Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen this discussion pop up on various places. It’s been on Source Gaming, and I’ve seen it on SmashBoards. I think it’s time to have an actual discussion on why time is the default option in Smash.
Please note, the following is just my opinion. Sakurai has not come out and fully explained why time is the default option. Instead, I will be relying on his thoughts on related topics to explain why I think Sakurai has made time the default option in Smash.
With that warning out of the way, let’s get started.
The first and more important thing to remember is that Sakurai sees Smash as a party game:
At the end of the day, I’m aiming for intermediately-skilled players to be able to properly enjoy the game. Fundamentally, my goal with Smash has been to create an “enjoyable party game”. If you want to enjoy thrilling tactical gameplay, you might be better suited for other 2D fighting games. —The Act of Balancing, June 11, 2015
His goal with Smash was to make an accessible fighting game. One that can be enjoyed by all kinds of people, regardless of skill level. From the very start, the game was designed with four player multiplayer. This is even reflected in the game’s emblem (which has a circle divided into four sections).
With that in mind, Sakurai designed winning and losing to be haphazard. While the following quote comes from a column from 2003, Sakurai talked about the same thing on the Smash 64 site.
The series I directed, “Smash Brothers,” are games where you compete and fight each other , however, for this reason I am trying to make winning and losing “haphazard .” I won’t go into the specifics here, but I try to make it so that if you’re good at competing, you won’t be able to use the same pattern or strategy to win against a player consistently. The rate of “accidents” is high, and overall it’s easy to inject variance into the progression of the game and results. I think it would great to be able to simply laugh and move on to the next game regardless of whether you won or lost. –Winning and Losing
This is reflected in the way the characters clap for each other at the end of the match.
With this in mind, we also cannot forget how Sakurai approaches balancing. If you’ve read Sakurai On: Balancing Smash, then you probably are aware that Sakurai approaches balancing not only with a variety of players, but a number of playstyles. This means he wants the game to be fun for not only advanced players, but beginners too. In particular he’s talked about Kirby’s Stone Ability.
Furthermore, if I went with what is fair according to advanced players, the beginners wouldn’t be able to keep up. For example, Kirby’s Stone attack probably won’t hit a player above intermediate skill level, but if I made it more powerful, it would destroy beginners. —The Act of Balancing, June 11, 2015
He has to keep in mind the casual audience. Street Fighter 5 arguably did not keep the casual market in mind, and it’s having a difficult time selling. BriHard talked about the importance of casualization in one of his videos:
We need to remember that the online competitive community is not representative of the entire Smash fanbase. I know we don’t like to hear it, but we are a minority, in the grand scheme of things.
Melee sold 7.09 million copies.
Brawl sold 12.93 million copies.
Wii U sold 4.61 million copies.
3DS sold 7.92 million copies.
The amount of people subscribed on /r/smashbros:
203,096 people subscribed.
The amount of people registered on SmashBoards:
229,899 registered users.
(Numbers were taken at the time of writing)
On the old Wii Channel, you had 1,690,757 players report their Brawl time. You don’t need to be a mathematician to know that’s a much bigger number than both /r/smashbros and SmashBoards combined. And the Wii Channel was opt in. So people had to actively send their data. These aren’t people who just bought the game and put it down either. The average play time among those 1.5 million people? Over 77 hours.(Source)
Project M had almost a million downloads (3.0) (Source). The 3.6 beta was downloaded 61,399 times (Source). Again, that’s <8% of the people who bought Brawl. It’s a great percentage considering it was a mod, but it’s not the majority of Brawl players.Heck, Chris Pranger, former Nintendo Treehouse Localizer, even said that competitive Smashers aren’t the majority (Podcast here). He said we are loud, but we aren’t the majority and I think he’s 100% correct.
So unless we have data for the millions of people playing Smash, then it’s kind of difficult to assume how the majority of players actually play. Especially if we are just basing it off the <1% of the Smashers who are registered on online forums. Of course everyone has their own opinions and experiences. You might have even seen casual players play stock. However, we need to remember that Sakurai has always considered beginners. That’s why he made Kirby — an easy platformer. That’s why he made Kirby’s Air Ride— an easy racer. That’s why he made Smash.
For a beginner, a time battle is arguably better than stock. This is because the new players can play the entire time. If you ever played Smash with your little sibling or cousin, then you would know. A kid is going to have a bad experience if they lose, and then have to watch for the rest of the match. Have you ever been over a friends house and they just put on lame YouTube videos for you? That’s what it probably feels like to be a kid, and then get knocked out quickly. For a total beginner, they probably won’t know options exist. It just makes sense that time is the default option when considering how the game was designed, and the wide range of audiences that was taken into consideration when making Smash. These people aren’t expected to know that other options exist. It’s set up so anyone can just jump in and play.
…let’s just be thankful the default isn’t coin battle.