Old Idea: Super Street Fighter IV. Better Idea: League of Legends

Seven months after its console release, Street Fighter IV as we know it is already dead. At least, that’s what publisher/developer Capcom’s leading everyone to believe. Super Street Fighter IV is set to arrive next spring and will place the original’s teeth on the nearest curb and..well, you know what happens next. Unfortunate saps without the new version are left with the bloody and broken pieces of a title once brimming with bright and glittery Edward-Cullen-in-the-sunlight potential (so dreamy!). It’s the sad story of a title continually loved by many, but only briefly by its own creator.

A week after release, two million units of SFIV hit shelves worldwide. Since then, a console title price drop and pc digital download availability probably helped sell an additional million or two, so let’s add another couple of strikes to the tally. As a “thank you” to the millions of gamers who slapped down their recessionary dollars for the product,  the company severed communication and released only one major patch – adding in Championship mode, replays, and a few bug fixes. Compared to Bungie, who provide frequent patches to the Halo titles and run a weekly community-focused blog, Capcom’s continual lack of action tarnishes the legendary company’s name. “Dated” is now the best word to describe the house that spawned Mega Man and Resident Evil.

It didn’t have to be this way. If only they could just…change.

Brick-and-mortar distribution once dictated title modifications, additions, and subtractions be made through reissues at market. “Champion Edition,” “Turbo,” “Super Turbo” – read the subtitles of Street Fighter II’s many releases. There were more, too, and full price was demanded for each. And we paid it. Each and every time. But this isn’t 1993.

Capcom needs to let go. It’s holding on to a business model with a comparatively small and limited financial potential. Worse yet, the handling of said model does little to strengthen the confidence a consumer may have in this supplier. The company needs to evolve, and the best blueprint to follow lies in a free-to-play title available only on the PC.

But first, let’s kill the idea that “free-to-play” means little return on investment…

The cutesy free-to-play MMO Maple Story generated an estimated $150-500 million by itself in 2008. Proving 2008 financials were no fluke, publisher/developer Nexon’s company-wide sales climbed 32% in August compared to the previous year. And with their newest title, Dungeon Fighter Online, set for an imminent release, I’d expect year to year sales to continue to grow.

Now, back to assisting Capcom.

Riot Games’ League of Legends isn’t necessarily a game. It’s a platform for the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) title. This design allows for greater title malleability from updates and increased revenue flow over an extended period of time through a microtransaction-based store. It’s not a new model, and Riot’s hardly the first to implement it, but strong parallels may be drawn between the player versus player core gameplay design and Street Fighter IV’s 1v1 fighting.

The game’s not out yet, but the beta and various interviews give us an idea of how this model will fit in the final retail version. Balance issues, bugs, and small annoyances are either stamped out in each bi-weekly patch or addressed in some way on the forum, and Riot sometimes adds a new character or two every couple of weeks. If this were Capcom and the Street Fighter series, that kind of maintenance and attention would end either on release day or shortly after. Riot, playing the “good developer” card, plans to continue supporting the title long after release.

But this is all easier on the PC. There, on the freest of all possible gaming platforms, a developer isn’t forced to design and update titles under Microsoft and Sony’s paranoid console eyes. Certification process? What certification process? PC titles get released, and patched, and patched, and…

Street Fighter IV’s follow-up doesn’t need to be PC-only if the console manufacturers loosened their grip on developers, but it could just as well. Capcom has used, and is using, it as the lead development platform for a plethora of titles. And, most appealing to the pleated khaki-wearing execs, the PC market’s thriving.

The transition would be tough, and neogaf would probably burst into flames, but that’s okay. Change is hard (I should know). But Capcom, in case you’re scared of messing up, can’t you at least dip your toe in these new and exciting waters?

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