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Team Ninja learns to fear its fans
Team Ninja learns to fear its fans
September 26, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

September 26, 2012 | By Christian Nutt
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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.

Backlash

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."


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Comments


John Purdy
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"We actually got a lot of feedback from people who were playing it, saying, 'We want bigger breasts."

Are you kidding me, out of everything that people could have complained about, the boob size was a big concern for people?

Jeferson Soler
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@ John Purdy - I agree with you! It is rather depressing and sad when players worry more about breast size than about gameplay, game mechanics, storyline, etc.

Thomas Grove
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DoA has always been about "boob bounce". I think it is right for fans to complain if it was reduced or removed. If you don't like boob bounce you can play the less-boob version which is called Virtua Fighter.

Kelthar Kanyl
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@Jeferson Soler Then the gameplay, mechanics and other must have been pretty good since the only thing needed is larger tits =). If it's what the fans wants, it's what the fans shall get!

Dedan Anderson
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@Thomas Grove - please don't belittle VF like that ;-)

Jeferson Soler
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@ Kelthar Kanyl - I'm not so sure if the "fans" even paid attention to gameplay, mechanics, and other key game elements. It sounds more like that they zeroed in on the breasts and ignored everything else, like zeroing in on a black dot and ignoring the rest of the big picture. That in itself is a problem and I have to agree with Jakub Majewski's comment.

Louis Sedeno
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Despite what the "fans" wanted I really enjoy the game. They made a few tweaks to my main fighter Ayane, so I had to reconsider my punishing strategy. Also I was glad that they went back to two mid holds instead of the single mid hold for punch and kick, as it was in the alpha. The game may not be as technical as VF, but it is fun and exciting to play. It also is very satisfying to punish new players that spam strings. Story mode, I never cared about so I have no complaints. I can jump in and just fight some one in moments and have a solid experience. Having said all that I wish they would have added more depth to the fantastical strikes that send players into hazards. They are too easy to execute and easy to counter hold. :)

J G
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@Jeferson Soler
Most fans only care about the sex appeal of the game, yeah. But there are some(in the "fighting game community" as it is called, for example) who fixate primarily on mechanics, which DOA5 seems to be greatly improved in versus DOA4, from what i've heard.
I think that in general, most gamers dont actually care about gameplay, Just look at video game reviews: Actual aspects of gameplay and how it has changed are merely glossed over, and most of the emphasis is on loose notions of enjoyment and aspects like graphics, some loose evaluation of story, some loose statement of "if you like this genre you'll like this, if you don't, you won't" etc.
I dont think this is merely a matter of DOA5 fans but this is a matter of what makes interested in games. Most people dont treat games *as games*(using the word like how chess is a "Game"), they treat them as entertainment packages. A game could be vastly improved from the last one(soul calibur 5), but if it doesn't have enough "content"(aka mediocre filler single player content, or some character which got replaced with one with a similar but better designed movement) Then it sucks.
This is much more than a sexuality-focus concern; this is about how gamers view games at all.

Jeferson Soler
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@ J G - Fair enough!

"Most fans only care about the sex appeal of the game, yeah. But there are some(in the "fighting game community" as it is called, for example) who fixate primarily on mechanics, which DOA5 seems to be greatly improved in versus DOA4, from what i've heard."

I'm glad to hear that, but I'm not too surprised by that. There are game players that enjoy the DoA series for other reasons and not for the sex appeal. Even I have to admit that things are not black and white when it comes to the gaming community.

Jakub Majewski
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Poetic justice.

The DoA series was basically soft porn. They figured they had been making good games, but the reality is that the people who bought the games didn't care at all about the gameplay, only about the soft porn aspect. The developers learned that the hard way when they themselves got tired of making porn.

Lesson: just don't produce porn, and you may well have fans who are interested in more than bouncing breasts.

Jeferson Soler
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@ Jakub Majewski - I for one didn't buy a DoA fighting game (I don't care for the "fan" service spin-offs) for the soft porn aspect and wouldn't have a problem with the company taking that soft porn element out of the game. I would actually feel comfortable with the lack of the soft porn aspect.

Nicola Dolci
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The one DoA I played was... 3, on the old XboX. At the time it looked like the more sober in a slew of fighting games with more explicit/suggestive art. (then I guess the beach volley spin off pushed the whole franchise in a different direction...)

Jason Long
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"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?"
When I first read that quote, my thought was, "The answer to all those questions for DOA5 is breasts." My prediction was proven right in the last segment.

I hope developers (and marketing departments) realize by now that this is the exact opposite of creating "a broad, inviting 'entertainment' experience that captures a wide audience." You are, in fact, limiting your audience considerably (and in this case, alienating over half the population). It also doesn't do a lot for the reputation of the industry as a whole to have yet another "bouncing boobs 5."

When people have arguments about sexism in video game culture, I think this article is an excellent example of why it is such a problem and how individual companies can choose whether or not to take a stand.

Kenan Alpay
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"When people have arguments about sexism in video game culture, I think this article is an excellent example of why it is such a problem and how individual companies can choose whether or not to take a stand."

I totally agree, but they've painted themselves into a corner because this game is in a long running series. The proper way to do this is to create a new IP, which is of course riskier. Rebooting a series is very difficult and can lead to a lot of backlash. It is kind of sad that they didn't take a stand in this case, but they are beholden to a publisher.

Ujn Hunter
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Why does every game have to create "a broad, inviting 'entertainment' experience that captures a wide audience."? We're getting to a point where every game is trying to be the same thing. I for one welcome having different experiences and games that don't try to be something for everyone. Games like this shouldn't try to be something they're not. That is why Ninja Gaiden 3 failed. It might have been a decent "action" game... but it was a crappy "Ninja Gaiden" game.

J G
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There is a difference between having sex appeal and from being sexist, even if you resort ot the intellectually barren argument regarding "objectification.(Here's a hint: that rests too heavily on subjectivity in terms of what aspects generate enough sexual interest to make someone objectified, is an extremely narrow and politically-serving view of sexuality, and someone who exerts force and expresses will cannot really be an object)

And guess what? Video games are a broad medium and nothing in them will ever appeal to everyone! See my quote from tycho below.

Jason Long
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@Kenan Alpay: I agree that creating DOA5 is already an exercise in limiting your audience. The long-time fans (a small segment of the population but undoubtedly vocal) have expectations that do not mesh with "capturing a wide audience" - however, is a wide audience going to even pay attention to this title given its series' history? Team Ninja has an opportunity to more forward and find out just how well a more inclusive game may do - while risking losing some of their core support in the process. The theme of the article seems to indicate that they are not willing to take that bet.

@J G: The argument that video games are a broad medium is a distraction/fallacy; certainly video games are a wide medium, but why are sexist depictions so over-represented, and why are people defending that? The broader point is that any bad thing is ok because there are lots of options to fit different tastes, but that's just not the case: there are not that many options, and one particular taste is extremely pervasive. (Also, Tycho Brahe is an asshole and I wouldn't rely on him for worldly wisdom or effective arguing points.)

Mike Motoda
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"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."

This really hits home for me. Unfortunately, this is why I don't buy Final Fantasy games anymore. Although they were starting to lose me at FF8, they returned to their core for the next two games. After that, though, I'm not sure what happened. I respect those games for their polish and wanting to try new things. I just think they stray way too far from the core formula that gained the series so many fans in the first place. Just my opinion, though... I know a lot of series vets love the latest installments.

Michael Pianta
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I feel like this happens sooner or later with every series. It makes me sad, but may be unavoidable. Often when I play a game I find myself wondering why they made certain design decisions. It's as though I understood what made the series good or special better than the actual developers did. But, unless Nintendo gives me the chance to design a Zelda game, I'll never know if I could ACTUALLY do it better than them...

Joshua Griffiths
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This is what happens when you base an industry on modern wars and half naked women. Gamers can't grow up until the developers do, and so far that isn't happening.

J G
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I'll just quote Tycho from Penny Arcade:
"I don’t understand what it is about the idea of a “medium” that people find so confusing; it’s a conceptual space where works that share certain characteristics may occur. Nobody is going to approve of the entire continuum. There’s no shortage of games for the broadest possible audience - there isn’t, and grotesque sums are being made seeking the wide part of the curve. There are also niches, as in any ecology. You can certainly find things you don’t like, but those things aren’t anti-matter; when they come into contact with things you do like, there is no hot flash which obliterates both. This totalizing dialogue, where “everything” and “everyone” is this or that, and here are the teams, and morality is a linear abstraction as opposed to its three dimensional reality is a crock of fucking shit. "

There will always be stuff on modern warfare and naked women in video games. Some people dont like these and dont buy them and support other titles, some people *gasp!* like them and support such titles. Are there too many? Sure. But acting like there is some sort of collective responsibility to "grow up" is intellectually barren.

Matthew Dickinson
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A W
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Eh covered bouncing digital breast is not that big of a deal to me. DOA has a trademark that the developers tried to wean out of with this 3rd installment and that can cost them some points but probably not overall sales. The core mechanics are still in place so fans should be happy with what they get. Besides the reality is that you are looking at the characterization of a 3d avatar with a female design and not a real life woman. So if the fans missed something they just don't get to experience or see in real life then the developers should think about whether they want to go back to that or not next go around. Games are fantasies after all.

Characterizing the first games as soft core porn may be disingenuous too. It may be fair to say that about the Vollyball fan service installments but DOA has been a good solid fighting game for the most part.


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