What is a metagame?
“Metagame comes into play in any game where no single strategy is dominant and opposing sides are aware of multiple strategies that can succeed dependent upon opponents’ actions. In order to perform at the highest level, it then becomes necessary to think about what your opponent thinks you will do (which may depend on what he thinks you think he thinks he will do, etc.) and to make decisions based on clues regarding what level they are thinking on.”
-Urban Dictionary, the best dictionary there is
Most metagames revolve around one progressing event: players getting better. As the participants in the metagame increase their skill, the layers of strategy and raw skill go deeper and deeper, and the metagame shifts as a result. Top players begin making choices based around what their opponents will probably pick, and the cycle may never end in the long run.
To use Smash 4 as an example, let’s say you and a friend are sitting down for a nice game of Smash. (Let’s assume that the information I’m putting here is correct) He picks Bayonetta: you pick Cloud, and you win because Cloud is a soft counter against Bayonetta. The next game, he picks Sheik against your Cloud because Sheik is good against Cloud, and he wins. Then you pick Diddy Kong against his Sheik because Diddy Kong is good against Sheik, and then he goes back to Bayonetta because Bayonetta (again, for the sake of argument) is a counter against Diddy Kong. At its most basic, you two are thinking about the opponent’s current choice and then opting to gain an advantage by picking a choice that beats his. That is, roughly speaking, a metagame.
Why is the amiibo metagame any different?
The amiibo metagame is very unique. It doesn’t have many close comparisons due to the fact that players themselves aren’t actually involved in the gameplay, only semi-autonomous amiibo. Most of the actual strategy in the amiibo metagame involves working around the amiibo itself to make it perform better. Instead of training an amiibo like you would a normal human student, you have to harness the quirks of its AI so that it succeeds. This indirect strategy means that the amiibo metagame itself also develops differently.
So what causes the amiibo metagame to develop, if it’s so unique?
The amiibo metagame has historically depended on these events to develop:
- Typical organic development (discovery of new information and strategy is usually how metagames develop)
- New amiibo being released (Cloud’s release changed the amiibo meta)
- Balance patches to the game
- Changes to the ruleset
While every metagame relies on the first point to evolve, the amiibo metagame exists in a different vacuum. Changes to the amiibo metagame are reliant on changes to the base game, Super Smash Bros. If a new stage is added or something in the game shifts, logically that will also affect the amiibo metagame.
The most obvious example of this in the Smash 4 metagame is the addition of Cloud (the character). In the human Smash 4 game, Cloud quickly became a dominant character, subordinate only to Bayonetta. He became the optimal choice for many players due to his sheer superiority in nearly every aspect of his character. The same was true in the amiibo metagame: Cloud was quickly spotted as an overwhelmingly powerful amiibo.
Cloud’s addition changed the amiibo metagame in the way you would expect it to. Amiibo that succeeded against Cloud became more popular, and amiibo that didn’t win against Cloud became less popular. This situation played out again towards the end of the Smash 4 metagame, too: when Marcina became the optimal choice, Bowser, their counter, became more popular. It’s the logical conclusion in any metagame: counter the best option.
If this is true, then what’s going to happen with Ultimate and what can we do about it?
In Ultimate, we’re going to see each of these four points play out again. At launch, we’ll have amiibo for each character from Smash 4 plus Ridley, Wolf and Inkling. We might also have the characters listed in my page of shopping links that can be found here, depending on their compatibility. However, many of the characters not in Smash 4 will not have amiibo at first: as they get added, we’re going to have the second point at play. We can rely on new amiibo additions to keep the metagame churning as long as new amiibo will be released. Even if new amiibo take a long time to come out, we’ll still have balance patches and adjustments to the ruleset to make things interesting.
However, we shouldn’t rely on new amiibo to keep the metagame fresh. There are many reasons that the Smash 4 metagame died prematurely, but one of the largest ones was complacency. Rather than dig into the existing amiibo and discover new information to use, we instead sat around and waited for a new amiibo to come out so old players would return. Why do you think Reverse Feeding took so long to discover, unless the community’s focus wasn’t on discovering new things? (I do not mean to take away credit from anyone involved in its discovery: I use it merely as an example.)
Rather than repeat the mistakes of the Smash 4 metagame, when Ultimate releases we should instead be doing our absolute best to research and discover new amiibo techniques. We will start with 60-some amiibo who will likely each have their own quirks – that’s more than enough to keep us busy for a long time, even without the addition of personalities to the game. Pursuing organic development (the first point) should be the first priority of the amiibo community.
Okay, I see your point. What causes organic development to occur?
Organic metagames require a specific value, Labor, to develop. There are some things that can only be discovered after much research and testing occurs. Labor can only be generated either by lots of people, or by a few people with lots of time. The formula is:
Time x People = Labor
The more people we have discovering information, the less time it will take to discover that information. The less people we have, the more time it will take to discover that information. Up until this point, the amiibo community hasn’t had many people. We didn’t have hardly anybody for most of the Smash 4 metagame, but we had a lot of time to discover new information: four years, in fact. During that time, some amiibo were so well explained that we even had detailed guides on their behavior. I wrote a few of them, actually (but took them down once I returned to this blog). There were roughly a dozen guides between myself and the Dojo that thoroughly experimented and tested certain amiibo. That’s pretty great!
…Until you consider the fact that there were 58 amiibo in Smash 4, and we had two different rulesets. We could’ve had 116 amiibo laid out and explained, but we didn’t. Why not?
Well, it wasn’t just due to the community’s lack of focus. We didn’t have enough Labor to discover information and tech. We had plenty of time, but not enough people to make that formula work in our favor. All metagames are like this to an extent: Super Smash Bros Melee has had a lot of time, seventeen years, and a lot of people, at least a million, to develop its metagame. Most of the questions of its metagame are mostly answered by now, and if it weren’t for the fact that Melee is infinitely deep then they would all be answered.
It’s clear now that the Smash 4 amiibo community was not living up to its potential, so what can we do about it?
Now that has a lot less to do with a metagame and a lot more to do with you. There is no metagame without people to develop it. A metagame that lasts for a hundred years but has no players isn’t a metagame at all. Knowing this, we can conclude that we need to get more people into the amiibo metagame, and for a longer period of time. We should be able to retain players, instead of chasing them away save for a core group. There’s many things you, personally, can do to bring in more people to the metagame.
- Follow the accounts I’ve listed in the Twitter accounts page on the sidebar
- Conduct your own research and post it on social media or various websites (like Smashboards or Amino apps)
- Produce your own content and put it in places where like-minded people will find it
- Host and participate in tournaments
- Just be friendly to other amiibo trainers! Outsiders see how we behave towards each other, and when they see too much drama or negativity, they shy away
There’s a lot we as amiibo trainers can do for the metagame, but if we aren’t actively trying to further the metagame and, separately, promote the hobby itself then we’ll end up exactly the same way we were in Smash 4: a dozen people, all bitter at each other huddled in a chat server. This hobby deserves better.