Ever since Street Fighter II Championship Edition released in 1992, Street Fighter fans have become accustomed to the inevitable upgrade version. For Street Fighter IV, we had four versions with home releases: Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Every few years, the current Street Fighter receives a few new characters, some new stages, and balance tweaks, in the form of a brand-new game you have to buy.
We're working with modern consoles and PC though, so it no longer has to be that way. Those balance changes can be patched into the game and new characters or stages are released as downloadable content for many other fighting games. So why stick to the old paradigm?
That's the question Capcom apparently asked itself. This weekend at EVO 2015, Capcom announced that Street Fighter V that was going to change things up a bit. for the Street Fighter community, these are some huge changes.
First up, when you pick up Street Fighter V for PlayStation 4 or PC, that's the only version of the game you'll need to purchase. Full stop. Every balance change will simply be patched into the game for free. Every character outside of the 16 planned for the core roster with be available as post-launch downloadable content. There will be no "Super" or "Ultra" Street Fighter IV, just one ongoing title until Capcom and Sony tire of the series.
For Capcom, the change is one based on player interest and ease of entry.
"Looking back on the Street Fighter IV series, we had always released bundles of content all at once, like with Super Street Fighter IV and Ultra Street Fighter IV," wrote Capcom community manager Pete "ComboFiend" Rosas on the official PlayStation Blog. "While these one-time updates did revive interest in the series every few years, it was difficult to keep players engaged for long periods of time unless they were competitive. This also punished players who took a break from playing the game, because if they wanted to start again in a few years, they would be forced to purchase an upgrade to join the existing player pool who had already moved on to a new version. On top of that, this old method also forced players to purchase all of the new content, even if only a few characters may have appealed to them."
"With Street Fighter V, we want to change the way that players interact with the series, and create an ever-evolving environment for players to enjoy," he added. "By releasing new characters on a regular basis, it will ensure that there is always new content to look forward to in the short term, and it prevents the competitive environment from ever becoming stale."
The second big change is that players can either purchase or earn all post-launch content. As you play Street Fighter V, you'll earn Fight Money, which can be used to purchase post-launch content, including characters, for free. Alternatively, you can purchase Zenny (Black Tiger's currency still going strong!) with real-money and use that to pick up any content that interests you. Capcom's not sure exactly how the game's economy will be tuned yet, with the upcoming beta being the system's first test.
I'm excited to see these changes in Street Fighter. Everyone will probably get every character via patch, but characters will only unlock for personal play if you've earned or purchased them. This means online play is unaffected, but if you don't want (to use Ultra SF characters) Decapre or Hugo in your personal roster, you don't have to buy them. Instead of spending $20 to upgrade for the two or three characters you care about, you can just pick up those characters and probably spend that additional money on costumes.
Like any in-game currency, how Capcom tunes this system will be key in its success. Set the prices too high in Fight Money and you'll have players burning out due to excessive grind. Set the Zenny prices too high and players will avoid buying characters altogether. There's a sweet spot to be found in pricing on both ends.
Capcom may also have to deal with the Dead or Alive 5 problem, which is DLC management. Street Fighter x Tekken has 184 pieces of DLC available, which seems like a lot until you take a look at say Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate, which has 452 add-ons. That's a lot of costumes and characters and it can get overwhelming if you haven't been following along the entire time. I know when I jumped in to review DOA5 Last Round, the amount of DLC available was astounding. It took too long to look through all of it.
If Capcom needs help, I'd say look to Killer Instinct and its Season model. Microsoft's fighter offers characters as single purchases, but it also offers a Combo Breaker and Ultra Edition add-ons for each season. The Combo Breaker gives you every character from that season at a discount, while the Ultra Edition, gives you every character plus costumes and accessories. I tend to pick up the Combo Breaker packs, but the option to just buy a single character is welcome. The seasons allow content breakpoints, which makes it easier for players to pick up what they want.
Capcom has to do this carefully. Street Fighter V is blazing a new trail for the series, one which I hope works out. I'm cheap, so not paying for characters I'm probably not going to use sounds good to me. I may miss out on the ability to try out characters on a whim, but these days, between Twitch and YouTube, you'll get a good idea of what each character is about. The point is Street Fighter V will add options. We all like options, right?