In December of last year, Capcom orchestrated an unprecedented partnership with Sony: Capcom would port its flagship title “Ultra Street Fighter IV” (“USFIV”) and release the sequel “Street Fighter V” exclusively on the PlayStation 4, while Sony would provide $500,000 in prize money for Capcom’s 2015 fighting game tournament circuit, the Capcom Pro Tour.
This partnership, announced live at the 2014 Capcom Cup, is a significant sponsorship deal in competitive fighting game history. The announcement marked a significant undertaking by Capcom to push growth in the fighting game community – whose tournaments had, with a few exceptions, only been sponsored by smaller companies and organized at the grassroots level.
To help port “USFIV” to the PS4, Capcom and Sony hired Other Ocean Interactive, a small company whose primary focus is converting already-finished games to run on other consoles. Notably, Other Ocean previously developed “Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection”, an emulated port of the first three games of the popular “Mortal Kombat” franchise. The port received middling critical reception due to a myriad of technical issues (it only managed a 59 on Metacritic), but it was a low profile release that saw no tournament play. Other Ocean has had no other console fighting game development experience until this past year with “USFIV”.
Ultra Street Fighter IV for the PS4 is Released
With the release of “USFIV” for the PS4 in March, Capcom stumbled. Other Ocean Interactive delivered a bug-riddled game that was immediately derided as unplayable by both tournament organizers and competitors.
The port is a technical downgrade in every sense from the PS3 version, which many players already feel is inferior to the Xbox 360 version and is rarely used in tournament play. Input lag, graphics and sound glitches, a lackluster online infrastructure, and slow, blurry menus are a few of the issues that players found in the first week of play, and more problems will certainly be revealed as the PS4 version is tested by the fighting game community.
Input lag, especially, is a major problem for the PS4 version. DisplayLag, a website that tests input lag for electronics and video games, tested the input lag for “USFIV”. The Xbox 360 version of “USFIV” has 5.1 frames of input lag, which essentially translates to a player character moving 85 milliseconds after a button is pressed. The PS3 version has 6.4 frames of input lag, and because fighting games require decisions to be made in mere milliseconds, I don’t see the PS3 version as viable for competitive play.
The PS4 version, on release, had 8.0 frames of input lag, easily rendering it the worst version from a competitive standpoint. The PS4 version was patched this past week, and DisplayLag reported that the input lag had fallen to 7.2 frames of lag. This is an improvement, but the PS4 version is still worse than both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions.
The Impact on the Fighting Game Community
Tournaments can only feature “USFIV” on the PS4 if they are to receive prize funding. Last year, “USFIV” alone saw nearly 2,000 entrants in the world’s largest annual fighting game tournament, the Evolution Championship Series, as reported by Event Hub. The Evolution Championship Series and other highly-attended international tournaments are part of the Capcom Pro Tour, but I think it’s clear that forcing organizers to use the PS4 version would provide a sub-optimal experience for all players involved in the biggest tournaments of the year.
Capcom realized this, too. These tournaments are planned at least a year in advance, but the situation is now in a flux. The day after the PS4 version was released, Capcom announced that “current hardware standards” will continue to be used in tournaments, meaning that the Xbox 360 will be the de facto tournament console. This was a slap in the face to players who had bought the port, as well as PS4s and expensive PS4-specific equipment, in anticipation for a PS4 only future. Instead, featuring the PS4 version in tournaments may be put on indefinite hold. The community is livid, with many players on sites like Reddit demanding refunds for what they consider to be a version that no one would ever play. Team Spooky, a respected group of fighting game players, streamers, and tournament organizers, put it simply in a recent tweet: “The PS4 Port of Ultra will not be used at [our weekly tournament] NLBC. If you need to know why just try it yourself.”
Who Takes the Fall?
The blame can be hefted upon Capcom or Sony or Other Ocean Interactive, but I believe that the buck stops at Capcom. Street Fighter is Capcom’s franchise, and the fighting game community is the community Capcom alone depends on. Capcom did not develop the port – Other Ocean Interactive did – but failing to monitor the progress of their flagship game shows at least some incompetence when it comes to following through on meeting the needs of a competitive community.
Capcom’s partnership with Sony is a large step forward for the fighting game community, but Capcom can’t allow substandard products to be released, especially in the middle of a busy competitive season. I see “USFIV” for PS4 as a threat to the growth of competitive fighting gaming. Other Ocean has made Capcom’s flagship game worse, and instead of propping up tournaments in the Capcom Pro Tour, “USFIV’s” PS4 release has jeopardized them, hurting the community in the process.