I’m trying to reduce my chance of having a heart attack this year — seriously — so I’m working through the list of things that are stressing me out in an effort to resolve them. And since joining GamesBeat, nothing in the gaming sphere has angered me more than Street Fighter V. I’ve started writing SFV editorials a couple of times only to abandon them in exasperation, but every time I load the game, the anger builds up again.
Even after two-and-a-half years on the market, the “game as a service” (GaaS) version of Capcom’s beloved Street Fighter franchise continues to suffer from terrible design, execution, and pricing choices. The latest release, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, has spent months eating away at my soul like Evil Ryu’s Satsui no Hadou. I’ve determined that the only way to purge the poison from my system is to lay the issues out, in hopes that Capcom will finally take responsibility for this mess and fix what’s wrong.
Seriously, stop wasting everyone’s time
Whenever you want to play Street Fighter V on the PlayStation 4, you’ll witness something bizarre: The game spends around two minutes re-patching itself with a “title update” every time it loads. I’ve played countless games, including many current PS4 fighters, and none of them have startup times like Street Fighter V’s.
Two minutes might not seem like a lot, but add up all of Street Fighter V’s initial boot times, and pretty soon you’ll wonder why you’ve wasted an hour of your life just starting at an “applying title update” screen again and again. The game also forces you to maintain a connection with Capcom’s server, and often downloads updates separately from the PlayStation Store, interrupting its own menu interface with pop-up connectivity notifications.
It’s not just the initial load that’s bad. Even if you’re running the game from a hard drive or SSD, many of SFV’s prematch loading times are ridiculous, seemingly thanks to poor caching of interstitial content. There are times when I’ve felt like I could refill my drink between fights.
This is infuriating because developers solved excessive loading time problems long ago — some permit players to opt out of interstitials to speed up loading times, while others (including Netherrealm) somehow manage to load even more impressive sequences with much shorter delays. Whomever’s in charge of optimizing SFV’s player experience is clearly asleep at the switch — from beginning to end, this game has no respect for its players’ time. Or money.
Wrestling with a demon called GaaS
GamesBeat has run two reviews of Street Fighter V, first when the game debuted two years ago, then again when it was re-released as Arcade Edition in March. At first, our reviewer Stephen Kleckner focused largely on the “core game’s” fighting systems and characters, but less on the rest of the package — Street Fighter “the product,” as he called it — which he later conceded had major problems.
“The consumer product known as Street Fighter V,” said Kleckner, “farted out into existence with a lack of fundamental features. Features I admittedly shrugged off with my first impression, but I have come to realize with time and perspective that it really was a misguided release.”
To understand what happened to Street Fighter V, picture Capcom — a company with decades of successful standalone Street Fighter releases under its belt — deciding to instead turn its latest sequel into a “service” that receives frequent updates. Granted, Street Fighter II pioneered the Champion Edition formula of monetizing postrelease updates, but historically, Capcom would begin by shipping a complete game, then wait a year or so to release a psuedo-sequel with more content and character balance fixes.
Capcom treated SFV and its customers differently. It launched a literally unfinished game at a full $60 price, but promised that additional in-game content would be added later for free, unlocked by the player’s choice of playing or paying. Over time, Capcom apparently found the allure of milking actual cash from existing players too strong to resist, so it developed ways to make “free” unlocking more difficult, and started offering items that had to be purchased with real dollars. Rather than “gaming as a service,” SFV became “gaming as a store,” constantly pushing you to think about spending and acquiring money.
Players were given a choice: buy each DLC character for $6 and extra stages for $4 a pop, or earn tens of thousands of in-game “Fight Money” credits to unlock them. New characters were never bundled with their stages; they were sold separately. Then Capcom started charging an extra $2 per stage or equivalent Fight Money credits to unlock a second time of day, like Kanzuki Estate at Noon. Next came extra costumes for $4 each. And then Capcom debuted “limited edition” $10 stages and $6 costumes that couldn’t be unlocked for free, to raise money for esports tournaments. See a pattern here?
Capcom found ways to turn everything into a transaction. Want to select different colors for your character? Cha-ching. The banner next to your life bar? Cha-ching. The goal was obviously to deplete your in-game currency so you’d eventually have to spend money on things that were included up front in earlier games. If SFV was free to play, this wouldn’t be a huge shock, but again, it was a full-priced game.
Today, if you want to make your favorite DLC character look like he did in a prior SF game, you’ll probably have to pay extra for a second costume to make that happen. It’s obviously Capcom’s right to evolve characters from game to game, but some of the stock costumes are deliberately very, very different — like Cody, who is now dressed up as a politician, or Guile, who looks like he was just kicked out of a high school military academy for stealing cars. By making the default version of the character look unusual, Capcom gets to charge you for both the character and extra clothes. Yes, Street Fighter has become Barbie.
Despite positive early reviews from critics, actual players were quickly pissed off by SFV’s incomplete release and obnoxious DLC pricing. During its initial 2016 release, SFV earned a brutal Metacritic user rating of 3.6 out of 10. Two years later, the Arcade Edition, which included 12 extra characters and launched for $40, doubled the game’s user rating to 7.2 out of 10 but has continued to struggle in sales.
Having fallen well short of Capcom’s meager first-year sales expectations of 2 million copies, SFV reportedly has sold under 3 million copies after two and a half years on the market. That’s roughly one-third of (the very well-regarded) Street Fighter IV’s nearly 9 million units, and one-fifth of Street Fighter II’s roughly 15 million copies, which doesn’t include 5 million additional sales on the SNES Classic Edition. No matter how you count, two-thirds or four-fifths of past fans have said no to SFV.
The bloody fist of Fight Money
Street Fighter V’s disrespect for players is most evident in the workings of its in-game currency system, Fight Money. As noted above, Capcom promised customers that additional content would be unlockable by playing the game, but changed the currency’s value in the middle of SFV’s life cycle. Early on, Fight Money was easy to come by, but these days, earning enough to buy anything worthwhile is a mind-numbing grind.
Over the last six months, Capcom has cut Fight Money payouts in half and removed Fight Money drops from various in-game activities. Now it’s now a pain to acquire enough credit to unlock new characters and stages through regular play. Weekly earning opportunities are miserly: You need 70,000 in Fight Money to unlock one stage, but earn only 500 credits for winning 10 online matches, versus a prior 1,000 credit for just playing a single ranked match. Thanks to rage-quitting, server issues, and other realities of competitive gaming, you could spend an hour or more just trying to win 10 matches. Why even bother for such a token “reward?”
Even worse is the fact that the “new” weekly earning opportunities have been on autopilot for years, if not longer. The same missions repeat over and over again. And offline opportunities to make money are terrible, boring exercises ranging from performing various complex combos to watching bland training videos or exploring SFV’s dull menus. Again, one can only imagine that someone who was supposed to be making this interesting instead is asleep at the switch.
Underneath it all is a solid game with some serious problems
Let’s assume you have unlimited time and money at your disposal — you’re not bothered by atrocious loading times or frequent reminders that you should grind to buy more stuff. Is the “core” gameplay experience worth all the nonsense?
Sort of. Some of the characters, backdrops, music, camera movements, and action are amongst the best in the series. I love the newcomer Rashid, the reimagining of old Dhalsim, and the Stridery hints in young Zeku. Ditto on Ryu’s Suzaku Castle, Dhalsim’s India, Guile’s USA, and Laura’s Brazil stages — they’re all beautiful. Less exciting to me are deliberately freaked-out characters like Necalli, wild Akuma, wild Blanka, and F.A.N.G., and meh-worthy updates to old favorites like Ken, Ibuki, Sakura, and Guile. But impressive textures and camera work have a way of making even some of the so-so content shine.
Since I’ve played plenty of SF over the years, I consider the mix of great, good, and meh to be par for the course in any SF title, so the fact that not everything is perfect is no big deal to me. There should be one background per character, but apart from that, my “core game” gripes are small. If you can put aside the ridiculous loading times and numerous grind-y elements that never seem to get better, it can be fun to play against either the CPU or people online.
But there’s another huge problem.
Over the years, Street Fighter’s player base has shrunk. Let’s just ballpark that 80 percent of the potential audience has walked away, leaving 20 percent — a hardcore group — to fight over what’s best for the series. Rather than focusing on big quality of life issues that would bring the 80 percent back, Capcom engages primarily with nitpicky suggestions from a small but loud fraction of the remaining people. Self-appointed representatives of the Fighting Games Community™ say things like, “Sakura has too many animation frames” and “I won’t come back to the game unless you change Ken’s hair!” The typical change request is too esoteric to even qualify as a first world problem.
Since it’s a business maxim that it’s easier to extract more money from existing customers than chase new ones, Capcom focuses a lot of its development time on catering to these sorts of micro-level demands and producing quirky content — that’s what it thinks its remaining audience will buy. Then it keeps spamming its menu screens with banners promoting ways to acquire more stuff.
I love old Capcom games, but when I load Street Fighter, I’m not doing it to unlock a Captain Commando outfit or buy a bikini for Chun Li — I’m trying to play a game. In its pursuit of whales to fund ongoing development and tournaments, Capcom somehow lost sight of that, turning its marquee, premium-priced fighting game into a mobile-style grind. The 80 percent of gamers who said no to SFV are not going to return at this point because some character is getting a new tennis outfit, or because Capcom tweaked another character’s animation frames or hitboxes. SFV has bigger issues to deal with, and Capcom needs to start fixing them.
The way forward
Despite how broken it is as a “product,” Street Fighter V is finally a feature-complete game with a full roster of characters, a complete soundtrack, some beautiful stages, and legitimately compelling gameplay. Assuming Capcom wants to continue selling the game rather than just declaring it a failure and moving on, I have some concrete suggestions on how the company can fix Arcade Edition to help current players and bring in new ones.
- Stop patching the game every time it loads. It’s insane, and drives lots of players crazy.
- Offer the option of a stripped-down character selection UI and zero interstitial nonsense to reduce loading times.
- If a player doesn’t want to play online, don’t require server logins until online functionality is requested — then handle it in the background, not the foreground.
- Look beyond esports for your next wave of fans. Chasing a small community of hardcore players isn’t going to boost your sales.
- To win over new players, drop the full game’s price — including all current stages — to $20. Make future season passes $10 and shift to including five characters and five backgrounds per season. Then charge whatever you want for costumes, avatars, and other frills for your whales and hard core users.
- Get rid of Fight Money and move back to standard automated unlockables — you know, like classic games that weren’t trying to nickel and dime players. This in-game currency has been a complete fiasco, clouding SFV’s success since day one, and removing it altogether would make a lot of people happy.
- Do not repeat any of these mistakes with Street Fighter VI.
I feel a little better now after getting that off my chest. But I won’t really feel happy with SFV until and unless Capcom actually implements most of these solutions.
There are millions of people out there who would like nothing more than to get back into the Street Fighter series. Capcom, don’t push them away. If you’re smart enough to fight for the rest of your potential audience, this battle is yours to win.