Note: The following is an opinion article.
If you’ve discussed the Smash Ballot for any length of time, usually someone will bring up who will “win” the ballot. Often, fans assume that the character who gets the most votes wins the ballot and will be added as DLC for Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U. However, this does not appear to be the case when we look at what Nintendo has said about the ballot. Instead, it appears to be more of a suggestion box. In the April 1st 2015 Nintendo Direct, Iwata described the ballot as follows:
I imagine that you have some fighters in mind yourself. Can you think of anyone you’d like to see fight against characters like Mario or Link in Super Smash Brothers? Well, after discussing it with Smash Brothers director, Masahiro Sakurai, we’ve decided to open the new Smash Brothers Fighter Ballot on the Smash Brothers microsite after this Nintendo Direct. With this form, you can let us know, directly, which characters you’d like to see become the next new fighter in Super Smash Brothers. Of course, please understand that we won’t be able to accommodate every request, but Mr. Sakurai and the rest of the staff will take each request into consideration when developing additional fighters. We look forward to hearing from you.
*-emphasis is mine
Mr. Iwata does not mention anywhere that character selection is based on popularity. In fact, he describes the ballot as a suggestion box more than voting for the next character in a popularity contest. Furthermore, he stated that Sakurai and the staff will consider every request. If the ballot was truly a popularity contest, Sakurai and the staff would ignore requests that have few votes. Therefore, characters will likely not be chosen solely on who gets the most votes. Sakurai has not stated what his criteria are for choosing characters from the Smash Ballot; likewise, he has has not stated that the most requested characters will be added as DLC.
That’s not to say a popular character will not be chosen, nor that being highly requested isn’t an important factor when choosing the next character. A major reason Nintendo is doing the Smash Ballot is to maximize profit. By having fans request characters for DLC, Nintendo is ensuring that the characters who will be downloaded the most (i.e. the most popular) are the ones being produced. Furthermore, as I discussed in the DLC Econ 101 article, Nintendo can not produce an infinite amount of DLC since fans will get less utility from each character added. Hence, Nintendo must make the right selection of fighter by choosing the characters fans want to see the most. Sakurai further supports that development if finite by stating ” I can’t keep the development team together forever, so there’s only going to be several more characters.”
Sakurai also stated that “From now on, it is going to be fan service.” His statement implies that popularity would be important since those characters are chosen by fans. As it naturally should be. Nintendo is making a suggestion box for these characters. If fan suggestions are important, that the ones who appear more often would have to be considered.
However, I do not think its safe to say a character will be chosen solely for that reasons. Sakurai stated that adding only popular characters doesn’t interest him. Throughout this site myself and other have given reasons why even popular characters might not make it in. Specifically, Sakurai has stated that characters need to be interesting, bringing something new to the game, and work within the game’s current framework (see here). Popularity is one factor in determining characters, but it is not the main factor.
In the end, it remains to be seen who will be added into the game based on this ballot. In closing, I should mention that the ballot is very similar to suggestions Sakurai took after the release of Super Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64 and during the development of Super Smash Brothers Brawl (which some of the translations can be found here). Sakurai will likely respond to many of the suggestions and give his thoughts on them. However, the ones he responded to the most did not necessarily end up as player-able characters (although some did). We’ll have to wait and see who makes the final cut.
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