We've all heard the joke before. Capcom makes an announcement involving a new update to a Street Fighter game and everyone comes out with their best over-zealous and superfluous name they can think of. Super Alpha Omega Street Fighter Ultra 4: Gaiden! Well, as gross as all the updates may appear, I'm here to tell you that it is far from. In fact, it is better for everyone involved to do it this way.
Obviously Capcom and the Street Fighter brand have a history of this kind of thing. It really came about as a symptom of one of the arcades biggest strengths. When arcades were more popular worldwide it was not uncommon for developers to release various versions of a game. They would put the game out to the public, gather data on how it is being played, tweak the code and then swap a new build into the machine. This was especially useful for competitive games like Street Fighter 2 as people were learning new ways to break the game and some strategies or techniques were deemed to be too powerful.
In arcades, this was nothing new and was no big deal. You just included a piece of text on the title screen declaring what version the machine was running and that was that. The rise in popularity of home consoles changed everything though. No longer could they just swap out upgraded versions. Whenever there was a significant update (major balance changes, new characters, supers, turbo, etc...) Capcom had no choice but to release a new console version to get it into peoples homes. In the interest of sales and public awareness, this was done through name changes.
The Current State of Street Fighter:
So now we come to the past month and the news of Ultra Street Fighter 4 being announced for release in early-mid 2014. More specifically, this follows on the heels of a statement from series producer Tomoaki Ayano stating that Street Fighter 5 may be as many as five years away yet. Immediately the jokes and claims of gouging the fan base for money were voiced by many. Personally though, this is one of the more encouraging pieces of news they could release. Sound crazy to you? Well here's why.
The Title Change is Nothing More Than DLC:
You may not realize it initially, but the title change does not constitute a new game in any form or fashion. In fact, it is just the equivalent of a version number displaying on the bottom of an arcade screen. The core game and engine that is running behind all of the updates is exactly the same. In fact, they have only changed the name when there have been significant upgrades in the form of characters, modes, features, balance changes, backgrounds and costumes.
I have heard people complain that balance changes have been locked behind a pay gate. This has only been the case on 2 occasions: the upgrade to Super and the upgrade to Arcade Edition. Both of those instances were accompanied by many of the changes and enhancements listed above. Every other instance of balance changes and patches have been completely free.
So what am I getting at here? With the exception of the jump to Super Street Fighter 4 (which I will admit came too early and the lack of a downloadable DLC upgrade can be viewed negatively) all upgraded versions have been available to download as DLC for the Super Street Fighter 4 disc. They are not new games. They are no different than buying a map pack for a shooter or an additional dungeon in a JRPG. The only difference is the name change.
As far as price gouging and milking a fan base, the upgrade to Arcade Edition cost $14.99 at time of release. That's about the same as a full map pack for a Call of Duty game. The main difference here; by the time Ultra releases, it will have been two years since that upgrade. Where as modern AAA games that release map packs and DLC for the same price are then going to release a brand new game the following year rendering the previous game (and its DLC) practically obsolete. $15 every two years doesn't seem so bad now does it?
Perception is Everything:
So why all the negativity to this announcement? I feel as though the perception of the name change being a new game creates a much more negative stigma than is really warranted. When you just view it as DLC for the existing disc, not only is it very reasonably priced for the fans, but it also has much more longevity than most modern games do. Rather than buying a new $60 game each year to stay current over the course of five years, you could buy Super Street Fighter 4 (which was $40 at release) and the two upgrades (AE and Ultra) for $15 apiece in the same time span. $300 for the AAA title versus $70 for SF4 doesn't seen too bad (add $60 if you started on the original release and you are still under half the cost of AAA).
As for why I feel it is good to update and support Street Fighter 4 for more years rather than put out Street Fighter 5, you'll have to check back later.