Friday, May 1, 2009
Trends in the Videogame Industry: Street Fighter IV
By Lucas Sullivan
I can still remember gazing at it in wonder as a very young child. It was the early 90s, and it stood inconspicuously in the lobby of a hotel my family was staying in. In my fascination, I knew that I had to interact with this machine, unaware that this event would spark an interest that would last more than a decade. Having borrowed two quarters from my parents and plunked them into the cabinet, I began playing the game that, unbeknownst to me, was sweeping the nation. The machine was an arcade game, and the game was Street Fighter II.
Street Fighter II, released by Japanese videogame company Capcom in 1991, was a game that launched an empire and furthered an entire genre: the fighting game. It features two-player head to head fighting, using a variety of characters, each with their own unique moves. At the time of its release, Street Fighter II immediately skyrocketed in popularity in arcades across the US and Japan. Dozens of imitators tried to cash in on the game’s success by making similar games of their own; this spawned series such as Mortal Kombat by Midway and King of Fighters by SNK, and later Tekken by Namco. Each of these series has had their fair share of popularity, but they pale in comparison to the reputation of Street Fighter. The game had an incredible number of spin-offs and individual iterations, adding new content and refueling fans’ excitement with each release. Street Fighter II encapsulates a sort of early 90s nostalgia for many gamers ages 20 to 30, and is still played by many thanks to rereleases on current-generation consoles.
Time passed, and in 1997 Capcom released Street Fighter III: New Generation, which would go on to incorporate various game changes and balances and culminate in Street Fighter III: Third Strike in 1999. Unfortunately, by this time, arcades were becoming a dying breed. Cabinets went from being an attraction at the local teen hangout to a relatively niche market with little exposure. Home videogame consoles were becoming more and more powerful, rendering the technology of the arcade machines less revolutionary and allowing the player to stay at home instead of making a trip to the arcade. Despite all this, Street Fighter III enjoyed success with the “hardcore” fans, a community which had been quietly growing since the fighting game boom of the 90s. The central hubs for this community, as well as the majority of highly skilled players, are located in California, though both the east and west coasts have their own star players and hotspots. But as arcades faded away leaving only the most dedicated behind, it looked like the Street Fighter series had run its course and the franchise that established fighting games had come to a close.
Or had it? After confidentially working on it for more than two years, Capcom unveiled Street Fighter IV in Japan on July 18, 2008. A home console release for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 soon followed, with North American gamers receiving it on February 18, 2009. Its release was a huge hit, with over 2 million copies of the game sold worldwide, not including arcade cabinets or the soon-to-be-released PC version. Lead producer Yoshinori Ono, who had worked on Street Fighter III and made it a success, headed the game and made sure that it would be a title worthy of the Street Fighter franchise. In an interview with GameSpy.com, Ono said “the whole reason that Street Fighter IV even exists as a project is because the fans demanded it. It's something that the media always told me, what the fans always told me, and what our U.S. branch constantly told me.” On top of strong sales figures, the game also received rave reviews from critics, scoring a 94 on compiling website metacritic.com. With this concurrent success, Street Fighter IV has brought in newcomers and more casual players to be added to the already existing fanbase of hardcore players.
With this influx of new players, the community has seen a flood of people interested in both playing and discussing Street Fighter. Websites such as Shoryuken.com offer a forum where these players can come together and discuss their passion for the game and various tactics that will lead to success. Pillars of the community also take it upon themselves to start up their own website and public events. One such community member is Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez, who runs gootecks.com and hosted the well-attended Street Fighter Bar Fights event in California recently. Players like Gutierrez enjoy the game as a competitive sport as well as a hobby. In an interview with beefjack.com, Gutierrez stated that there are two main reasons that he has such a passion for the game: “one is the actual competition of it, because I love the feeling of really beating someone down, so that’s part of it. The other part of it is that since I was a kid I’d read Gamepro or EGM and read about guys like Alex Valle or Mike Watson [two professional players covered in some videogame publications] and I would think: wow, what these guys do is like the coolest thing imaginable.”
Pros like Gutierrez have their own arena to display their prowess to fellow competitors: the Evolution Championship Series, or EVO for short. Held annually, EVO is the pinnacle of the fighting game community here in the US. It is at EVO that celebrities in the community are born, such as Japan’s Daigo Umehara or America’s Justin Wong, both of whom are able to make a living off of their winnings from conquered tournaments. Players gather together at EVO from all corners of the globe to take part in intense matches for thousands in prize money, or just to get together and play a few friendly games.
And what about more casual players, who are discovering Street Fighter for the first time? Dan Woredekal, a Rutgers University junior and newcomer to the game, says that he thoroughly enjoys the “intensity of close matches” when playing. Rutgers junior Alvin Arunkumar says that “there’s a steep learning curve, but you have a real feeling of accomplishment once you get over it. And no matter how many times you may lose a match, you still feel like you could win the next one.”
Aspiring players like Woredekal and Arunkumar can try and prove their proficiency at this year’s EVO, which is taking place from July 17-19. But be you a grizzled veteran of the series or an eager new challenger, Street Fighter IV marks the renewal of a legendary franchise and a sign of more good things to come for the fighting game community.
Lucas Sullivan is a student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick majoring in Journalism with a minor in Psychology.