When Street Fighter 4 Producer Yoshinori Ono made the announcement of a Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition during the Japanese Street Fighter 4 Nationals, a roar came from the Japanese audience. However, despite many Western sites – including Original-Gamer - running the story as important news, many U.S. gamers didn’t see the significance of this announcement. Why was a release of a Japanese arcade game so important? It wasn’t going to be a game that many U.S. gamers would play due to the tiny arcade community in the country. Unless you’re in the few cities that have an arcade with Japanese games such as L.A., New York and Austin, you will probably never see an arcade version of Super Street Fighter 4 AE. Yet it was the Japanese Street Fighter 4 Nationals' announcement that saved the Street Fighter 4 phenomenon, and I spoke with someone who could explain how an arcade game could have stopped a phenomenon that was happening the world over.
In Austin, TX, Ryan Harvey runs his Japanese arcade named Arcade UFO. The only one in Texas, Harvey decided to combine his love for Japanese games, his knowledge about the Japanese arcade culture from his time studying abroad in Japan, and an emptiness in the city of Austin for an actual video game arcade to start Arcade UFO. His vision came to fruition and since the opening; Arcade UFO is proof that, while not as popular as in the past, arcades are not dead in the U.S.
I spoke with Harvey about how a console only version of the game would affect his business. At all times of the day, there are always players on the six Street Fighter 4 cabinets, dropping in quarter after quarter to practice against other players. Those SF4 cabinets have become the backbone of his business bringing in a large portion of revenue day in and day out. Players from all over the state of Texas come to play on these cabinets and participate in his tournaments. Without an arcade version of SSF4, it’s painfully obvious that his business was going to suffer.
At $25,000 a unit, these SF4 cabinets were not the Galaga or Pac-man cabinets of the golden age of arcades. “The biggest problem to the game center owners, both like me and in Japan, a lot of arcade invested in these Hi-def (SF4) cabinets that were super expensive, over double the price of the standard old school 4x3 ratio cabinets, “ Harvey said. For prices these steep, you may think that it’s an unwise move to spend so much on a cabinet for one game, but that’s not necessarily the case when buying arcade cabinets. “The face of the matter is, the investment was so large for these machines, that it was basically implied that an upgrade was going to come up. If it didn’t, what’s was the point of having these $25,000 cabinets. Upgradability is standard in arcade machines,” he explained. That upgrade is only for one game: Super Street Fighter 4.
If you ever spent a lot of time in the arcades when they were popular, you could tell that cabinets were used over and over again with just different boards switched out to accommodate the new games that could still use the same controls. This practice keeps the cost down for arcade owners who didn’t have to constantly purchase new cabinets, along with refreshing the gaming experience for the gamers who come back when a new version of the game is released. “Really more than anything,” Harvey continued, “it’s a slap in the face to the arcade industry which is, ironically, where Capcom got its start. “
For Harvey, this was a dire time for his business. With a console version of Super Street Fighter 4 looming on the horizon thus making his SF4 machines obsolete taking away a large chunk of his revenue, he had to immediately begin thinking of ways to compete in order to survive. Arcades in Japan, China, and those few in the U.S., who had invested in these cabinets had already begun plans of how to keep their business alive. One of these ideas, and possibly the most obvious, is to take either a PS3 or Xbox 360 and stick it in the cabinet itself to allow gamers to still play this latest version in the arcade. “If that’ something that we have to do to maintain our business, to keep six machines of SF4 to go completely empty, we are going to do what we have to do to stay in business,” Ryan said.
So why is the arcade release of SSF4 important aside from a business aspect? Harvey explains that while in the U.S. consoles have become dominant with the arcades now far behind, things are obviously different in Japan. Games in Japan don’t normally meet up at their friends’ house to play with one another, or spend a lot of time online. For them, they go to the arcades and it’s in the arcades is where you’ll find the greatest Japanese players like Tokido, Mago, and Daigo Umehara.
“If Japan does not have the game (SSF4) in arcades, the country of Japan, as a whole, will not taking SSF4 as seriously as other fighting games.”
Without an arcade release of Super Street Fighter 4, the skill level in Japan, as whole would drop thus killing that international competition that the U.S. pros strive to compete with. We in the U.S. have awesome players like Justin Wong, Mike Ross, and Harvey himself, who have competed against the Japanese, but still have not been able to break the grasp the Japanese have on competitive fighting games. Harvey explained that if we lose Japan and those regular beatings that make us better in the end, then the whole SF4 scene would go downhill and be a thing of the past. That’s the main draw for fighting games, to be known as the best in the world, and not just the best in one country.
I didn’t really believe him when he said this but then he gave me an example of how a console only game can kill the competition in Japan:
“The only precedent we have for this is Soul Caliber 4. Soul Caliber was released in the arcades and consoles until Soul Caliber 3. But SC 4 was a console only game. Sure enough, it was dropped from all the Japanese fighting game circuits. My friend told me about an arcade in Japan that had a big Soul Caliber scene; where they tried to hook up a PS3 and have a Soul Caliber night to kind of go off that. But, he told me that people stopped going in the first two months. Soul Caliber died in Japan as a competitive game with Soul Caliber 4, and it still sold many copies in the U.S. It’s still a success, there’s a big American Soul Caliber scene, but you know, it’s like none of that matters. The overall level of the game is lowered because of it. If I were a Soul Caliber player and was aspiring to beat the Japanese, I would be sorely disappointed. I certainly hope that history is not repeated with Super Street Fighter 4.”
Thankfully, history will not repeat itself. Capcom, after months of saying there would be no arcade version of SSF4, finally listened to their fans and gave them what they want. By doing this, they not only saved many arcades like Arcade UFO that are dependent on the popularity of SF4, but they also saved the competitive fighting game scene that is currently centered around SF4 and the soon to be release SSF4. At around 4am Eastern Time on 4/4/10, fighting game fans around the world were saved even though they may not have realized it.