Many competitive games ranging from Star Craft to even Virtua Fighter get updates all the time and with a community that welcomes these with open arms. The exception seems to be the Capcom community. Street Fighter inherently has not and is that a good thing or a bad thing for the community? Lets take a look as to why the community is not open to them like others.
Street Fighter II: World Warrior was released in 1991 to a bunch of teenagers that were competitive enough to spend a quarter at a time trying to be the best in their arcades. Capcom actually patched World Warrior at least 3 times that I know of – mostly fixing bugs with a slight hint of balance tweaks. Remember this was for the arcade so there was no real advertising of this or what the tweaks were – let alone getting arcade operators to install them. These updates required swapping out the entire board! And remember at this time World Warrior was everywhere - no donut shop owner is going to swap out a JAMMA board so that the game crashes less often.
The most important thing to remember though is that this was a brand new genre of game being explored for the first time by not only the developers but the community as well. Just because Guile was really good and only person got to pick him at a time, didn’t mean there was anything ‘wrong’ with the game. Just pick Dhalsim.
The main people attracted to Street Fighter were teenage boys that were full of testosterone and welcomed all kinds of challenges. Be it a certain number of wins, beating the people from the rival mall that had come to challenge them or beating people with only one button.
If you look back at where the first real Internet discussions started regarding Street Fighter – Alt.Games.SF2, you will find example after example of people yelling at one another. Including heated arguments with Tom Cannon, Seth Killian and even myself.
Patches or Sequels?
On top of the machismo that exists within the Street Fighter culture, Capcom actually gave us patches…or sequels. Depending on how you look at it:
1991 introduced World Warrior with 8 playable characters.
1992 introduced Champion Edition with balance tweaks and 4 extra playable characters.
1992 (late) introduced Hyper Fighting with balance tweaks.
1993 introduced Super Street Fighter 2 again with balance tweaks and 4 extra playable characters.
1994 introduced Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo with balance tweaks, new mechanics and more playable characters.
As you can see Capcom was giving us balance tweaks (aka patches) but also packaging it along with new playable characters and lots of other small things.
This also lead to franchise fatigue as people got tired of playing the same game every year and competition was heating up from Killer Insinct, Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, Tekken, etc.
I’m not even going to go into the detailed nuances of the differences between the Japanese and American releases and how the console versions are based on the Japanese versions and the differences that can be found there. Suffice it to say, Capcom has actually patched Street Fighter 2 a lot, whether or not people think about it. Let us not forget Remix Edition.
Alpha series is where things actually start to get a little more interesting. The fighting game community embraced patches/sequels such as CE and HF. SSF2 killed the franchise where I lived and in a lot of other places as well.
Capcom took a small break and tried to bring old players back and make the game more accessible to new players with the Alpha series. While not as big of an impact as previous games, Alpha 1 had its share of success.
And like Capcom had previously done, they quickly released a sequel – Alpha 2. This game however reignited the spark and the community began to grow again. Depending on who you ask, there is a lot of ‘cheap’ stuff in Alpha 2. From Chun Li to Custom Combos themselves or even Alpha Counters. Capcom actually tried to patch this game and released it as Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold.
Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold arguably had some good changes along with a few new characters but was immediately dismissed by the fighting game community. People were too set into their ways by the time it came out and offered nothing new and or exciting to players. Alpha 2 Gold was a complete failure.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 was soon released and again sparked the fighting game community and it began to grow as well. There was even the now infamous exhibition with Japan vs. America. There are a few versions of Alpha 3 that I know of – fixing an infinite with Guy for example, but that’s about it – just bug fixes.
Capcom did release a ‘patched’ version of Alpha 3 though – known as Alpha 3 Upper and again was immediately dismissed by the fighting game community.
The Capcom community gravitates towards their game and figuring it out. It seems that when Capcom tries to tinker with it, it has been met with hostility.
Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike
I’m going to quickly talk about the SF3 series as the history echoes what has happened so far. Sequel after sequel but then Capcom did patch 3rd strike. Capcom decided to ‘fix’ 3rd Strike by removing Urien and Oro’s unblockables. Once again, this was met with hostility and tournament players refused to play this version.
Capcom VS SNK 2
If there is any game that Capcom turned its back on – it was CvS2. And this may not have been a bad thing. A glitch, commonly known as Roll Cancel, was found early in the lifespan of CvS2 where every special move could be done and the player was invincible! No meter was required, simply executing the special move command as you normally would combined with a little bit of finger kung-fu to make it invincible.
Now for some, this ruined the game completely. A lot of people refused to play the game with this glitch. But for some, including myself – this glitch actually led the game to be more playable.
Prior to Roll Cancel being found, the tournaments were dominated by a small selection of characters. Now that the weaker characters had access to invincible moves – it leveled the playing field. Granted as the years went on, a top tier was solidified but it definitely expanded the lifespan of this game far beyond what Capcom had intended.
There was a console version that removed this glitch and once again, the Capcom community turned its back on it.
Street Fighter 4
Before we dive into SF4 we need to take a look at where we have been and how we got here. Capcom was making arcade fighting games for competitive people for the most part. Not only that but when a new version did come out, there was no release notes or anything. People had to figure changes out on their own and one of the reasons why things were met with such hostility is because people thought, ‘well if they changed this one thing…what else did they break?’ type of mentality. Or a lot of it was misunderstood such as, ‘The arcade Wolverine and Cyclops both have easy infinites, but the home version only Wolverine does’ for Xmen vs. Street Fighter.
By the time SF4 finally came out, not only had Capcom taken a long break but the competitive gaming scene had changed drastically with everything from Quake to Call of Duty or even World of Warcraft.
SF4 came out during the era where people expected patches and games were easily to do so. People were quick to complain about Sagat in the arcade and while he did receive some slight changes in the home version, he is still a strong character.
This is where things get interesting and I feel this is actually where Capcom excels at making popular games. They don’t go for balanced games, they strive for playability. Not only that – but by not going for balanced gameplay, they actually appeal to 2 key personalities.
First is the personality that sees an overpowered character like Sagat and says to themselves, ‘I’m going to be the best in the world with this cheap character’. Think Tokido or even Mago.
The second and equally as important personality is the one goes, ‘Fuck that…I’m going to do everything I can to NEVER play that cheap character and beat everyone who plays that way’. Think Clockw0rk or Daigo.
By appealing to these 2 drastically different personalities – they not only get the extremes, but the middle ground personalities as well.
And just for the record, Street Fighter series as a whole has been really well balanced and Vanilla Sagat may be the weakest top tier character in the history of Street Fighter. WW Guile, CE Bison, HF Ryu, etc were all much better.
Sales and Spectacle Matter
So another piece of the whole puzzle is that at the end of the day, Capcom needs to sell units and have their games displayed in exciting ways so that people want to play them and their sequels. There is nothing inherently wrong with companies wanting to make money.
One of the key ways Capcom goes about doing this is making Ryu Strong. People naturally gravitate towards picking Ryu either in the arcade or at home and if he sucks, people are not going to have fun. Now I’m not saying they intentionally make Ryu the best or anything but there is a reason why Ryu is competitive in almost every version.
Capcom isn’t alone in this – look at Virtua Fighter or even Tekken for what characters are consistently the best in their games.