There has been a lot of discussion lately about making fighting games more accessible, and with good reason: The genre is in danger of becoming irrelevant to the mainstream market once again.
To examine this, I’ve come up with three possible paths that fighting games could go down. We'll start with the most grim, then the most logical, and finally, the most difficult.
Path 1: The fall of Capcom (and rise of other developers)
In my opinion, this path is the most likely outcome. In fact, it is pretty much already happening what with the dwindling sales of Capcom fighters and Namco Bandai's consistent sales for the Tekken series. Capcom relies on making sequels and new crossovers (in other words, pretty much anything that isn't an original IP) to satisfy their dedicated fans, but forces that same demographic to stagnate by trying to add a few gimmicky features to help even the playing field with casual players.
Casuals are obviously the bigger group, so appealing to them means more money, which explains the perceived need for gimmicks. However, even these new features don't cut it for them, and in the end it's the competitive audience that gets more out of high-level play. So when you put competitive players and casuals in the same battlefield, who ends up winning? The answer is obvious, and it ends with casuals losing interest in the game. The hardcore fans will still flock to whatever the company makes, but if this continues, sales will keep dwindling.
Pretty soon, the company will no longer turn in profits and will stay away from fighting games before eventually coming back with Street Fighter V or whatever. Additionally, companies like Namco Bandai will continue to thrive by making good games, instead of just good fighting games.
Path 2: Becoming a niche genre
This would be a very smart path to take (as evidenced by recent games like Skullgirls). From the very beginning, Skullgirls targeted competitive players (particularly Marvel vs. Capcom 2 fans), which is obviously a very small demographic. While selling over 50,000 units in a little over a week is depressing for a full-on commercial game, it is tremendous good news for a smaller downloadable title like this. If Capcom were smart, they would follow suit by making smaller games and focus on pure fighting without pooling so many resources on cutting-edge 3D graphics and tacked-on casual features. This way, Capcom would still be able to turn in a profit despite targeting such a small audience.
Path 3: Evolution
The genre needs to evolve. This would entail more robust single-player modes to immerse new players into the fighting-game world while creatively "tricking" them into learning the basic mechanics. As a result, through simply playing the game, beginners would be able to jump into competitive play with some knowledge they could apply in a real online match.
However, players should be able to have fun whether they go competitive or stay at a casual level, which is why games like Mortal Kombat and the Tekken series have thrived. Both feature competitive multiplayer as well as extra modes and challenges that are a nice change of pace for those who wish to take a break from online play (or completely avoid it).
It's very possible for Capcom (or any other company) to maintain the top-notch visuals and overall production values while still making a well-designed single-player campaign mode. Of course, they would need to create an all new IP so as to not produce any bad blood for established fans (people tend to be afraid of change).
Although a Street Fighter action-adventure game might not be a bad idea….