“Here we are again,” Capcom fans are saying to each other after the clarification of how the publisher intends to sell Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
Before we have a character roster — and what is a fighting game made of if not a character roster? — or more than a few minutes of gameplay footage on which to base our purchases, Capcom has delivered the check. The game will cost $60 for a regular edition or you can buy a $90 deluxe version including a season pass for DLC characters whose identities, as with the regular Infinite roster, are mostly undisclosed.
And yes, the absurd $200 special edition also exists.
This is starting to feel uncomfortably normal in big console games at large — let’s glance over at Destiny 2 — but the problem for Capcom is that its core audience just put up with a similar launch, and it was disastrous. Maybe you remember that game? It was called Street Fighter 5, and it didn’t review very well.
Looking at Capcom’s strategy for Infinite and looking back at what actually happened with SF5, I want to give you some reasons I’m not likely to be slamming that preorder button.
The company bungled its largest fighting game franchise, and doesn’t seem to be learning from its mistakes.
We have seen very little of the game itself
It is nice to have a story trailer. The idea of Ultron and Sigma from Mega Man X teaming up to destroy humanity is even clever. But a slick CG animation is not the game you’re being asked to pay for.
As of this writing, the last official gameplay footage we saw of Infinite was at the first announcement of its existence back in December. These 90 seconds are a rough sketch of the game’s format and systems, mostly featuring characters and animations reused from Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
That footage is five months old. Since then, the best we have gotten is some leaked footage showing random snippets of actual matches. The leak is far more informative than any official video from Capcom has been so far; It shows us that the new game is a slowed-down variant of Marvel 3 with simplified systems and controls. The game is meant to be inviting to new and casual players who were often crushed instantly in the chaotic, high-speed and cut-throat Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
It makes sense from a sales standpoint, but it isn’t exactly sexy. The existing player base — who love Marvel specifically for being so broken and wild — probably won’t be too pleased with the new format. It’s similar to the split that the Smash Brothers series created between Melee and Brawl, but skeptical fans haven’t been able to actually see much of it.
What characters are we paying for?
The characters who appear in the trailer — again, largely carried over from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 — are the only characters we know are appearing in the game.
That’s normal this early in a release schedule, except for one thing: Capcom is already trying to sell character DLC before telling anybody which characters are in the base game in the first place, or how many there will be.
Players are buying a starting roster, sight unseen, for $60. Then they're being asked to pitch in another $30. We don’t know who will be in the game when it’s released, and Capcom is already busy upselling us on another round of undisclosed characters.
The Mega Man X boss Sigma is the first announced DLC character, with the other five unknown for now. Does that number of DLC characters indicate an unusually small roster for Marvel? Who knows. But get that pre-order in!
Capcom should just call the game $90 Mystery Bag and be done with it.
Keep in mind that Street Fighter 5 players are currently in the same boat with this year’s season pass. Capcom started selling it in December and will only reveal which characters are included as they are released.
Players gladly threw in for a pack of series favorites like Guile and Ibuki last year, but this year’s season pass holders don’t yet know who they’ve paid for. Given this precedent, it wouldn’t be surprising if Infinite’s DLC characters remain a mystery well after it actually releases.
Surprise gifts are really cool. $30 blind boxes aren’t.
The Season Pass may not cover everything
I figured I was safe when I put down my $90 for Street Fighter 5. I was under the impression that, aside from things like costumes, the game wasn’t going to ask me for any more money than I had already paid. I mean, $90 for a darn video game, right? But at least I was getting everything.
I was wrong, of course. Everyone was, and we learned the hard way.
Capcom didn’t say anything until Street Fighter 5 came out, but Season Pass holders were hit with a ton of paid a la carte DLC that the Season Pass didn’t cover, including additional outfits (fair), stages (less fair) and even alternate colors for the costumes I already had (what? No).
Many of these items were billed by marketing as being available through normal gameplay. They technically are, but game currency — called Fight Money — is so rare and hard to earn that it makes Overwatch seem generous. The item costs are so high that they’re clearly intended to get you to pay real money rather than Fight Money. The whole economy feels like it was designed in bad faith.
Even players who had paid nearly $100 up front were presented with the kinds of unappealing choices typically reserved for free-to-play games. They could grind through the game’s miserable, merciless Survival mode for Fight Money, or they could pay Capcom to get the items. Unlocking things in fighting games used to feel like a fun process, but this situation seems more like a cash grab.
Capcom has changed the name of its Season Pass to “Character Pass” in response to the negative feedback. The new name was meant to clarify that players were only paying $30 for characters, not any other new content Capcom might release.
Infinite’s marketing features, you guessed it, a “Character Pass.” It’s very likely that pass-holders for Infinite will be getting nickel-and-dimed even further on release, judging by Capcom’s history. I just hope nobody ever tells Capcom the word “gacha.”
Street Fighter 5 Was A Complete Mess At Launch (and still kind of is)
This is, of course, the big one. Street Fighter 5 was an ambitious attempt to adapt fighting games to the always-online MOBA model, a move many had seen coming to this genre for years.
But Capcom flopped miserably on execution. Street Fighter 5 didn’t even work for its first day online, and it became more and more clear as the weeks and months dragged on that there was a lot wrong with the “Capcom Fighters Network” (CFN), from constant lag, even during offline play, to the incomplete features found on grayed-out menus.
The developers were largely quiet and uncommunicative about the many issues with the game … but additional paid costume DLC continued to roll out on a regular basis, leaving players resentful as they begged Capcom for basic genre amenities like a single-player arcade mode.
CFN has improved since launch. It now performs the essential task of online matchmaking quite well, and its massive archive of automatically uploaded match replays is valuable research material. It’s not all bad news.
But many of its intended features still don’t work, and the system remains prone to random, inexplicable lag spikes. Players make sure they’re not connected to the Street Fighter 5 servers during in-person tournaments.
Capcom ultimately declared a total do-over on CFN, recently running a PC beta for the new implementation of the service. We can only hope that things aren’t this rocky for Infinite, but Capcom has given us plenty of reasons to be skeptical.
Capcom has to work for our money
I wouldn’t have paid $90 for Street Fighter 5 if I had known the launch was going to be that bad, or the first year of release that bumpy. Capcom is going to have a very hard time convincing me to trust them with my money again, and I’m likely not alone in that assessment.
Thinking meta-strategy like a fighting game player should, I will watch my fellow trusted players walk into this coal mine before I do. If the launch is stable, if there isn’t some major catch revealed on day one, if the DLC is reasonable and I find the game interesting, then we can talk about my hundred dollars. Is that a long checklist? Absolutely. A hundred dollars is also a lot of money, and Capcom is going to have to work hard to regain our trust.
I frequently describe SF5 as an excellent fighting game trapped inside of a terrible consumer product, and I am very concerned that we’re going to see the same thing happen again with Infinite.
I would also enjoy being proved wrong. I love fighting games, and we currently have an embarrassment of riches in the genre with titles like Guilty Gear Xrd, King of Fighters 14, and so many others. I want Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite to join that list with a stable, fun launch that everyone is able to enjoy.
Capcom has always been a standard-bearer and trailblazer for fighting games, and the company is still doing great work. The important thing moving forward is for Capcom to stop giving people reasons to not buy its games.
David Cabrera is an arcade obsessive, fighting game specialist, and anime lover. His gift to the world is the Kawaiikochans webcomic, a combination of these three terrible powers