Street Fighter V’s Newest Release Sets A Worrying Precedent

Jonathan Lightfoot looks at how Street Fighter V’s newest release sets a worrying precedent for future releases.

Next month will mark the two-year anniversary of Street Fighter V’s debut. When it first launched, it lacked many of the features that have been cornerstones of the fighting genre for decades. Releasing a fighting game without an Arcade Mode or Story Mode is as absurd as an open-world game with four-fifths of the game’s world missing. Yet that is precisely what happened. Street Fighter V was released to extensive criticism, and rightly so. It wasn’t a game so much as it was a glorified demo, with the promise of the best stuff to come in future patches.

We’ve seen a huge shift in the last ten years or so towards an increasingly digital-focused future, and in many ways that’s a good thing. Twenty years ago, if a game somehow reached stores with any horrendous glitches still present, the only way to get rid of them would be to release a newer, more stable version. Not a simple solution by any means, and there’s an argument to be made that it encouraged developers to undertake extensive quality-assessment checks before asking people to pay for their product.

Now, the situation is different. With patches and post-launch content updates the norm, it’s easy enough to rectify a game’s problems by putting out a patch for players to download. Where we once had a relative scarcity of glitches but no easy way to fix them, the tables have turned: it’s not uncommon for games to hit the shelves with a whole host of problems that are, fingers crossed, eventually remedied with a patch update.

It’s not necessarily an issue of complacency. I watched as Yoshinori Ono, executive producer for Street Fighter V, took to the stage at PlayStation Experiance to announce the newest entry in Capcom’s popular fighting series. Speaking only minimal English, he had to work through a translator. Even so, his sheer enthusiasm and love for the project was clear. It seems unlikely that he would release a half-finished product, knowing full well what the fans would expect from it.

The problem, then, likely rests with publishers. With such a simple solution to a game’s problems existing in the form of patches, time spent on quality checks can be cut down immensely. Get the game out quicker, cash-in faster – that’s what they will think. Yoshinori Ono has been working on the Street Fighter series for almost 20 years. Would he really jeopardise it so willingly? Instinct tells me he wouldn’t.

It’s an unfortunate situation when the pressures of business take precedent over the passions of the creators. Going back a ways, Knights of the Old Republic II suffered a great deal due to constraints imposed by its publisher, resulting in huge chunks of the game being cut before release. Those features, including an entire planet to visit, were only restored due to the efforts of the game’s modding community.

It isn’t a problem specific to missing features, either. The last few years have seen many high-profile games release with a whole host of glitches both big and small. Bethesda have earned quite a reputation for releasing, at least on console, games in both the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series that often take several post-launch patches to make them functional. The PCs versions have similar issues, but at least those can usually be fixed through modding.

More recently, Assassin’s Creed Unity launched with a selection of glitches that were both hilarious and horrifying. My personal favourite is the one that made most of a person’s head disappear, leaving only the mouth, hair and a pair of very frightening-looking eyes. Fortunately, Ubisoft appear to have learned something from that debacle. Unity’s two successors were noticeably more stable at launch.

As digital distribution becomes more and more prevalent, this worrying dependency on post-launch patching doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. To huge publishing companies, the cost of putting out an update or two is probably nothing compared to cutting down the work hours required to carry out proper QA checks. For developers who genuinely want to create an excellent game, it’s a troubling state of affairs.

For now, I think this is something we’re stuck with. From a customer’s standpoint, what can be done? Voicing your displeasure through official channels is always worthwhile – games being “review-bombed” on Steam have gotten the message across a few times now – but that does little to fix the disappointment of buying a new game and finding it full of easily-fixed issues. Other than that, it may just be a case of waiting for the wave of patches to pass before we part with our money.

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