Street Fighter IV, while a hugely popular brawler, was not exactly a title that welcomed newcomers.
Especially towards the end of Street Fighter IV’s long lifecycle, players had to master some complex systems and be ready to fight up to 44 characters.?
But with Street Fighter V, which arrives next week for PS4 and PC, Capcom is attempting to remedy this.
“Street Fighter V feels like a bit of a reset in terms of something that more casual players want to get excited about because it's a brand new game with a brand new engine, brand new stock game and brand new characters and everything that could come along with that,” brand manager Brian Ayers (pictured above left) explains.
“But also, it's a bit of a reset on the community side of things and the pro-gamer side of things. They're all starting from the same page. For this game, we're trying very much to make it newcomer or lapsed fan-friendly. That's one of the big points of Street Fighter V is it's welcoming people in different ways.”
In the new game, input windows – the time in which players enter commands – are more generous, as are the way in which links – the split second windows in which players can stun their opponents and string together combos – work.
Character movement is slower, and each attack deals a large amount of damage, meaning that seasoned pros might take a more cautious approach even when against new players.
Not that making the game accessible to the masses has in any way diminished the series’ notoriously high skill ceiling.
“We've had certain pro-gamers and high-level community gamers eager to look at Street Fighter V,” Ayers says.
“They can see that we're saying it's more accessible, more casual-friendly and they want to get to grips with the depth of it. We're seeing it already before the game has already launched because we've been playing the game for a year between us. And our community manager Matthew Edwards, for example, has played every build that we've released for every event, and sees videos captured from the beta that are doing moves and combos that he didn't even know were possible and he's a pro-level gamer. We can't wait to see what people do with the game once it's released in terms of finding those different depths. They will be stuff that people take advantage of and exploit that surprise the developers.”
One of the big focuses for Street Fighter V is the eSports scene, with Capcom previously telling MCV that it wanted the title to be the No.1 competitive title. And the publisher is taking its fighting title on the road with the Capcom Pro Tour.
“It's kicked off quite recently, but we've been in quite a strange position where we have been promoting Street Fighter V but IV is still the focus of the pro scene,” Ayers explains.
“This year marks the first time that Street Fighter V will be the core, base game that's being played at a Capcom Pro Tour. With that, we've got a big investment and a partnership with Sony, which plays, into that. PlayStation is interested in working with us in the long- un. And we can't say too much about it, but we're speaking to some quite high-level sponsors about what they can bring to it, whether it's bigger events, increasing prize pools. That's one thing we have done, for this year we are increasing the prize pool quite dramatically. It does feel that a big part of eSports is how big your ultimate prizes are. That's starting to get competitive now.
“We're also taking the game to new markets for the first time as part of the Capcom Pro Tour. We were in Russia at Igromir last year to debut Zangief - it was great to unveil the returning Russian character in Russia. Whilst we were there, we were exploring the fact there was a really thriving fighting game community over there. We've worked with them ever since that show and we're going to have a stop-off in Moscow for the Pro Tour for the first time. Same applies to Dubai, which is a big growth market for us as a publisher. But also, looking at the fan base on the consumer side of things.”
Commercial director Andy Davis (pictured top right) adds: “Commercially that's quite important on this one. We fully localised into Arabic for the first time. Street Fighter V is the first game that is fully localised and we had a good presence at [UAE consumer show] Games 15 last year as well.”
Another way that Capcom is making Street Fighter V accessible is the way in which it is released.
Previous iterations of Street Fighter featured a base game – such as Street Fighter IV – which was updated with new characters, stages and costumes through subsequent launches, for example – Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and Ultra Street Fighter IV.
Capcom has ditched this release plan for Street Fighter V. All consumers need to play the game is the base disc that launches next week. Subsequent content, including stages, modes, characters and costumes, can be bought in-game with currency called Fight Money or can be purchased with real money or ‘Zenny’ as it is called in-game.
“We've been quite honest in saying that Street Fighter V – the disc or digital edition – is the only version that you'll ever need,” Ayers says.
“You'll never have to buy or be forced to buy another iteration further down the line. What that means is you don't split the player base. Everyone can always just buy that game and know that two, three years down the line and know they can jump back in whether they are just spectating or being a competitor.”
He continues: “We want Street Fighter V to last a console generation. That's a very brave move from the business side of things. But that is how we are looking at the product as well. It's not: 'right, get it out, it's the first six months and then it's done'. We're talking lifetime on this now in years rather than quarters, which I think is quite telling in itself.”
Davis adds: “It’s much more about the longer game with Street Fighter. We're not having the other iterations coming and that was a brave decision for us to make. Although we had a lot of different versions of Street Fighter IV, every single one was commercially successful, all the way up to Ultra Street Fighter IV. We've made the decision to not do those because we want to give the fans what they want, we'll give them the extra content but it'll be digital downloads and it will be stuff they can earn for free in the game. It's about us listening to the fans feedback rather than looking at just numbers.”
“And the way the content drops are happening should help us keep the sales up and the stock available and the interest there from the consumers as well.”
Of course, Street Fighter V is not the only fighting game to launch in recent years. In 2015, Koei Tecmo released the latest version of Dead or Alive, while Warner Bros launched a new iteration in its famously violent Mortal Kombat series. And that latter title has left its mark on Street Fighter V.
“I’m a big believer in healthy competition breeding better products for the consumer,” Ayers says.
“Mortal Kombat under Warner Bros has significantly raised the bar in lots of different ways. Last year’s Mortal Kombat X went very hardcore on its single player elements and we realised that we needed have an answer to that – not to Warner Bros directly, but we needed to satisfy what the consumer demands.
“For the first time, we've got a full cinematic story mode that's coming as free content, again, with the nature of supporting the game long-term rather than stuffing it all into the disc for Day One. We're staggering a lot of the stuff to keep people interested and coming back. That's set for June. We've seen it already and it looks fantastic. Fans don't need to go watch a Street Fighter anime any more – it's all within the game in terms of story telling.”
As well as launching a game, Capcom has focused on partnering up with some big names in the merchandise and accessories scene to capitalise on the Street Fighter brand.
“It's an area of the business we've concentrated more on anyways in terms of how we work with the licensees,” Davis says. “It's not just about the doing the deal for a minimum guarantee anymore, it's about how we can support that company and move forward and grow the sales and the brand at the same time. We've got some good partners that we are working with.”
Ayers adds: “We have something for everyone. I'm losing count on how much stuff I am signing off on at the moment. We have everything from GB Eye doing posters, mugs, framed prints – that sort of stuff – we're doing some quite classic stuff with them. And Numskull is designing T-shirts, looking more at the heritage of the game. Because Street Fighter is such an iconic brand, people are looking at it in different ways. Because it has this cultural crossover, we're working with Irongut Publishing on some real high-end prints and canvases.
"We're also really excited to be part of the new PlayStation Gear initiative, so we have a full line-up that's going up in 25 different markets across Europe, all official, authorised merchandise sold out of that PlayStation white label. It's safe to say that any retailers that want to get their hands on merchandise are going to be spoilt for choice. There's something for every different type of consumer.”
So far, Capcom has run four betas for Street Fighter V to make sure that the title’s online service works correctly. And, save for a disastrous first beta, these tests proved useful for Capcom.
“Betas are for learning,” Davis says. “You find out what you've got right and what you need to fix. We learnt our lessons after the first beta. The thinking from consumers is that a beta is a chance to play the game early, but it's also a chance for the publisher to see what is and isn't working in the game.”
Ayers adds: “Betas do get used more and more as a marketing tool these days, which can skew the perception of what the beta is for. The reason why we had four betas was we needed to get this hitting the ground running on Day One.
"As much as the first beta was a bit of a disaster, we still learnt from it. We were giving people extra days. We're lucky in that the fighting game community is one of the nicer ones. They were championing our message as well, keeping the detractors at bay – you're always going to get people going 'I want my free stuff now and why doesn't my free stuff work?'. It was a lesson learnt, and thankfully we had a supportive enough community that they just spread that message for us.”
He continues: “During our most recent beta, we had an email from someone from the producer-side of the business. 'The beta is going really well' was the subject, and then they said it was 'going nervously well – too well. What's going on?' We were still all prime to react to things going wrong. It was great.
"We're really confident that going into launch, we should be issue free.”