"The Problem with 2D Fighters" by rexdart
The way I see it, there are two problems in the 2D fighting community that prevents it from growing beyond its current niche market. All I have to support this is anecdotal evidence, so I'd be happy to hear counter-examples.
1. Fans of 2D fighters are disinclined to try new things.
The 2D fighting genre in itself rewards those who stick to the status quo. I went into a pretty popular arcade recently, and what did I see people playing? Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority were playing Third Strike. A smaller number were playing MvC2 and CvS2. A Guilty Gear Slash and Melty Blood game saw a bit of action, but nothing major. A Capcom Fighting Evolution machine in the corner was turned off.
It's no surprise that fans tend to stick to what they know. In a way, it makes a great deal of sense. In order to become good at a fighting game, you need to invest a great deal of time in learning the mechanics of the game and your character of choice. The problem is that this creates a disincentive to switch to a new game. You have to re-learn your character, re-learn the system, and just hope that you're as good at it as you were at the first game. Why should they invest all that time and effort, when they're winning at the current game they're playing? I certainly can't come up with a logical reason.
You may have encountered people who used to play Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat 2 back in the day. I've met people who were actually surprised to learn that they still made 2D fighters. They also feel that SF2 or MK2 was, unquestionably, the best 2D fighter ever made. I think this is because the earliest 2D fighter fans saw little reason to continue to follow the genre when it only meant they'd lose more often.
Often times, people who continually play as Ryu, Ken, Kyo or Iori are called scrubs. Really, though, why shouldn't they stick to what they know? Learning new characters only means they'll lose more often, and there is no fun in losing, especially when fighting strangers. This leads into the second problem of 2D games. Namely, that learning to play requires a lot commitment.
2. New-comers to the genre face obstacles, and are generally unwelcome.
I suck at first-person shooters. Nonetheless, I've had friends devote a lot of time to trying to teach me how not to suck at Halo. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful, but they had a good reason for attempting this. I was going to be on their team at a Halo party later that day, and they wanted to make sure I didn't suck so they'd have a better chance at winning.
People who suck at 2D fighters have no such benefits. With the exception of some tag-team games, most 2D fighters are one on one. Even when I've tried to teach my friends to get better at them, they often accuse me of just using them as a body to beat up. Otherwise, they just grow frustrated and give up. Those without friends to help them just get told they suck.
A part of this problem is that much of the learning process in fighting games is pure memorization. It's nothing intuitive about a ninety-degree motion forward on the joystick in combination with a punch button producing a fireball. Fans have simply memorized it to the point that it seems intuitive. But for different characters in different games, the same motion can produce any number of actions. Not only that, but new-comers must learn an entirely new lingo just to begin to memorize these actions. Consider this exchange between a friend and me when playing Third Strike:
Friend: "What's his super move!?"
Me: "It's double quarter-circle forward punch."
Friend: "That means nothing to me!"
In an FPS, if someone tells you to shoot your enemy in the head, it's the same basic action no matter what game you're playing. In a turn-based RPG, if you want to use a healing item, it's essentially the same action. Sure the interface or button-mapping might be different, but it takes a short time to get around them. However, trying to do a super move involves actual research.
None of this is helped by the fact that fans will either not want to play with them or tell them that they suck while they try to learn the mechanics of the game.
Another issue at work here is that an increasing amount of gamers (casual gamers, if you will) are not action gamers. Fast reflexes and hand-eye coordination (what fighting games most require) are two things this new breed of gamer does not have. Gamasutra posted an excellent article by Ernest Adams on the problems faced by the action genre. It's a good read if you have the time.
2D fighters are teh DOOOOOOOOOMED!!
No, but seriously. They face some incredible challenges if they ever want to expand beyond the niche genre they've become. As is, there are good reasons why game companies would be wise to abandon the genre and why newcomers would be inclined to ignore it.
I would love to see more tag-team games to try to reduce some of the alienation involved in getting into a fighter. More importantly, I feel that fans need to realize that 2D fighters are not just unpopular because of "graphic whores" or "those damn kids with their GTA." As hard as it may be, I think fans should try to be more sensitive to n00bs.
ATMA NOTE: I will point out that a lot of people in the arcade that night were practicing for a tournament, so the results were a bit skewed, but the trend is definitely real regardless. I don't have too much else to add or detract, as I mostly agree, I just wonder whether most 2D fighting fans are really all that eager to expand the demographic.