For Street Fighter 2's U.S. releases, Capcom USA's marketing department followed the trend of the time by Americanizing the original Japanese art style. The results created strong opinions on both sides, with some at Capcom preferring the original art created in Japan and others liking the Americanized style.In Japan, Capcom used this artwork from Akira Yasuda on Street Fighter 2's box.
[It was always difficult] to get assets [from Japan] to be able to market it properly. We did a lot of our own artwork here, because at a certain point the Japanese had enough trust in me specifically to let me do what I thought was appropriate for artwork and for graphics and things like that. So we just went ahead and did our own thing over here, and a lot of times Japan adopted our style.
When I arrived, here I am coming into a new industry, and there had already been some relationships that had been built between Capcom and its venders and all that. And I was introduced to this really easygoing, laid-back guy named Denny [Moore] who had been doing work on other packaging for them — things like Mega Man, stuff like that. ... When he [saw] Street Fighter, he had a couple of artists that he worked with that he really felt could capture the spirit of the franchise. So he went and talked to the artist who in fact did know about Street Fighter, played himself. And I remember whenever he would come back with the pencil sketches of what they were thinking about, I would say, "God that looks great." I mean, I loved their work. I thought they did such a great job.
Mick McGinty (Freelance illustrator, SNES and Genesis Street Fighter box art):
Well, it was totally by chance. I was freelancing starting around 1983 ... and one of my first and best clients was a guy named Denny Moore ...
[The first Super NES cover] was a real simple project where Denny said, "Hey I've got this game." And at this time, I mean, I don't think Denny knew how big of an impact Street Fighter was gonna have. He just said, "Hey I've got this company, Capcom ... and they've got this game called Street Fighter. Here's some screen grabs." And all I got from Denny and from the company was someone took Polaroids of some screens. ...
I wasn't a real realistic painter, but I could do this exaggerated realism. I could kind of give an American slant to the characters and the things they were trying to accomplish with that game. Because I think the first thing that they realized was that they weren't going to be able to sell these games very well if they had the original Japanese art — which at the time, I didn't like. Anything I saw, it was just too foreign to me at the time. But now, 20 or 30 years later, I really love their work. It's just nice, edgy, colorful, action-filled — it's just cool stuff. And I think the American buying public, they don't have a problem with it now.
[There] was a very long and ongoing debate about positioning and product. There's a lot to be said obviously with the Japanese heritage to the games and the fact that they were created in Japan. And my personal feeling is that there is a dedicated die-hard group of gamers who appreciate that heritage and certainly like to see that reflected in any marketing materials that they see or are directed toward them, and I appreciate that. But at the same time though, the cold reality of business is that we have to sell as many units as we can, and therefore we want to make the product appeal to as wide an audience as possible. And I think by really making it look more Japanese in its look and feel, we might have alienated some of our more mainstream American consumers. ...
We really didn't have a lot of time to do a lot of exploratory packaging alternatives. And so we ran to market. We got that in. And then, you know, once you get that then you've got kind of a look and feel, and you want to try to reinforce that look and feel. ... So I was happy with the artwork. That did well. I know that we did take on some flack — you know, this was long before Twitter and Facebook and these kinds of forums where people could voice their opinions. But we thought we did a really good job with it, given what our challenges were.
Not one my best shining moments, but I remember walking into Joe Morici's office ... I came in, and remember I'm a young guy but shit, I'm doing well at Capcom and heavily involved in the Street Fighter community and the success of things like Hyper Fighting. So I go in, and the Hyper Fighting [Super Nintendo box] art was the last straw for me. I came in and I said, "Joe, is there any way we can consider using some of the Japanese art because it's just more popular with the players and these guys don't even look like the characters?" You know, I had to have this nice conversation with him because he was a bigwig and I was still young. And eventually he gave me the whole, "This is what we're doing," right? "This is what we're doing and there's a reason why." Marketing really believed that they were right.
That said, you know, the art was horrible. It didn't look like the characters, and there was really no reason not to use the Japanese artwork. It wouldn't have made a difference either way, really, on the sales. You know, the game was popular. It would have just been better fan service to use more appropriate artwork. ... As I've grown up, I've always felt bad about — I could have handled that better. But it's one of those things where, at the same time, I was passionate about it. I actually told him, "This art looks terrible." He stopped talking to me after that.
It's easy to look back on these things with hindsight. You know, anime was not anywhere near the acceptance [it's earned as time has gone on]. So we were always creating box art — whether it was Mega Man or Street Fighter — we were always creating art that would sell the game in the U.S.
According to worldwide Capcom investor relations data, the original Super NES Street Fighter 2 sold 6.3 million copies, the Super NES Street Fighter 2 Turbo sold 4.1 million and the Genesis Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition sold 1.65 million. The original Super Nintendo port remains Capcom's second best selling game to date.
[It was] definitely hundreds of millions of dollars we were doing. We were doing two or three hundred million dollars in sales, something like that.
It's funny, nowadays it's nothing — you look at what Grand Theft Auto 5 just did and that's a drop in the pan — but back then it was far and away the most successful video game up to that point and really helped revolutionize the industry.
[For the first game] we didn't do any print advertising at all. We didn't need to because we were on the cover of every magazine.
Street Fighter 2 was one of the biggest drivers of console sales. Capcom was the tail wagging the dog.
Remember those ads where they'd throw the television — you know, "On Sunday, hey, pick up this TV for $500 at Best Buy" or whatnot, and they would plaster a screenshot on there of a TV show so it's not a blank screen? We had them put Street Fighter on there. It would appear in the weirdest places. ... And then it took off from there, and then it just never ended, because suddenly people wanted to do licensing. You know, "Oh, we want to do a cartoon series." "Oh, people want to license the characters, and we don't have a licensing division. How do we do this?"
Our president in Japan, a very wealthy man, had a penchant for car racing, so on a personal whim in 1992, he sponsored a driver from Japan who made it to the Indy 500 time trials with a tricked out Capcom Street Fighter 2 car. I was assigned to this "special project," handling the PR and promo support, while trying to tie Indy car racing to fighting games, with little opportunity to conduct interviews since neither our president nor the driver spoke English.
Even though our involvement was not the brand brainchild of our head of marketing, the car and our presence garnered some tremendous buzz. Fortunately, this happened without our having to discuss the backstory on how and why we participated, which was anything but strategic. However, it was an early signal of a game property beginning to cross over into very broad consumer consciousness as millions of Indy viewers connected the dots and knew that Street Fighter was a video game with presence at a marquee sporting event.
Much like the glitches, counterfeit copies and clones that followed Street Fighter 2's arcade release, challenges followed the home ports' success as well. For the console versions, those centered on sensitivities related to the game's content.
And the letter I received was from an African American gentleman who was distressed at the racial overtones of that. And it was funny, because I had never really noticed that, but upon looking at it, it was like, "Wow." And the Japanese culture is a little bit different than ours as far as our history and all that, and the sensitivity to those kinds of issues. And so I immediately wrote him back and told him I was very sorry about that, that that was something I would raise with our headquarters. And I did. And you know, by that point in time, the game had already been out in the market for awhile and there was no way to change it. ... Whether it was intentional or not, I don't know. But it was interesting.
There were a number of little changes on the Super NES side that we had to go through, where you had frames of animation that were taken out, the guy in the background [of Blanka's stage] that Nintendo thought was masturbating. ... There's a guy kind of cheering and moving his arm up and down, and it was a little jerky, you know? You have to remember how squeaky clean Nintendo was in those days ... I'm sure Japan kind of rolled their eyes at that one, but they did what they had to do to clip some of these frames out. ...
It wasn't too long after Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and this growth of the fighting game genre that the [Entertainment Software Rating Board] came into being. Obviously it stems more from Mortal Kombat — my guess — than Street Fighter. But because Street Fighter was the first and it was head-to-head fighting and people [were] punching and children [were playing], the pressure and the controversy ... started to rear its head.
Following Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Funamizu took over for Nishitani as the series' lead planner while Capcom pushed forward from every direction. The company followed with the graphically updated Super Street Fighter 2, the origin story in Street Fighter Alpha, the movie game in Street Fighter: The Movie, the franchise reboot in Street Fighter 3, the 3D visuals in Street Fighter EX and numerous other sequels and spin-offs. The company's latest, Ultra Street Fighter 4, is scheduled for release in June 2014.
While the franchise stabilized and helped grow Capcom in the early '90s, its success also locked much of the company's staff into working on sequels when some of them wanted to develop original projects. In Street Fighter's wake, many of the key figures behind the franchise left Capcom and founded independent teams, some citing a desire for more creative control.
Street Fighter 1 creator Takashi Nishiyama formed Dimps after spending time at SNK, Okamoto formed Game Republic, Minami formed Platinum Games, Funamizu formed Crafts & Meister and Nishitani formed Arika — a play on his name spelled backward.
Meanwhile, Capcom has grown substantially following other hits like the Resident Evil series, with over 600 people contributing to its latest sequel. To many, the company today only faintly resembles the company from the early '90s.
I think that a lot of people that were working at that time at Capcom were really stressed out, because everybody wanted to develop new things and exercise their minds with new game ideas. But anything with the name Street Fighter on it was selling like crazy. And because of that, we just made as many new Street Fighter things as possible.
I mean, it was almost comical toward the end there. It was like, whatever didn't work, OK turn it into a Street Fighter 2 game title and it would do great.
Certainly, there are far more people in the company now. And the environment we were operating in, the way the market was set up, was much different back then. Arcades were still super strong; the Super [NES] hadn't even come out yet in those early days, so it was just such a different landscape.
It kind of grew from being a nice little family-feeling operation to being a major corporation within a short period of time. ...
It was incredible. I'll tell you — that was probably the best time in my video game career. ... When things are selling well, life is good. And a lot of times you think that's gonna happen for the rest of your life, and then you work at other companies and you find out that doesn't happen.
When I hear people are still playing Street Fighter 2, it's very satisfying. For the developers it's something we did in the past, but even today I hear people are playing and enjoying the game and that makes me happy.
Special thanks: John Bailon, Frank Cifaldi, Jon-Paul Dyson, Daniel Feit, Justin Haywald, John Johanas, Greg McLemore, Hiroko Minamoto, Shane Rhinewald, Mike Rougeau, Jeremy Saucier, David Siller