Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Iterations or Street Fighter Syndrome

The world of video game journalism thrives on the ability for the "journalists" to be snarky and inject humor into their journalism, that's just the state of things.  One of the ongoing and longest running jokes is about Street Fighter and its numerous editions over the years.  Its an easy joke, and somehow gives the journalist "cred" to say it, with bonus points if they actually think they are the first to make the joke.  

I feel like I have to explain why it makes sense to have updates and iterations to Street Fighter, and indeed other fighting games.  Also maybe even delve into why this is not "Madden-nomics".

A Crowd of Competitors

From the the word "Fight!" Street Fighter was about drawing a crowd of people together to play against one another.  Sure there are CPU controlled opponents and a half baked story in there, but the game is made to be played competitively against humans.  Now, if you have Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III, and Street Fighter IV all done within the span of 3 years, and all of them play different, then you have split your talent pool.  There simply will not be enough people in either to keep it going, and having to keep up with 3 different games just to ensure you have someone to play against is a little nuts.  Let's not forget that if your old version is still popular, you're going to compete against yourself and cannibalize your fans.  Smaller updates means people have no real reason to stay with the past version.  It is close enough that it is painless to move on.  So reason: Iterations don't Split your Fanbase.

Time to Train

Looking at the select screen in Street Fighter IV's later iterations can be daunting, look at the pure number of fighters.  Old players like me had the benefit of learning new characters as they were created.  Instead of learning 50 characters, we got to learn the first 8 in 1991.  Then every couple of years 4 new characters came.  While technique, timing and game change, the way to play each of these characters have stayed consistent.  Still, this is unfair for new players to be expected to know how they all work.  The #1 way to be better at fighting games is to know your opponent, know what to expect from the character.  Because Street Fighter IV came out in 2008, we have had 6+ years to get better at it.  If you spent a few months getting better at it in 2008, it'll only take a little time in 2014 to get your bearings.  So reason: Iterations give you time to learn.


Madden will have you pay $60 a year to get updated rosters and some superfluous game modes.  Looking at Street Fighter IV, you might have payed $60 for the original, but to update the previous to the current will cost you $15 bucks each step up... for a month or so, then drop to $10.  Looking at Call of Duty, another annual series, you actually do not have iterations in the same way.  Call of Duty actually has 2, and now 3 developers creating their games and staggering their release.  It is actually 3 years before the next iteration of that "style" of Call of Duty comes out, and so by then there's enough forgetfulness and new features added that it doesn't feel like an iteration.  So another reason:  smaller alterations means smaller budget, means cheaper updates.

Hell is other People

So what about the genre as a whole, why doesn't everyone else do this?  Let me tell you a little secret:  Unless its a once in a life time game like Killer Instinct, they DO.  Look at what is considered high in competitive circles.  Blaze Blue, Guilty Gear; looks like there are a million of those games, there's really only about 2 of each, the rest were iterations.  King of Fighters?  There's about 3 of those, but for a while every year there was an update.  That doesn't matter, they really only redid the game and made new artwork about 3 times.  What of Mortal Kombat?  Ok, here's our dirty little secret: some games are slightly large iterations even if they are numbered different.  Mortal Kombat 1-3, Tekken 1-3, 5-6, Soul Calibur, these games keep the same core game with updated visuals.  I know they add bells and whistles, and I'm not saying anything bad about them; I love ALL those games I mentioned, but its true still.  Are you good at Tekken 2?  Bet you'll kick ass at Tekken 5.  (3 images of Mortal Kombat, 3 different games... believe it or not)

Its just a simple truth that creating a brand new fighting experience every year, or even every other year, just is not good business for fighting game developers.  It would also suck pretty badly for the players as well.  So yea, its an easy jab to make, being snarky and "clever" making the "I'll wait for Street Fighter Omega Awesome Dash update 12", but you're really just showing idiocy, a small mind, and the lack of knowledge in your field to create original and even topical humor.

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