In the early morning hours of December 5, 2014, a small video was quietly dropped onto Capcom’s official YouTube channel. The video—presenting itself at first as a seemingly innocuous love letter to the Street Fighter competitive scene—quickly transformed into a teaser announcement for the latest entry in the Street Fighter franchise. The classic tournament and arcade footage making up the majority of the video suddenly gave way to brand new renditions of series mainstays Ryu and Chun Li trading blows amidst a neon Hong Kong cityscape. The long-awaited fifth entry in the Street Fighter saga had finally arrived.
Posted in error, that video was taken down just as quickly as it had gone up—but the damage was already done. Twitter accounts of major fighting game community personalities were lighting up faster than Ryu’s fists during an Ultra Combo. The proverbial Ken was out of the bag.
After five major releases across arcade and home platforms for Street Fighter IV, few in the fighting game community would argue that a proper sequel in the form of Street Fighter V has been a long time coming. However, few in that same community were prepared for Capcom’s plans for the franchise moving forward. The problem? Unlike its predecessor, Street Fighter V was being developed as a PlayStation 4 and PC exclusive.
This marks the second time in the new console generation that a first-party has managed to lock down exclusivity for a major third-party franchise, the first being Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox platforms. While the Tomb Raider announcement stoked the fires of controversy and enraged PlayStation fans around the world, Street Fighter V’s exclusivity is shaking the foundations of the fighting game community.
For a series with major releases on nearly every modern platform in existence, this seems like an unusual move. While it wouldn’t be the first time in history Capcom has made a numbered entry in the Street Fighter series exclusive to a single platform (that honor actually goes to the original Street Fighter, which was released exclusively for the TurboGrafx-CD in 1989, followed by Street Fighter II: The World Warrior’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System rendition in 1992), it certainly is the most surprising given the relatively small installed base differences between current-gen platforms, recent increases in the genre’s worldwide popularity, and Capcom’s efforts related to building the significance of the brand as a franchise supporting the explosive momentum of eSports.
As a web content producer for the fighting game division of professional eSports organization Team Evil Geniuses, it's part of my job to have a pulse on the community reaction to controversial fighting game news. In the weeks that have followed the announcement of Street Fighter V, it's become very clear to me that Capcom's exclusivity deal with Sony has many fans of the genre feeling burned.
Serious investments in fighting games often go well beyond those of traditional gaming hardware—dedicated tournament competitors routinely shell out hundreds of dollars for special accessories, reduced-lag displays, and joystick controllers with arcade button layouts. To fans who chose the Xbox One, the presence of a next-generation Street Fighter title on that console seemed like a given, especially considering the popularity of the Street Fighter IV series on Xbox 360 among tournament players. To this day, many tournament organizers continue to run Ultra Street Fighter IV tournaments on the Xbox 360 instead of the PS3 due to minimal input lag in the game and the stream-friendly absence of HDCP encryption on the console itself. Most tournament players continue to train on Xbox 360 for these very same reasons.
Now that the franchise is console-exclusive to Sony, many Street Fighter fans are being left out in the cold. While most fighting game players were expecting to have to upgrade their fighting game controllers to work with next-generation consoles, needing to purchase an entire new platform for the capability to play Street Fighter V is a disappointing and expensive prospect for some.
On that subject, I spoke with Team Evil Geniuses' fighting game division member and former EVO champion Justin Wong, who has mixed feelings on this new direction for the series and feels it will have a significant impact on where and how the fighting game community plays their games. "I think the transition will be rough for the [fighting game community] because everyone is so used to playing Street Fighter on Xbox 360 and PS3," he says. "People will eventually adapt, though. They always do."
Regarding the effect of the exclusivity deal on future fighting games, Justin feels that "[the Capcom/Sony partnership] will definitely make the PS4 the de-facto standard for fighting games."
Justin predicts that cross-platform fighters releasing on the Xbox One will also suffer decreased sales numbers due to the FGC's desire to stick with a single platform, mainly due to their desire to avoid having to train on multiple platforms. He also expects arcade stick modders to get plenty of business over the next several months leading up to Street Fighter V's launch, as $200-plus Xbox One joysticks owned by many hardcore Street Fighter fans will be needing expensive compatibility upgrades to work with other platforms.
So why did Capcom go the exclusive route for a franchise containing one of the company’s biggest cross-platform titles of the last generation? With over 8 million copies of Street Fighter IV sold across PS3, Xbox 360, and PC worldwide, how does it make any practical sense in the minds of Capcom’s decision-makers to limit the potential sales of a brand new Street Fighter to a specific console’s installed base? There’s clearly more to this story, and fans following Capcom closely might have noticed a few nuggets of evidence pointing to a collaboration with Sony being playfully teased to the gaming public for a long time now—starting even before the launch of the PS4 itself.
The Hadouken Cabs viral campaign built by Capcom and Sony in early November 2013 was the first hint. Consisting of a video and associated website advertising a Street Fighter-themed taxi service, the campaign never really built towards an announcement, was quickly eclipsed by next-gen launch hype, and quickly faded into irrelevance.
One of Capcom’s most outspoken employees was also responsible for coyly alluding to a partnership in the works. As one of the goofiest, most talkative Japanese developers in the business, Street Fighter series producer Yoshinori Ono and his trademark plastic Blanka are notorious for lightheartedly trolling the Street Fighter fans on a regular basis. Around the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, fans begged Ono to port Ultra Street Fighter IV to the brand new platforms. Ono responded with bad news, stating that Capcom didn’t have the resource bandwidth to develop a next-gen version of the game, only to later drop vague hints to the contrary with a tweet showing a PS4 controller at an Ultra Street Fighter IV location test.
Fans were understandably perplexed.
When it recently became public that Sony was assisting with a port of Ultra Street Fighter IV for the PS4 that would be released ahead of the platform-exclusive Street Fighter V, suddenly Capcom's PR stunts and Ono's cryptic tweets began to make a lot more sense. Sony appears to be providing Capcom with resources—either developmental, financial, or both—to assist with the creation and release of Street Fighter titles on the PS4. With the precarious financial state of Capcom in recent years, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that both Street Fighter V and Ultra Street Fighter IV on PS4 might not have existed at all without Sony stepping in.
It should be noted that for fans of Street Fighter hoping for the opportunity to play future versions of Street Fighter V on other platforms, all hope may not be lost. Historically, Capcom has been known to release updates to formally exclusive titles in the franchise to competing consoles. For example, enhanced renditions of former SNES-exclusive Street Fighter II's arcade upgrade, Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, were eventually released to rave reviews on both the Sega Genesis and the PC Engine. While nothing is certain, it’s not unreasonable to think that a different version of Street Fighter V may in fact make its way to Xbox One in the future. Unfortunately, this information provides little comfort to Xbox Street Fighter fans in the short term.
With the current trend of the industry leading towards a larger reliance on platform exclusives in the future, fighting game fans will be forced to acquire more consoles, compatibility accessories, yearly online subscriptions, and controllers than ever if they hope to stay on top of their game. For more budget-conscious battlers, a midrange PC may actually be a more sound investment than a console this time around. Containing a massive back catalog of fighting titles, an unprecedented number of controller options, access to user-created mods, free online play, and a price that isn't too far out of line with modern console hardware for lower-end models, a PC may in fact be the safest option for those looking to future-proof themselves from exclusive fighters for the next few years.
As for Justin Wong? Like most major tournament combatants, he’s ready to compete across any platform and is currently spending most of his casual fighting game time diving into Guilty Gear Xrd –SIGN- on the PS4. He did, however, share his excitement for Capcom's upcoming plans for the Street Fighter franchise. Wherever Capcom takes Street Fighter, Justin is sure to follow—and I suspect that many other members of the fighting game community will be right behind him.