case. He stated in an IGN interview during GDC 2008 that, “ It’s not a simple matter of adding as many worlds and characters from other games as possible — you can’t be careless in doing that sort of thing, you have to be careful. Internally and externally, there have been people who have raised objections to it.” Sakurai stresses some caution on adding a plethora of third party characters and is conservative on the matter. Thus, there is a disjoint between what fans want and what Sakurai is willing to do.
So why is there a disconnect between what fans want and what Sakurai will add? The reasons is that Super Smash Brothers is, to some, a dream game. Super Smash Brothers is a game that bring multiple different characters from multiple different worlds, so fans have their own idea of who should be in the game and who shouldn’t. Before the announcement of Snake in Super Smash Brothers Brawl, the number of characters who could be included was limited to only Nintendo characters. Now, any characters could theoretically be in Smash. As such, fans ask for a plethora of third party characters, even if their inclusion wouldn’t be worthwhile. As Sakurai has stated in the GDC 2008 interview, “Adding characters from other series and from other worlds, really, outside the Nintendo universe, is an incredibly difficult process.”
Unfortunately, when making a game like Super Smash Brothers, the number of characters people know and adore will continue to decline. A characters like Bowser Jr. won’t be as well received as someone like Wario. At the same time, Wario wont be received as well as Mario. The point is that characters who are famous and well known have already been included in the game; thus, the amount of new characters that will make fans excited is getting smaller and smaller. So third party characters seem to be a solution to this as there is essentially an infinite number of them. But is this really the case?
First, consider that most of the third party characters include were included because they were highly requested or there was some other circumstance that allowed them to be in. During the development of Super Smash Brothers Brawl, a poll was taken for which characters fans would like to see in the game. Shigeru Miyamoto stated that Sonic the Hedgehog was the most popular characters from that poll. Sakurai later stated that after Sonic, Megaman was the most popular character in the same poll. Sakurai has specifically stated that Pac-Man was added because the was developed in cooperation with Namco Bandai. Nevertheless, Pac-Man was not an obscure chose. During an interview IGN had with Sakurai, the author recounts, “My inquiry about Namco Bandai characters did lead Sakurai to ask me a question in return – if I had to pick one character, which Namco Bandai character would I want in Super Smash Bros.? The answer seemed obvious to me – the original arcade version of Pac-Man.”
The common trend is that the third party characters included in the roster are popular and iconic. But there is more to it than simply being iconic. Many characters can lay claim to being “iconic” for a multitude of reasons. The characters in Smash (including Ryu) were not only successful in their time but continue to be successful all over the world. However, compare the third party characters now and there are some issues. Looking at the poll conducted on Source Gaming(with the help of BluePikmin), some of the most popular third party characters included Shovel Knight, Shantae, Rayman Snake, Bomberman, Simon Belmont and Banjo and Kazooie. These are all popular characters; however, they each come with there own issues. Characters like Shovel Knight, Rayman and Shantea have fans in the West, but are almost unheard of in Japan; as evident by Japanese players asking, ‘What’s a Shovel Knight?‘ Nintendo, in their most recent shareholder’s briefing, unveiled that Japan accounts for approximately 30 percent of download sales. As such, a character that is unknown over there would not be the best option to maximize sales. Moreover, Super Smash Brothers for 3DS is the ranked third for download sales among Nintendo titles. With about a third of the sales of the 3DS version coming from Japan, it’s clear these characters won’t work.
On the other hand, Simon and Bomberman are both classic characters, but they have faded in recent times. Even Snake, who was playable in Super Smash Brothers Brawl, has issues because his creator, Hideo Kojima, leaving Konami and the fact that Sakurai did not include him in the newest game. Of course, Banjo and Kazooie are now owned by rival console manufacture, Microsoft. The characters currently in Smash have a long history, are popular among fans, and are still relevant today. Sadly, there aren’t that many characters left that fit that role. Looking at the poll, there isn’t one character that stick out that folks want above all else. Even the third party characters folks want varies by region. The characters mentioned above, besides Snake, are not as popular in Japan. With the Super Smash Bros. series selling millions, it becomes even hard to find a third party character that almost everyone will know and enjoy in the game.
Diminishing Utility and Marginal Cost
In my article, DLC Econ 101, I presented the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, which is the economic theory that states, simply, that the more you consume something, the less benefit you derive from it. In relation to third parties, each new addition will bring with it less excitement, and as a result, less benefit. Fans were shocked and excited when Snake was announced as it so unexpected. But the announcement of Snake can never truly be replicated. Other third party characters have been added and the allure of having a non-Nintendo character in Super Smash Brothers has been lost. Fans were excited to see Sonic and Megaman as they were very popular characters. However, based on responses from fans, Ryu didn’t have the same excitement. Looking at the poll, there was no one third party character fans agreed with. Even the popularity of third party characters in Japan is vastly different than the West. There isn’t one character that fans unanimously want.
Conversely, third party characters are costly to add. Another economic concept, Marginal Cost, is the additional cost for producing an additional good. Firms produce where marginal cost meets marginal (or additional) revenue. This concept is used mostly in manufacturing, but we can apply the concept here as well. Essentially, there must be a point where the cost of adding an additional third party would outweigh the character’s benefit. There are the obvious legal issues, and Sakurai has to jump through more hoops. In Super Smash Brothers for Wii U /3DS, Sakurai and Nintendo had to manage relationship with three third party companies. This is likely why Sakurai has only included content from these three companies in order to avoid additional legal hassle. Additionally, adding more third party characters requires a greater amount of resources. With each third party added, new stages, music, and trophies have to be made. Super Smash Bros for Wii U/3DS has four third party characters, which means each one has to have new content. Increasing the number of third party characters beyond this will only take more resources. While this is true of new Nintendo characters, many of the new series may be smaller or have less content, and many other characters will be from series already in the game.
So the issue become that adding more third party characters is more work for less reward. There aren’t many characters that can create the same excitement as Sonic or Megaman did, and adding more characters will require more legal work and take more resources to create stages, music and trophies. Essentially, adding more third party characters doesn’t improve the roster in any meaningful way; it just adds more non-Nintendo characters to the roster.
A Return to Form
The series has reached a crossroad. The previous titles have benefited from third party characters because there were a lot of iconic and still popular characters that could be included in the roster. Arguably, now there are fewer characters that are as universally loved as the ones already in Smash. Moreover, adding more characters will take a greater amount of resources with manage the relationship with the Intellectual Property (IP) holder and develop sufficient content for the character. And at the end of the day, the series is moves farther and farther away from being a celebration of Nintendo.
And ultimately, that is what Super Smash Brothers is. It is a game that celebrates Nintendo’s characters and history. Some critics will say that the issue of fewer qualified third party characters is moot because the same is true of Nintendo characters. However, that is simply not the case because Super Smash Brothers celebrates Nintendo. For example, Rosalina is a less important characters than Mario, but Rosalina remains an important character because she is a piece of the Mario series. Adding more characters, even if they are not as well known as Nintendo’s All-Stars, only servers to expand the Nintendo universe as it is represented in Smash. Shigeru Miyamoto has stated that Nintendo plans to be more aggressive with their IPs, and Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima identified Nintendo’s wealth of IPs as a strength and the key to expanding the gaming population. Thus, it would be in Nintendo’s benefit to focus on their own characters and worlds in the next game as this aligns with their strategic directions.
The point that, in this author’s opinion, the next game should cut the guest characters and include only Nintendo characters. While this may seem like a radical idea, remember the first two games in the series did not have guest characters and both sold over 5 million units. Alternatively, there are fewer guest characters who will make a significant impact and justify the extra cost needed to adequately include them in the game. If there isn’t a new third party character, should the team developing Smash waste their resources to include veteran guest characters? I would argue no. Already, the series has 52 characters not including the Mii Fighters. There is also evidence that 3 more characters are planned for DLC which would bring the total number of characters to 55. Super Smash Brothers games typically add around 12 new characters. It’s clear that the roster for the next Super Smash Brother will be massive and that resources will be even tighter. Can the team really afford to try and include third party characters, dealing with the legality and the extra content needed for these series? In fact, the easiest way to maintain a large roster is cut third party characters from the mix.
It remains to be seen what Sakurai and Nintendo will do with the next Super Smash Brothers, and the next title is likely still far off. Third party characters have become an important part of Super Smash Brothers, and that part can not be denied. However, the goal should always be to promote Nintendo first, and that is a major reason I think the series needs to return to form.
Thank you for reading. In my next article, I will identify some new Nintendo characters that could be included in the new game. Stay tuned.