The Wheel of Hype is Turning!

One of my favourite things about Blazblue: Continuum Shift, and by extension I guess the Blazblue series as a whole, is the way that every match starts with a chipper girl yelling “The Wheel of Fate is turning!”. For some reason it became emblematic of that game to me; it was weird and strange, and totally awesome, just like Blazblue itself.

Then, as we headed into the final stretch before the release of Street Fighter V (have I mentioned that I was excited for it? Because that might be an understatement) the Wheel of Fate was once again turning. For Capcom and Sony, they’re taking a massive risk on SFV being a success. They’ve taken chances even within the development, choosing to limit it to Sony consoles and cutting down the roster from the bloated 50+ in Ultra Street Fighter IV down to sixteen. Four of those are brand new characters, and another four are long-dormant faces who have been resurrected for the new game. That means that half of a small cast of characters are essentially unknown to players who picked up Street Fighter IV as their first taste of the series.

Then there was the heavy push to turn this into an eSport even before it was even released. I know for a fact that there have been a couple of tournaments run on builds that were incomplete, and both Capcom and Sony were pushing it for all they’re worth. Street Fighter IV and its myriad versions did huge things for the fighting game community and its legitimacy, and it seems that SFV is being designed to head the same way. You can’t just engineer a successful eSport though – just ask the host of MOBAs that have released and fallen flat in the wake of the massively popular League of Legends and Valve’s challenger, DOTA 2.

So they were hedging their bets, starting what I like to call the Wheel of Hype turning. Street Fighter V was announced at E3 2015, but details were thin on the ground. By the time we were a couple of months away from release we knew everything about the cast, and there was basically frothing at the mouth about how exciting they all looked. Well, except F.A.N.G,  as there was mostly just confusion about him.

What was so impressive about the way the Wheel of Hype was constructed was its deliberateness. The initial announcement was more of a teaser than anything, only really confirming three characters. It did establish a precedent though – Ryu and Chun-Li battled one another, while a character we hadn’t seen in a long time, Charlie (or Nash, as they now prefer), was teased briefly at the end of the trailer – that told us we would be seeing something different from the half decade of Street Fighter IV that we’d become accustomed to. There were just enough hints and suggestions in the footage shown to feed the army of YouTube armchair enthusiasts, who took the bait gleefully. Dozens of videos breaking down the footage appeared in days and it quickly became impossible to escape the flood of repeated information.

Then more information was doled out in dribs and drabs. A character reveal here or there, a mechanic breakdown, or matches with the development team; variety made sure that we never tired of hearing about the new project. Of course, things such as character announcements were themselves instructed to build hype, with notoriously tease-happy director of the franchise Ono-San taking to social media in the days before each reveal to tease who the new addition might be. Often the obvious clues were revealed to be double bluffs and brand new, or completely unexpected, characters would take people by surprise, often with a renewed surge of excitement and buzz.

Other developments, like the matches between Combofiend – pro-player turned designer and able assistant to the hype machine – and Twitch’s Mike Ross, were treated as commonplace, relying on word of mouth to do the leg work. It did.

The key element of the Wheel of Hype however, was the liberal use of closed beta sessions. Now, beta has long since ceased to mean what it once did, and is now more analogous to a demo mixed with stress testing, but by coyly restricting access, the SFV beta became instantly desirable. The lucky ones who got into the first beta flooded the internet with footage of their matches, while the rest of us looked on with envy. Not for long, however, as there were increasing opportunities to have a go. In fact, the third beta was open to the whole of Japan.

In restricting access, but allowing the free flow of information – in fact, as far as I know, Capcom encouraged videos of the beta – there was essentially free publicity for a title that wasn’t even out yet. Contrasted with other recent betas, where you were essentially signing a non-disclosure agreement just by agreeing to take part, Capcom have clearly leveraged the increasing YouTube culture of the fighting game community to build even more excitement.

By starting slow and building, Street Fighter V was like a waterwheel about to reach maximum speed. For a while now, the energy that it has provided has been noticeable, but the peak was yet to come. The savvy handling of it has been key to this, as it’s not hard to picture a scenario where the momentum petered out months before launch. It looked like they’d created an amazing game that would have no doubt picked up steam on its own merits, but, thanks to their efforts, it seemed that the whole community was chomping at the bit to transition over to the new title.

In December 2015, Capcom said their own little goodbye to Street Fighter IV with the Capcom Cup. They invited the best players in the world to a tournament with an enormous prize pot by fighting game standards – the MOBA crowd might still snicker at that – and let them duke it out to prove themselves. Almost before the dust had cleared and Kazunoko had been crowned victor, videos of him playing Street Fighter V emerged. “Look”, Capcom said, “the best Street Fighter IV player in the world loves our game”.

It was a canny ploy. All at once they had said goodbye to a game they had come to support almost as strongly as the community did, and proved to the people at home that there would be no slackening in that support as they moved forward into the next generation of Street Fighter.

And, of course, plans are in place for the next Capcom Cup, which will be played exclusively on Street Fighter V. A bigger prize pot was announced, qualifying events put in place, and the excitement started to reach a fever pitch.

Then they ran out of announcements to make. All the characters had been announced and shown off. We even knew their DLC plans for the months after launch. Street Fighter V may still have been a couple of months away, but there was little more they could do to get people excited for it. That doesn’t matter though because the Wheel of Hype was already turning, and those of us in the mob continued to froth at the mouth and were carried along like a piece of well-chewed gum, thrown to the tarmac before being well and truly caught up in its treads until SFV came out.

Well played.

Last five articles by Keegan


One Comment

  1. Chris Chris says:

    A friend of mine is a huge SF fan and it’s been quite interesting listening to him chat about the changes and the hype up until release. Seems like Capcom got the marketing right on this one.

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