Capcom And Modern Fighting Games

07_chunli_throw

The March NPD report has been another hit of bad news to strike Street Fighter V. After the game’s disappointing commercial debut in February, it failed to chart in March. Worse, one fighting game that did chart was Pokken Tournament for the Wii U — a dead console. One comment from someone on NeoGAF who people seem to trust to know these things, suggests the debut numbers for Pokken may actually already be close to SFV’s lifetime sales. Producer Yoshinori Ono has already admitted Capcom underestimated how much the casual audience matters in fighting game sales today. I think SFV’s launch speaks to a deeper issue with regards to how Capcom has been approaching the fighting game genre since… well since 3rd Strike really.

SFV is getting out-performed commercially and critically by fighting games that have deep story modes and lots of stuff to unlock — content for people who aren’t part of the Fighting Game Community, people who don’t play multiplayer that much, and who probably won’t “git gud” at fighting games. Games like Mortal Kombat XSuper Smash Bros., and Guilty Gear Xrd have already shifted their business model and content model completely over to what console users would expect. SFV on the other hand launched with content more befitting an arcade release (without an arcade mode actually). This reminds me of what was happening during the PS2 era.

Before the genre’s revival starting around 2008, fighters were in real trouble outside Japanese arcades. Capcom basically sat out the early 2000’s when it came to fighting games (except for re-releases) while other fighters like Guilty Gear or King of Fighters had become a niche. The genre refused to embrace online play because of a thinking still rooted in arcade culture despite arcades having been long subsumed by consoles (at least in the west). The only games back then that embraced online were ones the FGC ridiculed like Mortal Kombat Deception and Dead or Alive. Two highlights of that era were Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution and Soul Calibur II, partly because each game had extensive extra content beyond the competitive element.

I think Capcom’s problem is that it has never done with its fighting games what other fighter developers have. 3rd Strike, the company’s last major new release before it put SF in cold storage was sort of the last hurrah of 90’s arcade fighting games. Street Fighter IV was an admittedly successful revival of that era, but the world has changed its approach to fighting games while Capcom has not. When SFV’s cinematic story mode arrives later this year I’m not even overly confident it’ll measure up to something like what you get in MKX because Capcom doesn’t have the same experience with singlepayler fighting game content that Namco, Arc System Works, Nintendo, or Netherrealm Studios have. Capcom is having to learn what its competitors learned years ago.

Even if Capcom had realized this there still lies the conundrum of having to get the game out soon enough for the FGC to have enough experience with it before the Evolution Championship Series in June. That doesn’t mean Capcom had to charge $60 for it in this state though. In retrospect it could have been an Early Access release on PC and a digital-only release on PS4 (or even an arcade release) leading up to a retail launch later in the year when the content for a retail console launch was ready. Also, like the PS2 era, only a couple big fighters are again looking to the future — free-to-play: Killer Instinct and Dead or Alive.

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