There are only a handful of entertainment franchises nowadays that can trace their origins back to the ’80s — an era when practically everything felt fresh because so much was actually new — and, in the gaming world, Street Fighter stands tall among such franchises as one of the most successful. 2022 marks the 35th anniversary of Capcom’s fighting game series and, in some respects, this is as happy a coincidence — and as remarkable an opportunity — as it gets: not many companies get to capitalize on such a big anniversary of an iconic franchise in order to announce and/or launch new products.
It is also a big, nasty trap for Capcom.
You see, 2022 also happens to be the year that fighting game fans expect to receive news of — or even play — a new Street Fighter title. In a month the current version, Street Fighter V, will be a 6-year-old game: it has admittedly gone on for longer than anyone anticipated back in February 2016, when it launched in an astonishingly sorry state, truly embarrassing Capcom. The SFV of 2016 was an unfinished product that suffered from serious technical problems, offered the most basic of options and nowhere near enough content for players. It took many, many updates and upgrades — most free, some paid — in order to become the well-rounded, stable, content-rich game that it is today. It also took a lot of patience on behalf of the Street Fighter community, which stood by Capcom’s title despite its many flaws.
So it’s easy to see the temptation and the risk here. On one hand, Capcom has the opportunity to launch a new Street Fighter on the franchise’s big 35th anniversary, which would of course be an ideal scenario from a marketing perspective. The company could orchestrate online festivities and activities relevant to the deep history of Street Fighter, all leading up to the reveal of the new SF, and then let the usual carefully controlled stream of information follow, leading up to its launch at some point in Q4. An approach like this would keep Street Fighter in millions of gamers’ minds throughout the year and give the new title a much, much better chance of achieving high initial sales — even regardless of its overall quality. Sad but true.
On the other hand, after all that Capcom has put fans through with SFV, it needs to prove that it has learned its lesson: to show that it intends to not deliver a half-baked, troubled Street Fighter title like that again. This implies enough development time, and certainly enough testing, of which — as of right now — we have no indication at all that’s happening at Capcom’s headquarters. Maybe the Japanese company has managed to keep everything about its next Street Fighter under wraps, which would be commendable in this day and age. But chances are that if a new SF was in an advanced enough state to be ready for launch in 2022, some information would have probably leaked by now, no?
It seems that Capcom either has to make or has already made a choice regarding the 35th anniversary of Street Fighter and Street Fighter VI. It will either not try to launch the new title prematurely but merely announce it in 2022 — offering SF6 on the 36th SF anniversary does not sound bad at all — or it will indeed try to make the most out of this year’s anniversary and launch a new, commemorative SF as a milestone of the franchise’s journey from the 80’s arcades to the modern, always-connected home entertainment systems of the 21st century. Diehard fans of Street Fighter have suggested other means of celebrating the franchise’s success, such as e.g. releasing an Anniversary Edition of SFV with lots of extra commemorative content or even a crossover title with some other franchise but… let’s be honest here: SFVI is the card that every marketing department in this business would want to play. Period.
PC owners joke about Microsoft being unable to deliver two quality Windows versions one after the other: Windows 95 was good, Windows 98 was rubbish, Windows 2000 was good, Windows ME was rubbish, Windows XP was good, Windows Vista was rubbish, Windows 7 was good, Windows 8 was rubbish, Windows 10 was good (?), Windows 11… yeah. Street Fighter fans can claim the same: the original Street Fighter was not good, Street Fighter II was the legend that started it all, Street Fighter III was too hardcore to be widely successful, Street Fighter IV was extremely good, Street Fighter V was initially bad and now it’s good (but it took so much time to get there that it can’t be put in the history books as a quality release).
Capcom owes its fans a Street Fighter VI that is fantastic. Here’s hope that the company will not rush it, so it can deliver just that.