Capcom’s Street Fighter: A Delicate Balance

This week we have guest writer Timi Merriman-Johnson filling in for Ed Smith’s Invisible Walls. Ed will be back in two weeks. Enjoy!

Street Fighter II TurboThere is a rather odd phenomenon that seems to take place within the world of fighting games. This can quite easily be seen in Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise. The developers release a game: Street Fighter II (1992), and then re-release the exact same thing soon after – often with a few extra characters, and some sort of hyperbole affixed to the title: Super Street Fighter II (1993). Over time, this practice has enraged many a fighting game supporter, as they feel that their hard earned cash is being siphoned away from them due to all the relentless iterating. As Capcom was relatively young when Street Fighter II was first released, this begs an important question: why would a developer seek to alienate the very audience they depend on? This, dear friends, is a question of balance.

At its inception, if there’s anything the Street Fighter franchise was recognised for, it was for its wild and wacky cast of characters. Created by a Japanese development team, it’s very amusing to see the way they chose to represent other cultures in their work. I would go as far as saying that many of these representations could easily be perceived as mildly racist. What saved Capcom from coming across as offensive was the way they managed to maintain an equal distribution of ridiculousness amongst the cast. Take Dhalsim, the meditating, levitating contortionist from India. Problem? Also, why not make him breathe fire? Must be from all the curry he eats. Or how about Dee Jay, the gleeful, kickboxing capoeira fighter from Jamaica. The devs even made sure to give him a pair of maracas to whip out and shake around during his post-match celebration.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3Despite how bizarre some of the characters are, Capcom are to be applauded for continually striving to ensure that their cast of Street Fighters are as diverse as possible. Who wants to play a game in which all of the characters are the same? However in striving for diversity, any fighting game development team runs the risk of affecting character balance. A fighter may be given an uppercut that just so happens to beat out the special moves of a significant portion of the roster. There may be another character with the ability to perform an ‘infinite’; an unending string of moves that can be performed until a KO is reached, or until the time runs out. Because there is only so much playtesting a development team can carry out prior to release, fighting games often go out with undetected imbalances. In the hands of consumers, further game-breaking exploits are likely to be found by individuals who have much more time on their hands than the developers could ever hope to have.

Before the days of digital distribution and online gaming, the only real way to deal with character imbalance was to hope that players found a way around it, or to release a more complete, fairer version of the game. Capcom obviously favour the latter, hence the reason why to date, there are six different versions of Street Fighter II across multiple platforms. Capcom do need to tread carefully though. In this day and age given the technology available to us, and a much wider audience base, consumers are much less accepting of the business practises of old. To the disbelief of their fans, Capcom still continue to iterate with full (albeit discounted) retail releases of their current day releases such as Street Fighter IV and the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Many feel that such a practice is greedy and unjustified, given the fact that in-game exploits can now be fixed via DLC. Who knows, very soon Capcom may find themselves trying to strike a completely new type of balance. In striving for financial gain, Capcom now run the risk of negatively affecting the relationship they have with their fans – a problem that would take much more than a patch to fix.

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