Even if you’re not a gamer you’ve probably heard of Street Fighter. Alongside Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter is one of the most important and influential fighting franchises out there. Earlier this month Capcom released the latest instalment in the historic franchise, Street Fighter V, to incredibly mixed reviews. This is despite near universal praise for its deep and intuitive gameplay which could make it a long term favourite in the competitive E-game scene. So why is the reception mixed? Because currently the game is designed almost exclusively FOR the competitive scene.
Street Fighter V is the latest game to release a big name game with little to no single player features, relying instead on the online (or in this case E-game) multiplayer scene. The situation here is different to other recent examples like Star Wars Battlefront, Evolve and Titanfall however. The single player content is coming. On top of new characters and stages, there is a major downloadable update planned in June which will produce a cinematic story campaign. All of this DLC will be free. But here’s the problem. That DLC will come in June, but it’s February right now. That’s a long time to wait for the game to be ‘completed’ when you’ve already paid full price for it. So why didn’t they just wait until they could release the complete game?
The answer comes down to their target demographic seemingly. The release of Street Fighter V coincides with the Capcom Pro Tour, a year long E-Game competition that started in France over the weekend. It was important for Capcom to release their primary E-game in time for the new season, and so it seems a crucial decision was made: Instead of delaying the game’s release in order for it to release complete, they released a game that is technically sound with the basics for the competitive player, but lacking in the necessary features that tend to attract and keep more casual players.
But what is the cost of this decision? Here’s the situation. The current reviews for Street Fighter V basically all come down to this: A technically great but incomplete game. There is no option to face the computer in a simple 1v1 match. You can do a limited story mode, or a survival mode. But the core gameplay, 1v1 in a two out of three falls match: you can’t do on your own. This arcade mode style match, which has been in virtually every fighting game since they were a thing, is a glaring and shocking omission in 2016. Capcom is currently considering introducing an Arcade mode to the game down the track. Unlike the larger story mode it is not confirmed, but given the criticism it would seem likely they’ll include it down the track – and unlike previous versions of Street Fighter they allegedly won’t be releasing updated versions of the game (Street Fighter IV saw 3 versions of the game released during its lifespan)
Street Fighter is a legacy franchise, people will consider buying it as their ‘one fighting game’ that they can muck around with – much like they might buy a sports game and an FPS game for when they’re in the mood for something like that. Gamers (like me) might feel a rush of nostalgia and want to play a bit of Street Fighter on their current consoles like they did on the Super Nintendo. But without an Arcade mode, how appealing is the game to the average casual gamer? A mode which is the bread and butter for casual consumption of a fighting game? Even if they do release the mode down the track, the damage might have already been done. Even though it is easier than ever to keep up to date on news, that doesn’t mean someone will. By the time an arcade mode is released, gamers will be onto the next thing.
There is a lot of contention in the gaming scene right now over how much single player a naturally multiplayer game should offer. PC gaming has had predominately multiplayer games for a while now, but there is more vocal resistance among console gamers. Star Wars Battlefront is probably the most notorious of these, given the previous instalments in the franchise having serviceable single player modes and its appeal to a more casual crowd, but these games will live and die on its online support. If people don’t flock to it and keep the scene healthy and vibrant, the game dies a quick death. Months after release Titanfall and Evolve all but fell off the map, with much of the problem residing in how active the online community is.
Street Fighter is a little different. The online multiplayer was affected too by a lack of options (lobbies, modes etc), but unlike those games the focus is on E-sports, and the community for Street Fighter in E-sports is one of the biggest. But the future of the franchise cannot live off of competitive players only, not with the kind of budgets modern AAA games need. Fighting games went through a noticeable drought in the early 00s in part because the genre focused too much on this specific crowd. To survive they need casuals buying Street Fighter to muck around with. If you are someone who might buy a fighting game right now and you are deciding between two big name historic franchises, the only reason you’d pick Street Fighter V over the more complete Mortal Kombat X is brand preference and connection.
But even then, would you bother? Growing up I never played Mortal Kombat, the two fighting games I played were Killer Instinct and Street Fighter II on the Super Nintendo. Right now both games are console exclusives (Killer Instinct to X-Box One, Street Fighter to PS4 and PC) – even if I wasn’t restricted by this I’d probably pick Street Fighter thanks to both the brand and its characters being more iconic (and ignoring the fact Chun Li was one of my first crushes…). In fact I nearly blind bought it the other day when I saw it in EB games – precisely because I got that urge to muck around with a fighting game like so many casual gamers would.
Thankfully I didn’t though, because without a basic player versus computer arcade mode, the game is all but useless to me. Outside of the super addictive Rocket League, I’m not an online gamer. And unless you’re serious about getting good, going online can be a demoralising experience as you get K-O’d before you can even get a half decent shot in. Will I get it in June, when the game is ‘completed’ and the price might have dropped? Maybe. By then though I’ll likely be entrenched in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and that wave of desire to muck around with an old school fighter might have gone. Will other people who are in a similar boat to me pick it up?
Capcom is taking a huge risk in presuming the interest will still be there. Game review websites won’t necessarily update their reviews once the rest of the content is out, and if people are considering the game and read how lacking the game is, Capcom could lose out big time. One just has to see the rating disparity on a site like Metacritic – a score of 78 from professionals to 33 from users – to see that there’s already some serious backlash at play here. And word of mouth can be cancerous.
The early numbers are telling. The reports over first week sales suggest that Street Fighter V has done disappointing numbers for both the PC release and in the Japanese market. One can only infer as to why, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that the lack of single play features and the negative press that received would have contributed to some degree to this less than stellar opening. Once the game is deemed ‘complete’ there may be a surge in sales again, but the gaming world can move quickly, and relying on interest to be sustained for near half a year is a risky proposition.
Capcom made the decision to back their own pro tour at the potential expense of mainstream game acceptance. It certainly won’t kill the franchise, but it might hurt it in the long run. People who pre-ordered Street Fighter V and were disappointed might not be so quick to do the same thing when it comes time for the next instalment to release. It’s a shame too, because by all reports the gameplay is designed to be intuitive for franchise newbies to pick up and get into the game – as well as deep for experienced players. Which is great, but if there’s nothing in the game for them, what’s the point? It’s like giving somebody a plate of delicious pasta but no cutlery. You can still eat it and it can taste great, but you’re still going to be let down by the experience.