The Uncertain Future of Street Fighter X Tekken

Three months since release, and Street Fighter X Tekken is off to a rocky start. How did it come to this, and what does the future hold?

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After last week's reports on the sales of Street Fighter X Tekken, it seems fewer people than expected were ready to "cross the line." Developer Capcom admitted that sales for the game did not match expectations, stating, "Sales of Street Fighter X Tekken have fallen short of our plan." The reason cited: "cannibalism" within the fighting game genre. "We believe one of [the] causes is cannibalism because of the large number of other games in this genre that were launched within a short time." But is cannibalism the main culprit for SFXT's woes? Are there other factors that could have contributed?

Sure there are, but I agree that oversaturation in the fighting game marketplace is "one of [the] causes" why Street Fighter X Tekken fell short of the projected 2 million sales mark. I warned of this in a recent editorial: as more and more fighting games are released, the community's time and resources are stretched thin. Meanwhile, the games are not doing enough to grow the audience proportionally. Having one game succeed at the expense of others is an unfortunate reality that we will see happen more and more.

I believe [simplicity] is the trap SFXT has fallen into, because many of the game's mechanics are being ignored.
In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests a growing concern within the fighting game community was that SFXT's success would pull interest away from Street Fighter IV. There are a lot of great fighting games available now, games that could hold a serious player's attention for many years. Yet more fighters keep coming, fighters targeted at that same player. And when that player has a vested interest in seeing his game--the one he has put so much time and effort into, the one where his skills will shine against stiff competition--succeed it will become increasingly difficult to pull him into something new.

Returning to Street Fighter X Tekken itself, when I watch competitive play I see a recurring strategy: jab. Jabs, and other safe pokes, are so good in this game. They're usually safe on block and hard to counter, so why not just throw them around all day? Eventually one connects, leading into a long combo, and then the two combatants go back to the jabs. Is this how everyone plays all the time? No. But this style is widely accepted as the most economical way to fight across the entire cast. And it's incredibly tedious to watch.

In the editorial On Cheapness, Capcom's Seth Killian wrote: "It's Capcom's job to provide games that are fun for a wide range of playing ability without allowing the game to become transparent, and to degenerate into simplistic routines for winning, incapable of holding a serious player's interest." Sadly, I believe this is the trap SFXT has fallen into, partly because many of the game's mechanics are being ignored. Take meter usage. You can spend meter on several different mechanics, but 90 percent of the time it is used for tag cancels. Tag cancels are one of the easiest and safest ways to switch characters, usually as part of a combo that leads to good damage. Why bother with anything else?

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And when was the last time you saw Pandora used outside of a combo video? Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has shown that a comeback mechanic can get players and viewers really excited to watch a match. It keeps tension high throughout the fight, right up until the last second. But Pandora is viewed as essentially useless. Because there's only an eight-second timer after activating Pandora, you don't have enough time to play the long jab-and-step game discussed above. Using Pandora usually means you are forfeiting the match.

Then there are the gems. I really like the idea of gems in concept; being able to add a personal touch and maximize my fighting style was something I enjoyed in Jump Ultimate Stars on the Nintendo DS. While Jump was not the most well-balanced game, at least all the modifiers were available in the game. Capcom seriously shot itself in the foot by splitting up the gems and offering obviously more powerful gems for purchase than those given for free. This model of buying power has never been received favorably within a highly competitive game, especially in the West, and thus the audience turned its back on these trinkets.

As a result, gems are typically banned in tournament play. As more and more techniques and depth are stripped out or ignored, you're left with a game that can't help but feel shallow.

There were plenty of issues surrounding the game's release as well. Between conventions and other prerelease events, the audience for Street Fighter X Tekken saw a lot of the game before release, before several mechanics were added. Gradually, as those mechanics were introduced, doubt settled in. When the game was released, it was to an already skeptical audience--and then the final straw snapped. Twelve new characters were discovered on the disc, just sitting there, waiting for Capcom to flip the switch. This discovery was the tipping point from caution to complete negativity, which Capcom has thus far been unable to quell.

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Add to that the constant audio syncing glitches when playing online, the lack of local cooperative play for the Xbox 360, and the recent, game-crashing knife/fireball bug--the hits just keep on coming. For a growing portion of the community, the perception for SFXT is nothing short of "this game is a buggy, unfinished mess." And when that's how your game is perceived, how are players supposed to feel pride in gaining proficiency? This is the main problem all these smaller issues feed into: loss of perceived value for being skilled at Street Fighter X Tekken.

This is the main problem these smaller issues feed into: loss of perceived value for skill at Street Fighter X Tekken.
A good fighting game draws a crowd. That crowd streams matches, creates tutorials, and hosts tournaments. This draws in more competition, drives up the quality of competition, and gives value to player skill. Seth Killian sums it up nicely: "The 'network effect' is the way I think about how wins in a given fighting game develop meaning and value for the players. Basically, the more people that are playing any one game, the more meaningful your skill at that game becomes. You might be the world's greatest Clay Fighter player, but with only four other people still playing that game, there's less collective meaning in that title, less challenge, and, correspondingly, less incentive for others to get into the game."

With so much negativity positioned against Street Fighter X Tekken, some are ready (and eager) to write it off as a total loss. However, I believe it is too early to tell. The game has a lot of interesting ideas that we have yet to see fully realized. I may be disappointed at their execution, but not the ideas themselves. At this juncture, I believe Capcom has three options. First, and this is what I'm hopeful for, they release a very substantial, downloadable update to the game, a la Arcade Edition for Super Street Fighter IV, bundled with the 20 dollar DLC character pack later this year. When those new characters drop I know a lot of people, myself included, will return to see how they play. At that time, if Capcom can restore viability to Pandora, speed up the matches, somehow even the playing field with gems (free gem vouchers?), and make Street Fighter X Tekken feel like a complete game then they a shot at success.

If Capcom are unable or otherwise unwilling to make such drastic changes they should go with the second option: walk away. Just cut losses and move on to the next project. There's an important lesson about communication to be learned here. The community was excited for SFXT's release, but they were also concerned about gems, about Pandora, about all these systems that keep getting added. They knew something was amiss, but Capcom asked for trust. And 1.4 million consumers trusted them--then all those potential complications the fans were murmuring about came to pass. All the warning signs were there. Dropping the last DLC and walking away from SFXT would free up space in an already crowded market, and let attention be carried away to the (several) other up-and-coming fighting games.

The third option is Hyper Street Fighter X Tekken. This option would be a perversion of the first: a full, retail release priced at 40 dollars that includes the DLC costumes, characters, and another specialized gem pack. This is the worst option. Even if Capcom successfully addressed all the game's faults, this release would only compound the negative sentiment towards them as a nickel-and-dime company. It would hurt not only SFXT by splitting an already thin user base, but future fighting game releases as well. People are catching on to the cycle of Street Fighter IV to Super Street Fighter IV; Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This model of constantly splintering your fan base is not sustainable, and consumers won't stand for it much longer.

The future of Street Fighter X Tekken hangs by a thread, but I believe Capcom still has the chance to turn things around, for better or worse. How do you think they will respond, and which option would you prefer. Capcom says they're listening, hopefully they are willing to act on what they hear.

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