The death of the VS series: Why we won’t see Marvel VS Capcom 4

Marvel VS Capcom 3, the last entry in Capcom’s prestigious VS series, released to a powerful but mixed response. Despite numerous complaints about one touch death combos, hugely swingy matches, and gameplay that required exploiting a semi-broken system to be moderately good, the sheer allure of flashy high-speed combat kept people coming back for more. Despite a new version coming out less than a year after its original release, despite a patch that rendered over half the roster moot even as assist characters, and despite the tremendous cheese that was Dark Phoenix, MVC3 still thrived in the professional fighting game scene.

But in recent years, the meta has begun to stagnate. Optimal teams have long since been found. Matches have been extended to longer and longer lengths to avoid “random” victories. The same competitors routinely top the standings. Even when conventional knowledge is shaken up by strange strategies like KaneBlueRiver’s Hulk, Haggar, Sentinel team, most people just shrug and rely on their Dooms and Vergils like they always have. This has led to depressingly low tournament turnouts, especially in recent days when all of Capcom’s focus is devoted to Street Fighter V. Pro MVSC3 players swear that the meta is evolving, but fewer and fewer players are participating in the meta, and without tournament turnouts players will naturally move on to more popular games.

In short, MVSC3 isn’t doing so hot.

Now that Capcom no longer has the rights to Marvel characters, MVSC4 is a pipe dream at best. So where does the VS series, its fans, and its competitors, go next?

Closing Disney’s Doors

Recently, Disney announced that they would be shutting down their video game division. This meant a lot of things, like the death of Disney Infinity, and the discontinuation of plenty of shovelware Disney mobile games. It also meant that Disney was going to review the potential for licensing out its properties to other AAA game makers, much like they did back in the days of the NES and SNES. Disney owns Marvel, and it was Disney who originally pulled the rights to Marvel characters away from Capcom. This, of course, made fans think that MVSC4 could be a possibility once more. In no time a petition was started, and to date it has amassed 11,000 signatures.

While the narrative of a big bad corporation preventing good pure fighting games from being made is an alluring one, it’s also false. Real life is more complicated than that. MVC3 didn’t happen because Capcom randomly decided to dust off their Marvel properties. It happened because a number of factors lined up in the right way to make it profitable. Tatsunoko VS. Capcom was a surprising success, which tipped Capcom off that there might still be money to be made in the crossover gaming business. TVC’s engine allowed for 3D characters to move quickly in a 2D plane, which was exactly what was needed for a next-generation MVC. Around the same time, Marvel was just starting to kick its cinematic universe into high gear and was trying to get some publicity for its lesser known comic lines at the same time. Capcom also had several new properties, including a new Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, and of course the latest Street Fighter to get the word out about. All of this combined to create a situation where making MVC3 was advantageous to everyone.

And this isn’t that weird. MVC2 was created for a similar reason. It wasn’t coincidence that Cable was put into the cast. Cable was big in comics and kids still freshly remembered his appearance in the animated series, which stopped airing in the late nineties. Placing him in MVC2 was an obvious decision for Capcom and Marvel.

So we have to ask ourselves, will MVC4 be advantageous to Capcom and Marvel, and the answer is: no.

Marvel’s Licensing Dance

The truth is, the release of Marvel VS. Capcom 4 would produce more negative publicity than positive. First, let’s examine Marvel. The Marvel cinematic universe doesn’t really need any help marketing itself. It’s produced some of the highest grossing action movies of all time. But that’s dumb… right? Surely even the smallest bit of publicity could help out even a massive multimedia juggernaut like the MCU… right?

Wrong.

Surely you have noticed by now the conflict between Marvel and outside companies that own the rights to its characters, FOX being a primary competitor. This is why none of the X-Men or the Fantastic Four have shown up in the MCU, and why Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were not called mutants in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Marvel, strangely enough, doesn’t have the rights to make movies about their own mutant characters, FOX does!

Marvel’s strategy? Devalue the characters that they don’t have the rights to. This has resulted on a reduced focus on the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and, until recently, Spider Man in their respective comic continuities. Instead, new stories were made focusing on characters in the MCU, so that hype can be built up for the inevitable release of “The Avengers 7: Tony Stark Drinks and Invents Stuff.”

Now let’s look at some of the most popular and high tier characters of the VS. series: Cyclops, Storm, Magneto, Phoenix, Cable, Psylocke, Sentinel, Deadpool, Wolverine. All X-Men characters! In fact, out of the 25 characters on the Marvel side of MVSC3’s roster, 10 of them are characters that Marvel either doesn’t have the rights to, or has to share the rights with another company.

You might be thinking, “Well, just don’t include those characters in MVSC4,” but that wouldn’t fly with the fighting game community. These characters have their own life outside the comics for the gaming scene. A Marvel VS. game has to include characters like Wolverine and Sentinel. Heck, Dr. Doom has been consistently high tier in every Marvel game he shows up in. Kicking these characters out would make sales tank, but including them will only drum up hype over characters that Marvel can’t fully capitalize on.

You might think, “What about Marvel’s upcoming Dr. Strange movie? Or their Iron Fist series? Surely those could use some publicity?” Yes, it’s true that Marvel has a ton of new properties, but nearly all of those characters are already in MVC3. Mission accomplished! No MVC4 needed.

Capcom’s Dying Franchises

OK, so it doesn’t make any sense for Marvel to go in on another Capcom VS. game. But what about Capcom? Surely it has some properties that can use an advertising boost?

This is the rationale gamers use when they say Capcom could just make an “internal” Capcom fighting game; a “Capcom vs. Capcom,” if you will.

It’s true that Capcom does fare a little better than the Marvel side in terms of roster. Their two biggest contributors to their roster are Street Fighter and Resident Evil, two franchises that are alive and hurricane kicking. Four characters from MVC3 belonged to each franchise, taking up eight of the 25 Capcom character slots. If you count Haggar as a Street Fighter character, you get one more, even if that’s a stretch. Phoenix Wright represents another profitable Capcom franchise that hasn’t yet died, so that’s 10 characters that Capcom could stand to profit from.

Now, just for fun, let’s go over the rest of the cast:

  • Arthur and Firebrand – Come from Ghosts ‘n Goblins and haven’t had a console release since 1994. Their appearance in MVC3 more closely corresponded to the release of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Gold Knights, a mobile game that doesn’t look as if it will have any follow-ups.
  • Strider – Comes from the Strider series. Fortunately the last entry in that series was released in 2014, so Capcom still stands to profit from this fan favorite.
  • Frank West – Comes from the Dead Rising series, and while Dead Rising had a lukewarm reception, Capcom is likely not done with it. Another good pick.
  • Dante, Vergil, Trish – Come from the Devil May Cry series, of which the latest, DmC, had a poor fan reception. The franchise is currently in limbo and there are no plans to bring it back anytime soon, regardless of how badass Dante is.
  • Zero and Tron Bonne – Come from the Mega Man series which is currently a VERY sore spot for Capcom and its fans. Zero came from Mega Man X, which hasn’t had an installment since the PlayStation 2 (which, by the way, soundly killed the franchise.) Tron is from Mega Man Legends, which was supposed to have a third installment on the 3DS but was canceled when Keiji Inafune left Capcom to fund Mighty No. 9. Even Mighty No. 9 has fallen off the radar for many fans. Mega Man is just risky territory for Capcom at this point.
  • Morrigan, Felicia, and Hsien-Ko – Come from the Darkstalkers series. Yoshinori Ono, head of the Street Fighter franchise, actively attempted to resurrect interest in this series by releasing Darkstalkers Ressurection, a port of older Darkstalkers games to current gen technology. He said if it sold well enough he would be able to resurrect the franchise with a modern day sequel. It didn’t. The Darkstalkers really are dead.
  • Viewtiful Joe and Amaterasu – Come from Viewtiful Joe and Okami, respectively. Both of these properties were made by Clover studios, a studio that Capcom shuttered in 2007. Members of the studio would then go on to form Platinum games, and while it would be awesome to see Bayonetta in a VS. game, my guess is that they aren’t on good terms with the company that made them close their doors in the first place.
  • The Bionic Commando – HAHAHHAHAHAHAHHA! Oh… oh, you really want to know why Capcom isn’t going to make money off this guy? The failed ultra-gritty reboot of an ultra-minimalist NES platformer wasn’t enough for you? Maybe it’s just that awful feeling you get whenever you see a white guy with dreadlocks.

Anyway, of the 15 characters left on the roster, only 2 stand to make Capcom any money.

Re-Use and Recycle

At this point, you are probably pulling out your hair and screaming, “Why can’t Capcom just make good games!?” Well, they could, or at least they did, but not for the reason you are thinking of.

Marvel 2 was by far the most well received VS. title. It had a whopping 56 characters in its roster. Do you know how many characters Capcom needed to design from scratch? Eight. Only Eight. Everyone else was a re-used sprite from some other game. Sure, attacks had different effects and properties, but it takes much less time to code a move’s properties than it does to draw every single frame of animation in a new character’s punch.

This was the key to making money in fighting games in the late 90s, re-using your assets from previous fighting games .This made production costs incredibly low, which could lead to profit even if the game ended up doing mediocre.

A theoretical Marvel vs. Capcom 4 wouldn’t be able to do this. The architecture of current generation consoles is completely different from last generation consoles. Likely, Capcom will have to re-model and re-animate every character in the game. Granted, some data can be ported over, much as SFIV animations were used as the basis of SFV. But this is still far more work than copy-pasting sprites.

Here we have the hard truth that VS. series fans have to accept. The VS. series was never a priority for Capcom. It was always a side project, a way to cobble together pre-made assets into something that survived off hype. “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if Ryu and Wolverine could fight each other?” It sure would be cool… especially if you don’t have to put a ton of work and money into it.

One More Game?

If MVC4 isn’t happening, what future does the VS. series realistically have? More than you’d think, as long as you keep your options open.

While the Marvel chapter of the VS. book may be over, The Capcom VS. SNK chapter might just be beginning. Both games are now finally 2.5D affairs, with 3D models moving in 2D space. If SNK was willing, Capcom could use their models and animations and create a pretty quick Capcom VS. SNK 3. Though they might be trigger shy after the failure that was Street Fighter vs. Tekken.

There’s always a chance another company might want Capcom to make a VS. fighting game with them. In all likelihood, the Capcom side of whatever roster is created will likely be populated by Street Fighter characters, much like the CVS series was. It’s just their most popular IP right now. This means you should probably look to other fighting games for crossover opportunities. Mortal Kombat is the one everyone wants to see, although the mechanical differences between the two games might make that impossible.

Capcom has certainly been crossing over with companies outside of the fighting game world. Project X Zone was a bizarre tactical RPG on the 3DS that brought together characters from Capcom, Namco Bandai, and Sega of all things. Also… John McClane from Die Hard.

But if what you are really looking for is a frantic tag-team fighting game with huge combos, flashy supers, and tons of style, I suggest you check out Skullgirls. It is essentially a VS. game right down to its very core, except all the characters and storylines are original. It might not scratch the crossover itch you have, but mechanically there is nothing closer to the old glory days of MVC2.

What about you? Where will you get your VS. fix from now on? Let us know in the comments.