Team Ninja learns to fear its fans
Making a new Dead or Alive
game is a careful balance for director Yohei Shimbori. On one hand, he wants to create a title that serious tournament players can compete in, but at the same time, he wants to create a broad, inviting "entertainment" experience that captures a wide audience.
But he now has to make sure to doublecheck that against what the series fans think.
During the development of Dead or Alive 5
, Team Ninja learned a very hard lesson in player feedback. Ninja Gaiden 3
was released, and series fans were extremely outspoken in their disappointment with the title.
While Shimbori didn't work on Ninja Gaiden 3
, he says that "everybody at the studio was pretty shocked" when the news rolled in. "It really made us take another look at the game and why that reaction was there," he says.
"One of the things that I learned was the power of having a series behind you, and what it means to be part of a series. There are existing fans out there, and you have to think about the people who have supported the series for so long, and you want to make sure that the game that you make appeals to them first, and satisfies those fans first."
"As a director, I really try to take fan feedback into account. I really try to keep an open mind," Shimbori says. That, married with some serious reflection on how the studio develops games, made a "really good set" of criteria for moving forward.
In fact, he says, "I've been looking at feedback for the last three years, and honestly, it hasn't changed a lot." Players want cool, unique characters, entertaining stages, and a balanced core gameplay system.
And while "surface level stuff" has changed in the seven years since the last numbered game in the series, Dead or Alive 4
-- an Xbox 360 near-launch title -- was released, Shimbori believes games, at their core, have not really changed so much over the course of the generation.
When he sits down with his team to design a new game, he says, "I still think of what players will want from this experience. When players play this game, what are they going to take away from it? What will they get excited about, what are they really going to have a lot of fun with? That's the core of entertainment, and that's the entertainment experience that we are trying to give to players, and we think that players are still looking for that entertainment experience."
Focusing on the Game Itself
"Other companies have focused on aspects outside of the game to try and get causal players and get other people in," says Shimbori. "We've really tried to keep the entertainment value focused within the core game itself -- to merge those two and keep it focused on the core aspects."
That's how he plans to "break out of the fighting game box" in the words of his boss, Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi, who recently told Gamasutra
he feels that genre can be a trap.
"So you have those blockbuster stages -- that's just entertainment value," says Shimbori. "We have cool characters, blockbuster stages, and that spectacle, and that sense of entertainment as well. That's what sets it apart and opens it up to others."
Being too static, however, does have its dangers. "Certain games, maybe they haven't changed so much," Shimbori says. "You can see in them that fans will leave the fold, if that new, fresh entertainment experience isn't there."
What the Fans Want
The Ninja Gaiden 3
feedback did have one surprising effect on the development of Dead or Alive 5
, Shimbori says. "We were getting feedback from the overseas offices to tone down the sexuality -- to tone down the sexiness of the game, and of the characters," he remembers. But once feedback from fans playing the demo that was included with Ninja Gaiden 3
came in, those plans changed.
"We actually got a lot of feedback from people who were playing it, saying, 'We want bigger breasts. Make the characters more like that.' That was kind of surprising."
"There's definitely still room for having sexualized aspects," Shimbori concludes. "If you have a solid fighting game system there, there's nothing wrong with having beautiful characters as a layer on top of that -- that's another layer of entertainment that there's a need for. If there wasn't a need for it, people wouldn't have responded to the alpha demo like they did, and send us feedback."