Fighting game developers need to start taking local PC multiplayer seriously

There has never been a better time to be a PC fighting game player. Fighting games are finally receiving simultaneous releases on both PC and consoles, resources for crafting your own PC arcade joystick have never been more readily available, and PC fighting games are releasing with expanded feature sets larger than even their console counterparts.

With all that said, though, there is one feature that AAA fighting game developers routinely ignore in their PC releases: local multiplayer, also known as the versus mode.

Swapping Controllers

Of course, any developer would be crazy to completely omit local multiplayer from their PC release, so no one does. Instead we get a bugged, glitched, unstable version of VS mode that pales in comparison to its console counterpart, especially in the one area that matters most: controllers.

If you’ve never been part of a large fighting game community, you probably don’t know how important controllers are to the experience. Everyone has their favorite controller. Some people play on a joystick, some on gamepad, some on hit-box stickless joysticks, and there are even PC players who have come to prefer USB keyboards as their input device of choice. For any group larger than two members to effectively play a fighting game, the game has to let you unplug and replug your controllers between each match.

On consoles this always works, and for good reason. Consoles are the primary platform on which fighting game tournaments are run. If Daigo Umehara couldn’t plug in his own fighting stick for a Street Fighter V tournament, the tournament would stop right then and there.

But, for some reason, fighting game developers think the PC crowd doesn’t know how to interact with each other face to face, so they often don’t include this very basic functionality. Both Guilty Gear XRD Rev2 and BlazBlue Central Fiction are two major Arc System Works titles that hit the PC this year. What happens if you unplug your controller while playing these games? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The game doesn’t recognize a new controller, or even your old controller if you plug it back in. It just stops reading inputs and the only thing you can do is close the game and restart it to get it to recognize your controller again.

This makes playing in versus mode on the PC basically impossible if the players care about what controllers they are using at all. As soon as someone wants to switch controllers you have to completely close the game to get it to recognize any new input device. This takes way too long in a casual setting, let alone a tournament setting.

So you might be thinking, “Just leave all three controllers pugged in!” This makes sense, since the console versions of these popular fighting games can recognize more than two controllers and allow you to choose which ones will be used prior to a versus match. Not so in the PC versions, which only recognize the first two controllers you plug in. You absolutely have to quit the game just to change around your controllers.

That’s absurd.

The Case for PC Tournaments

It’s not because we don’t have the technology. In fact, in a weird turn of events, indie games far exceed AAA titles when it comes to local PC multiplayer. Both Skullgirls and Under Night In-Birth allow more than three controllers to be connected at once, and allow you to disconnect and reconnect controllers with the game still open without any issue. In fact, most indie games handle controllers of all types just fine.

However, AAA games, for some reason, don’t. Street Fighter V, for example, only recognized Xinput devices, i.e. Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers. This is doubly bizarre because Street Fighter V wasn't even released on an Xbox console! There’s no overlap between people who use Xbox controllers and people who Street Fighter V was marketed to.

There’s no reason it should be this way. PC fighting game releases should be a boon to the fighting game community, especially tournament organizers. Technically, PCs are controller agnostic. Both an Xbox One and PlayStation 4 fight stick will be recognized by Windows (just check the USB controller properties window). Think about how much easier that feature could make it to run tournaments on PCs. You wouldn’t need to provide backup controllers or controller converters. People could bring fight sticks from three generations ago and they should still work.

If you wanted to do the same for a tournament run on consoles, you’d need to buy a converter for every single off-console controller. These converters are pretty handy, but also cost 50-100 dollars each! Even a small group of players would need to spend several hundred dollars just to update their controllers for a new console generation, and even more if they wanted to actually update their controller PCBs.

And that's not to mention that it’s just easier to provide setups for PC fighting game tournaments. Running a tournament on console requires several lagless monitors, HDMI cables, HDMI splitters for capture devices, computers that can capture the external feed for Twitch, and much more. Running a tournament on a PC requires…a PC. Preferably a gaming laptop. The laptop is its own lagless monitor, it doesn’t need capture devices since it can just run screen capture software, and all audio devices can be plugged directly into it. It’s far cheaper and far easier to set up. In fact, PCs would be the tournament platform of choice if fighting game software simply handled controllers in an intelligent way.

Developers, Listen Up

Why am I bringing all this up now? Well, it didn’t matter too much for the last few years because fighting games were in a bit of a slump. We saw one major release a year, maybe two if we were lucky. People just weren’t getting together in big groups to play fighting games, which made it easy to overlook these controller flaws.

Recently though, that’s all been changing. We have already seen the release of Injustice 2, Tekken 7, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, and Blazblue Central Fiction this year, with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite and Dragon Ball FighterZ on the horizon. Both MVCI and DBFZ are slated to come out on PCs, but MVCI is made by Capcom, who didn’t handle controllers well in Street Fighter V’s PC release, and DBFZ is made by Arc System Works, who didn’t handle controllers well in Guilty Gear or Blazblue. The two biggest upcoming fighting game releases might be near unplayable on the PC, and that’s a serious problem!

So Capcom, Bandai Namco, and Arc System Works, listen up! We know you have the money to make this work. We’ve seen much smaller companies with much smaller teams do so much more than you when it comes to local PC multiplayer. Stop treating PC gamers as an afterthought. You could rule the PC market and top the PC charts if you only spent a little bit of effort in your ports. There is a ravenous PC fighting game crowd out there, starved for content, desperate to hold their own tournaments and meetup nights, and you are depriving them because of something as trivial as controller drivers. I don’t care if you copy and paste Lab Zero’s code, just make it work–because as it stands now, the way you handle controllers in your PC ports is simply inexcusable.