At the Tokyo Game Show, I kicked a door and rudely disrupted a Capcom lunch to ask questions about Street Fighter. A normal man may have felt bad about making the whole world bend to his own interests, but I'm super important and had extremely pressing questions about Street Fighter V.
"I've never played Street Fighter!" I yelled to the room. Oh.
None of the above is true. I knocked on the door, lunch was finishing up, my importance is questionable, and I grew up with Street Fighter alongside Mortal Kombat, DarkStalkers, and Killer Instinct as some of my favorite games.
Early Street Fighter, that is. Upon reflection, I played a ton of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3,but I haven't touched a proper Street Fighter game since Alpha 3 on the PSOne. This in mind, I opened by describing my situation to Street Fighter V producer Matt Dahlgren of Capcom. I thought I was going to eventually play Street Fighter IV, but then I just sort of didn't.
Dahlgren's story is the opposite of my own. He started as a competitive player of Tekken and Super Smash Bros. because, in his own words, "I thought Street Fighter was too hard for me." That means he was walking in just as I was walking out. This in mind, he said that one of Capcom's primary aims is to bring greater accessibility to the series with number five.
"It's definitely important for us to strike a balance, ensuring that the game is going to be accessible and exciting to new players, yet still deep for our more competitive-minded fans. It's generally a pretty hot topic of debate. I think we struck a pretty good balance with Street Fighter V. A lot of what we're doing, like, for example, our tagline is "Rise up." The reason behind that is that it's about self empowerment. It's for people who feel like they can't play fighting games. You can, you just gotta believe in yourself and your skills will get there."
I can be heard laughing out loud after this statement, but not at it. We're in Japan, where the "Rise up and be the best!" may as well be its own genre of entertainment. Dahlgren laughs too, aware of how typical it sounds at first, but he elaborates:
"Yeah, admittedly, it is difficult, because everything is on your shoulders and no one likes to lose a lot. You kinda have to be motivated by your losses and want to get better. But we've put a lot of focus into being more accessible. We've removed a lot of the overly complicated things from Street Fighter IV like FADCs and things that require a lot of technical precision, so I believe this has something to offer everyone.
"The variable systems are really good for new players, even if you have difficulty doing normal special moves, you'll always have access to your V-skill which is just medium punch and medium kick, or your V-trigger which is heavy punch and heavy kick. Anyone can press two buttons at the same time to execute a move like that, so there's at least tools at their disposal outside of the more complex commands like a Critical Art, which is a double fire ball motion."
Of course, not having seen a Street Fighter in action in so many years, the new borderline cinematic Critical Arts caught me by surprise. They've been in other fighting games, but to me and my 15-year absence, they're new. According to Dahlgren, they're pretty essential as a great payoff for those who do indeed rise up and become good enough to pull them off.
I added that it makes for good entertainment at things like EVO, to which he responded that yes, these games are very much "spectator sports" as well as games you can play on your own.
I asked a topical question, "Are e-sports 'sports?'" to which Dahlgren emphatically replied that they are.
"Yes. I don't see why not. It's a mental sport and it's a great equalizer. In some of the other types of sports out there, you could be at a very big disadvantage if you're not very tall or very bulky, but anyone can play Street Fighter.
"There's a guy that's a huge inspiration to me. There's a guy by the name of Broly who is confined to a wheelchair and he plays Street Fighter with his tongue. He still competes. He did not let his physical disabilities get in his way. That, to me, is a true testament for great competition. Anyone can plays Street Fighter. You just have to put the time and effort into it. Having a medium where you can compete and you don't have to necessarily be physically gifted in certain regards, I think is appealing to a lot of people. That's why you've seen growth in e-sports lately — you can be a part of the action instead of just watch the action. So yeah, I definitely believe they are a sport.
"Growing up, watching (traditional) sports on TV wasn't very exciting to me because I wasn't a part of the action. That's why I gravitated towards fighting games and I absolutely love them."
We then moved to more serious business questions — emphasis business.
Asked about DLC plans, the character roster, and how Street Fighter games tend to get multiple revisions, he answered:
"It's important for us to release new content and allow that to grow. How we handled that in the past was add some new character, make some balance adjustments, throw in some stages and sell it as an upgrade pack. While that served a need for that time period, I think it's outdated and there are drawbacks to it.
One flaw with [that business model] is there's a lot of time to wait till there's (enough) new content, so there's nothing to look forward to in the short term. You only get an update like once every year or two. It also doesn't give players a lot of freedom, because they can either purchase all of the content or none of the content, because it's all bundled together. Also, it punishes players that take a break from playing. So if you bought the first iteration of the game, but stopped playing, but you wanna come back two years down the line, you're stuck with having to purchase a new version.
What you end up doing is you end up segmenting your community over time, not allowing it to grow but actually shrinking it.
So we've done away with that model in favor of a completely new approach for Street Fighter V, which works a lot more in the players' best interests. Moving forward, Street Fighter V is the only disc-based product you're gonna need to own. From this core, you'll be able to upgrade to all content throughout its lifespan. All adjustments will be made available free of charge to all players. That way, if you take a break and wanna come back two years down the line, all you have to do is download the latest patch, you'll be able to play with the latest balance in the largest player pool, and still with the characters that you own."
The topic of purchasing characters with real money versus earning them in-game came up. He said:
"Most importantly, we have a system that rewards players who stay engaged with the product. If you play, you'll earn in-game currency called 'Fight Money,' which you can use to unlock future DLC characters free of charge. So now you have something to look for in the short term, a goal in mind: if you keep playing the game, you can earn your Fight Money, and if you earn enough, you should be able to get a that character free of charge."
I followed up with the obvious next question: "How doable is that? Some systems have that in place, like 'You can earn it!' but you do the math and it's like… you have to play for 3,000 hours to earn anything. So how doable is actually getting these fighters?"
"We're still trying to find the right balance for that. We do want that to be an achievable goal, make it a realistic goal that if players are continuously playing the game, they can get the character when it drops. If for some reason you didn't have a lot of time on your hands or you weren't able to earn enough in-game currency, you can use real money to purchase content instantaneously. [Players] can either earn the content, they can choose to not get the character and choose to save their currency for a future one. It allows a lot more freedom and it's a lot more forgiving."
He went on to confirm that there is no DLC sitting on your disc, locked behind a paywall. "There will not be on-disc DLC, for sure," after I asked about the — oh yeah — kerfuffle that surrounded Street Fighter X Tekken's on-disc DLC.
I ended by just tossing out a question our to see if he'd heard about Tekken X Street Fighter progress, and expectedly, no, he hasn't. Though Capcom made Street Fighter X Tekken, and Bandai Namco has the rights to make Tekken X Street Fighter, Dahlgren either hasn't heard anything about it or isn't allowed to say, due to not being a part of the company in charge of that one.
I thank Matt and the rest of Capcom for taking the time to sit down and talk with me and thank you for reading the highlights of our conversation.