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Tuesday
Oct252011

Banning Gems in Street Fighter X Tekken

I feel like I must be missing some facts about this issue, because the correct course of action seems clear (ban gems or ban the game in tournaments), yet there is debate about it. I may very well be missing facts, so sorry if I'm stating anything incorrectly. It appears that the upcoming fighting game Street Figher x Tekken allows you to customize your character with "gems." Ok that's fine, I have no objection to such an idea. It further appears that you must grind to unlock these gems, and/or buy them, and that some are "pre-order" only. Further, even if all gems were available, actually selecting them is believed to be too time consuming to do match after match at a tournament.

This article on SRK muses about these issues.

As competitive gamers, we should reject games (or parts of games) that violate the concept of fair competition. Those games can still be played "for fun," but not like real tournament games. The reason this question about SFxT seems so clear (if I understand right!) is that "pre-order only" should automatically cause us to ban. That's not an acceptable concept in a competitive game, therefore it must be rejected. We need only figure out what to reject. The choices are: a) those gems, b) all gems, c) the entire game. It is possible that these pre-order-only gems are cosmetic only, or strictly inferior to other gems (that you must buy? that you must grind for?), but we don't know yet.

Grinding to unlock is also unacceptable in a competitive game. It's antithetical to the nature of fair competition, not to mention a major hassle to event-runners. Anything that materially affects gameplay should be available to any would-be competitor right away. This actually means DLC characers are potentially fine. You buy them and they are immediately available. If all gems were possible to buy, then there is no "crime" against competition, we'd just have to see if the game cost $500 or something, ha.

Anything locked away behind some grind is not acceptable though. That's a barrier between the player and the game that we as competitive gamers don't want. We want each other to have access to the real game right away. More and more of this has crept into fighting games, and we've all kind of let it slide, but an entire system based on forced grind (if that's what this is...is it??) should be roundly rejected out-of-hand. Is that what you'd like to become standard? I know I don't. I subtract 1 point out of 10 in each version of Soul Calibur that doesn't let me pick Cervantes the moment I buy it. (Looking at you Soul Calibur 3.)

Yes I'm aware that League of Legends has a forced grind in order to unlock materially important aspects of gameplay. That means it, too, violates the minimum standard of what competitive gamers should accept. (Sorry League of Legends, just make a way to buy a full character, full level, full mastery immediately and you're off the hook.) If we applied this kind of reasoning to Starcraft, it would just be ridiculous. Imagine if you had to grind to unlock the Lurker in Starcraft3, and that Reavers were pre-order only. I used to use that same joke with Street Fighter. "Imagine if you had to grind to unlock Chun Li and that Zangief was pre-order only." But now the joke is getting pretty real. It's scary to think competitive gamers might accept that, which will encourage game companies to go more and more in that direction. Leage of Legends has millions of dollars worth of reasons to coninue doing what it's doing because those gamers *do* accept the idea that it's ok to lock gameplay-affecting things behind a grind and still call it a competitive game. Will that be the future in fighting games as well?

If there really are pre-order only gems that affect gameplay, and if there really is a forced grind to get these hundreds of gems, the competitive community is best served by sending a message that such things aren't acceptable. I personally think the idea of customization in a fighting game is pretty interesting, though. You too might be interested in the gameplay these gems could create. I think the best way to get that is to make sure game developers (not just Capcom, but any fighting game developers at all) see that players won't accept things that violate the spirit of fairness in their tournaments. If Capcom could try again another game that incorporates customization in an acceptable way, that would be nice, and maybe we could use that customization in tournaments. Just keep in mind that other fighting game developers are out there too, and they'll be looking at this situation to see if they should do nonsense like pre-order only Mitsurugi and grind-to-unlock a +5 sword for Mitsurugi. They can absolutely make that game, I just wouldn't want to have to play it at a tournament, and especially not at Evolution. On the other hand, when stuff like this is an optional mode that I can mess around with and turn off for competitive play, that's no problem at all. In fact, it sounds fun. Well not the pre-order only part.

Finally, there's the issue of selecting the gems before each match. I think this one is somehow solvable with good UI or something, but I don't happen to know how off the top of my head. If each player really has to select several gems from a list of hundreds before each match, that's actually not feasible in a tournament. Button config already takes a huge amount of time in tournaments, too much really. Picking gems out of a list of hundreds might be reason enough to disallow them in tournaments, just for time-reasons. If you haven't been to a tournament (or watched a stream) you might very well underestimate the importance of this. Once you are waiting for hundreds (or thousands!) of players to select gems before each match, you will see how big of a time-sink it becomes and how hard it becomes to run an event Again, I think this one is solvable...somehow. We just don't know if SFxT will do a good job of solving it yet. Maybe?

Customization sounds fun and interesting. But remember that your "vote" counts as a competitive player. If we accept more and more unfairness in supposedly competitive games, then game companies will give us more and more grind-to-unlock Lurkers and pre-order-only Reavers.

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TLDR version: we have no real choice but to ban SFxT gems in competitive play, or ban the whole game. Either way, make sure your vote is heard on this issue, becuase it will affect more and more fighting games in the future.

Reader Comments (72)

The same critique could be made against Magic The Gathering, no?

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Grové

I think the main point you missed is that it was stated that you can't "turn off" gems - they have to be used

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyne

Thomas, yeah it sure could. It seems the market has spoken on that and they voted for a big barrier to entry instead of equal access to the real game. I actually asked a developer at Magic the Gathering if I could someday get a subscription option for $15/month to have full access to the real game, and that right now I'm willing to pay $0 because of how terrible it is. I mean $300+ for a single deck, it's like a joke, so I don't pay anything. He said not enough people think like me, and they make more by having that big barrier.

I'm actually working on a customizable (but not collectable) card game that does it totally differently though. You'll just be able to buy the game like any other, and not for like $300 per deck. Hopefully there is a market for that too, as it makes more sense as a fair competition.

Ryne: no I didn't overlook that. From what I heard, you can select no gems, but you can't stop the opponent from selecting no gems. Therefore you can have a tournament rule that just disallows picking gems (just like you can have a tournament rule that disallows picking ST Akuma). Good luck practicing online though, that would suck.

October 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I can see quite some parallels to TF2 here. But at least the game has the option to instantly buy anything that is affecting gameplay.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHenke37

Agree with everything, it seems so straightforward to ban them. The only point I wanted to raise is in regards to LoL. While it is true, there are grind elements to it, in practice it works out slightly differently than SFxT.

In a console based fighter, all data is stored locally, on the console used within the actual tourney. This means that different machines within a tourney likely have different set ups, and potentially different accessible gems. TOs would have to grind out all the gems for many machines, taking hundreds or potentially thousands of hours to prepare for a tourney. Pre-order only gems worsens the problem.

In LoL, when a tournament player logs on, they log on to their own account, even if using the lan-based tournament server. So a player brings in whatever they have earned. While it is *unfair* in the sense that a new player does not have the same ability to play as an experienced player, it doesn't really cause that many problems. There's a maximum cap to the glyphs which can be purchased, which can be used at your level, and unlike WoW or other MMO PVP, you don't need to worry about random drops or anything silly like that. Online matchmaking puts you against people of your level, so you have as many slots for glyphs as they do, and have likely earned about the same amount of IP (the in-game currency used to purchase them)

I think the reason they didn't include the ability to just buy glyphs with real money is to denote that it is not intended to be a play to win game. I know I wouldn't play if people could drop $50 bucks and leave me at a disadvantage.

It's a shame because when they were talking about tag mechanics I was honestly getting hyped for this game. Ah well, there's always TxSF...

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Kevin, actually I do know those things and it doesn't change my opinion at all. I would never consider playing a "competitive" game like that where anything had to be grinded for any reason. That it doesn't have to be regrinded at a tournament is irrelevant. That matchmaking "solves" it is also irrelevant. I thought we are all supposed to be playing and learning the same game here, not a bunch of different games (at different power levels). You say you wouldn't play if someone could pay $50 to have more power than you. Ok fine. That really means either a) charging for the real game would expose that it's too expensive to play or b) it would still be a reasonable price, in which case why even object. I mean I wouldn't play a game where grinding for more than 0 seconds gave you any advantage whatsoever. It's an anti-competitive concept. It's very unfortunate that the market has spoken in favor of it. Competitive gamers everywhere are going to get worse (grind-to-unlock) games because of it.

This stuff should be left to vacuous facebook games, not games that are intended to be a medium of competition.

October 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

(Cross-posted from an IRC channel, so grammar might be a little off.)

"He [Sirlin] makes the argument that gems should be banned whole-hog from SFxT simply because SOME are locked away behind pre-order and grind."

"I might argue under that assumption that there should be a defined set of "not banned gems" that would fall under these conditions: -The set of gems that a player has access to the first time he boots up the game, ever, if he bought the game used.- (Because you know some gems will be locked behind First-Sale as well as Pre-Order)"

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmp

@Henke37
I actually think TF2 is a pretty good(not perfect) model of doing it right.
Since even though you have to grind/buy to get new weapons, they are not necessarily superior weapons. Since in theory all of the unlockables are just new options, not upgrades. In fact for a lot of the classes the default loadout is the best loadout, with exception to most of the default melee weapons

So in relating this to SFxT if Capcom made no exclusive gameplay gems and gave you viable gems to start with(or less preferably made them extremely easy to unlock) I would have no problems with SFxT.

Oh except Ryu looks ridiculous with floating rainbow gems.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShawn

Your position seems hypocritical, Sirlin, given your professed admiration of MvC3, a game which does require you to grind to unlock characters. I don't know if you mean that you would never play that game competitively, but you've already made your vote by buying the product.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFivec

Was hoping you'd weigh in, Sirlin, and as always your insight is thoughtful and on the ball.

I, too, wouldn't care so much if the gem system was merely one of customization sans a grind (or a pre-order only component). The grind is the death turkey, and everything else, from gem selection in tournaments, is deadly gravy.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos Alexandre

Fivec: Is grinding to unlock characters in MvC3 ok? No it's not. It's a stupid idea that should not be in the game. At least it's fast, something like 100x faster than in LoL, but that's beside the point, it's still bad. I also think trans fats are bad to have in food, but if you found me eating one food once that had some, it's not "hypocritical." The badness of transfats remains either way. Also, I said in my original post that we've been accepting grind stuff and letting it slide, but that an entire new system that seems to exist just to grind is really in your face, over the line. Pre-order only and there a system just to grind (if that's what it is...I still don't even know!) is like miles and miles worse than 20 mins of training mode MvC3 where you get everything without even having to do anything.

I'm sorry I do not meet your holier than thou status though, in that I did buy MvC3. Again, the point stands just the same whether I did or did not buy it. We are going to vote again with this thing that commits far deeper crimes than MvC3 ever did. (MvC3 is a pretty good game, btw.)

October 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

The solution to gem selection is simple. There are 9 directions on an arcade stick, and at least 6 buttons. That's 54 possible one-button inputs. Adding a second input increases that number to almost 3000. Ostensibly, there would be a gem library of some sort where one can find a list of all the gems in the game, and their unique button combinations. The "power up on the third punch of a combo" gem could be down + jab followed by up-forward + fierce.

According to Capcom, all of the gems available at launch will be on the disc. This means that the store-specific and pre-order exclusive gems are likely just unlock codes. 3sOE set the example of DLC as an optional, easy way of unlocking features in a fighting game (in that case, a boss character and some dip switches). The alternative is playing through the single player mode several times.

I'm holding out hope that, in the interest of facilitating high-level competition in their game the way they intended, Capcom will provide some method of making the full library available for everyone who owns the game, even if it's with some restriction. I don't think most people would be opposed to having all the gems available offline for local play, but having to grind or pay to use some of them online.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervgambit

I'd be much more comfortable with grinding to unlock features than paying to do so, which is why I'm somewhat surprised by your stance in this. I'm not sure I'm ok with any (priced) downloadable content which can seriously affect how the game plays, and I suspect that this gem system is spearheading a serious expansion of that kind of model for fighting games, which is, I think, the primary reason that SFxT might be a good candidate for a community boycott.

You say that the existence of priced downloadable features isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the consumer can still decide whether or not the "real game" is fairly priced, but can we always know what the real game will look like at the end of the day? Paying for downloadable content, even additional characters, is a tacit acceptance of an after-the-fact manipulation of the game system that the community may or may not support, is it not? At least with grinding, you're actually being exposed to the core of the game mechanics without sacrifice from your pocketbook. I don't like it either, but at least it doesn't smack of a pay-to-win system that you actively rejected with Yomi.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFivec

If a developer released a game with, say, 10 or 20 characters then worked hard to add two more characters to the game and charged for them, that seems totally normal to me. They did work and you paid for it. If you're talking about a thing where you can pay like an unreasonable amount for a bunch of DLC that you need to have "the whole game"...like enough that it's $300 per deck like MTG, then you can reject it from the start because it's a way to charge way more for a game than you think is fair.

The point is, not every possible kind of DLC you pay for should be rejected. There is the ok kind. But every possible kind of forced grind for necessary functionality should be rejected. There is no reason to force that on players at all, ever, period. Offering it as an option to avoid paying...ok sure. But no reason to *force* it ever.

I know exactly why developers make such terrible decisions on this, too. The casual crowd is huge and they like unlocking stuff. So the manager at some game company is giving people what they want. The bad logic here is that it's possible to please that casual player WITHOUT making a serious mistake with competitive players. All you have to do is make unlocks that are not core functionality. Costumes, artwork, stages (in games where stages are just art), trophies, etc, etc. The minute you make a tournament feature like a character a forced-grind-unlock, you violated what should be an important concept in competitive play: the concept that you work to get better at a game, you don't do busy-work to be allowed to access it. Everyone should have equal access from the first millisecond, as they always have had in fighting games, chess, starcraft, and other such things.

October 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Starcraft 2 did this well: Tons of unlocks and customization for single player, but leave the competitive multiplayer alone.

I have claimed for ages now that LoL is not a real competitive game. Long-timers have giant mathematical advantages (on top of their experience and knowledge). But you know what? Only very few people want a competitive and fair game. Most want to win. That is why PayToWin is such a huge success. Most people just prefer an unfair game, because they delude themselves that they are awesome, when in reality, they just paid 500$.

As for CCGs: Look at FFGs Living Card Games. I quite like their concept, but it's just not big enough where I live, so I can hardly ever play it.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKdansky

This grind for gameplay relevant stuff is what made me quit TF2. Thankfully, SC2 is a safe haven from this nonsense: you buy the game, and that's it (plus 2 expansions with 2 year gaps in-between, but you get the point). I really hate the trend, so it'd be unfortunate if fighting games would follow FPSs down this route.

Also, I thought the Living Card Game format was pretty much a 15$/month subscription model, but you were critical of that, too. Is that because you'll probably end up introducing some bloat to keep this model going?

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpkt-zer0

This does make me really sad that that grinding is now infecting otherwise competitive fighting games too.. I wrote about a lot of this last year but I was hoping this would never reach FGs..
"Luckily for me as a fighting game fan the attitude I see from the competitive fighting game community is generally exactly the opposite to this – fighting game fans generally despise grinding for unlockable characters as they are well aware this can unfairly imbalance games"
It seems this may not be the case any more, but I hope not. :-/

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRik Newman (Remy77077)

The Call of Duty and Battlefield series have each gone down this path even further with forcing you to grind in order to get fundamental class features.

The medic must grind to be allowed to heal and revive. The engineer must grind to be allowed to repair things. The grinding takes hours for each class. This would be like being forced to grind for hours in multiplayer as Ryu before you can fireball. It's absolute garbage in otherwise great games.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbrized

The problem I see with banning gems in tournaments is that you're creating an environment that is much different than the way most people will play at home. And since it's been indicated that you won't be able to create matches disallowing gems, it'd be hard for a "no gem" community to form online. I think this would limit the number of people who would want to play in a tournament, as it would be hard for most people to get any practice. Of course, allowing gems has its own host of problems, so I'm guessing this game won't see much action at tournaments.

The gem system seems like an attempt to emulate in some ways the trend in FPS's. If I'm getting dominated in Modern Warfare match after match, I might still keep playing if I'm unlocking weapons and perks. There can be a sense of accomplishment even though I'm not winning. I think Capcom might be trying to create a similar kind of "stickiness" for fighting games by doling out gems every so often.

However, to take the Modern Warfare analogy further, this pre-order scheme is akin to getting a different gun depending on which retailer buy at, and not being able to get them all unless you get the special edition. The FPS community would not accept that and I hope the fighting game community doesn't either.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersteesefactor

Sirlin: I agree that DLC which affects game fundamentals that is present or announced before you have the option to purchase the game is more or less ok, but that's not always the case with these games. Mortal Kombat, for instance, seems to be on a schedule of releasing priced downloadable characters once or twice a month whether or not the game ecosystem would benefit from these characters or not. It's simply a cash grab, and an unwelcome one for players who like the game as is.

I think a lot of players don't put up much of a fight on this issue because it doesn't affect how they play the game to a significant degree, but imagine if Yun and Yang were SFIV DLC? That's basically pay-to-win, and I can certainly envision a SFxT DLC schedule which looks a lot like that. It's a bigger problem to me than grinding.

As to banning gems in tournaments, I agree with steesefactor that that's not a good option. Either ban the game or allow gems. A decision might have to be made as to what gems are selectable, and that might be a lot more clear-cut that some people imagine. We'll just have to wait and see.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFivec
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