Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite Fans: Your game is dead and that’s okay

Hi there Marvel fans!

Or should I say “true believers?”

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. I’m sure some of you are here just to rage in the comments and that’s fine too. You are probably feeling a little upset right now and I’m here to say, I understand. I’m also here to reassure you that there is hope, maybe not the hope you are looking for but hope nonetheless.

Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite got the snub at EVO this year. It sucks. I know it does. If you are reading this letter you probably love playing Marvel. I love playing Marvel. I genuinely think Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite is a fun and solid fighting game and it could have had a very active and passionate tournament scene.

It could have, but it won’t.

That’s not saying anything about the quality of the game. As I said before, I enjoyed MVCI. It had issues in the graphics department and I, like everyone else, would have liked to see a few X-Men in the roster, but it was a fun game, and that’s all that matters.

Except, it’s not.  Quality isn’t enough to hold up an e-sport; there are plenty of good games out there that never make e-sport status.

Positive public perception is what holds up e-sports communities. An e-sports game has to be fun to play, but it also has to be fun to watch. The general public has to take an interest in your game for it to survive, because they are who make up the majority of Twitch views. They are who make up the majority of sales. They are who buy things like extra costume DLC themed around a particular e-sports team or event.

Without viewers, a game can never attract a significant e-sports following.

Public Perception is Everything

It’s a common knee jerk reaction in online arguments for fans to say “casuals don’t matter. Pros will play the game and it will thrive.” This is actually completely false. No game has survived just because a small group of 1000 pros played it. Millions upon millions of people have to spend money on a game to make it viable product, much less a e-sport.

The Marvel VS. series has been a perfect product AND e-sport for years for this very reason. Everyone knew Marvel’s superheroes. You didn’t have to be a super geek to be a fan of Wolverine or Spider-Man.

Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite shared that strength. For the most part, everyone knew the Marvel side of the roster. It was tailored after the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after all. It was missing some major characters from Marvel’s history, but it was a solid roster overall.

I don’t actually think that the lack of X-Men killed MVCI, but it compounded the issues that were already there. The Capcom side of the roster simply wasn’t interesting enough. Why did Capcom choose to put two Ghosts and Goblins characters in the roster? Why did Nemesis get in but Wesker didn’t? Where were the Capcom fan favorites outside of Ryu?

I’m not saying that the Capcom side of the roster killed the game. I’m just saying it didn’t do much for public perception. The goofy story mode didn’t do much for public perception. The lackluster graphics didn’t do much for public perception. The immense game size that wouldn’t install correctly on day one for the PC market didn’t do much for public perception. It wasn’t one big failure. It was lots of little errors ranging from a general lack of single-player content to a barebones tutorial that made the general game playing public question MVCI’s value.

When we all finally got a chance to play MVCI our reaction was “It’s fun but…” and that “but” is what signed MVCI’s death warrant. We all had fun playing it, but we didn’t get obsessed with it. We didn’t seek out every stream and watch every tournament. We just let it be an okay game.

But games that are just “okay” don’t become e-sports titans.

The Story of Skullgirls

In fact, MVCI shares a story with my personal favorite fighting game: Skullgirls. I love everything about this game. I loved it enough to travel to EVO to compete in the very first year of its release. I feel like it’s a spiritual successor to Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which is my favorite title in the VS.  series. It’s well balanced, has an interesting art style, great characters, fantastic music, and more.

But Skullgirls is dead. That doesn’t mean that no one is playing it. About 100 people are playing it on Steam on average (which is five times as much as MVCI has, by the way.) Major tournaments are still run for it. Streams still happen. People still enjoy it.

Yet Skullgirls is never going to see the EVO main stage and that’s because of one reason: public perception.

Skullgirls had issues when it came out. For one, it didn’t have a move-list in its original release. This was probably its biggest blunder.

It also had a fairly small roster made of entirely female characters. Personally, I felt it was a breath of fresh air to have a fighting game with a female dominated roster, but this caused many fighting game fans to consider it among the ranks of games such as Arcana Heart, Vanguard Princess, and SNK Gals Fighters, games that are selling themselves primarily on cheesecake fan service.

Its hand drawn art-style was similarly divisive; being that many fighting games had begun shifting into 2.5D.

It also didn’t have a story mode. In fact, it didn’t have much single-player content at all.

It was a game with lots of small errors, with a roster people had a problem with, a controversial art style, and little single-player content. Are you starting to see the parallels?

The people who hated Skullgirls hated it a lot. In fact, it was largely the Marvel crowd that hated on it. Ironic how we find Marvel in similar shoes these days.

The people who loved Skullgirls loved it just as much. They loved it enough to raise $78,760 for charity for the slim chance of seeing it at EVO. Unfortunately they couldn’t compete with Melee’s $94,683 total.  They raised $828,768 just to develop extra DLC characters.

Despite this, Skullgirls never made main stage at EVO. Its fanbase kept asking for it and it never got it. Sure, other tournaments were run for the game. Local communities grew for the game. Heck, I still go to local events for it all the time.

The Skullgirls team attempted to “fix” the game by adding new content, adding move-lists, constantly updating the game’s balance, and more, but nothing was enough to give it the popularity boost needed to get to EVO. Skullgirls already had a negative public perception.

That’s not to say it was a failure. In fact, the success of Skullgirls let Lab Zero go on to create Indivisible, one of our most anticipated RPGs of 2018. It just never reached e-sport status.

And that’s OK.

The Simplest Explanation

When Joey Cuellar came on stream and said Marvel just fizzled, he didn’t say that out of hatred. It’s within his best interest to showcase the most popular fighting games at EVO. Popular games sell tickets. Tickets make EVO money. They have no reason to snub Marvel unless they thought they could sell more tickets with other games. That staff of EVO is doing their best to make decisions in their own rational self-interest.

Fans of MVCI have come up with tons of conspiracy theories including:

  • Joey Cuellar lied and skewed numbers to keep MVCI out of EVO.
  • Disney/Marvel told EVO they couldn’t run the game.
  • Arc System Works paid EVO a ton of money to keep MVCI out.
  • The gaming media (me… I guess) has a vendetta against MVCI and purposefully skewed public perception against it

But I implore you to ask “why?”

Why on earth would Joey Cuellar, founder of EVO, lie to keep MVCI out? If MVCI is as popular as its fans say it is, wouldn’t he make more money by letting it in?

Why would Disney/Marvel tell EVO they couldn’t run the game? Wouldn’t this be good publicity for upcoming MCU movies?

Why, or more specifically, how could Arc System Works pay EVO enough money to keep MVCI out? If they could do that, why not do the same for Street Fighter or any of the other headlining titles?

What could the gaming media possibly gain from skewing public perception against MVCI? Heck, we get more clicks if you guys are actively excited about a game! Not to mention, most media outlets have said the same thing I am saying, that MVCI is an incredibly fun game with flaws. If we wanted to skew your opinion, wouldn’t we just say that it’s not fun at all?

This is a job for Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is the most likely explanation, and the simplest explanation is MVCI just isn’t popular enough.

The Future of Marvel

It’s not so bad playing a dead game. It’s not like you won’t have any tournaments to speak of. There’s going to be a side tournament for MVCI at EVO, and it will likely be one of the bigger ones. You’ll probably also see MVCI played at other majors like East Coast Throwdown and SoCal Regionals. Sure, you might only have 20 people playing online, but you can always hold local events. Just because the e-sports world doesn’t care about your game, doesn’t mean YOU can’t care about your game.

And hey, Marvel might just get a second chance yet. Capcom could always release a new full priced version. I’m sure many of you are shaking your firsts and waving your pitchforks at the idea of spending full price on MVCI again, but think about it.

Capcom backs off from MVCI for a while and releases MVCI: Avengers Edition or something in a year or two and fixes the problems that gave MVCI a negative perception in the first place. This new game has redone graphics that use the same models but colors them to look more like a moving comic book. This is further enhanced by the addition of new stages including returning stages from MVC3 and even MVC1 and 2.

The roster is expanded by quite a few characters. Fan favorites from both sides come back, including major X-Men like Magneto, and popular and iconic Capcom characters from VS. games past, like Jin Saotome. Capcom also goes out of their way to add brand new characters such as Ms. Marvel to the roster, as well as fan favorites like Edward Falcon and Leon Kennedy that have been requested time and again.

The tutorials are fleshed out with the info that we obtained from MVCI’s short competitive life. Now instead of being a short overview of basic controls, they teach you actual game concepts like how to mix-up the opponents and how to use active-tag to keep yourself safe.

The soundtrack is expanded with tracks from past VS. series titles as well as new remixes, essentially adding in the PC mods that the MVCI community has already developed. Players would be able to customize which tracks they want to hear, much as they can in Smash Bros.

New modes are added including a four player party co-op mode where each player takes control of a single character.

Dramatic cutscenes are added into battle DBFZ style, allowing the Hulk to throw Wolverine in a fast-ball special, or that allow Chris to blow up Nemesis with a rocket launcher if he finished the match in the right way. There could even be a special outro sequence that shows Ryu shaking the hand of Cyclops, like he did in the title screen of X-Men vs. Street Fighter.

All of this is added to the game and it’s sold at a bargain price of $40-$50. Meanwhile, people who purchased the original MVCI can upgrade for a lower price of $20.

This new edition comes out with a brand new marketing campaign centered on how much the developers listened to the fans. It comes out late in the year, well after the anger over this year’s EVO is over, and in a period where no other fighting games are slated to come out, allowing it to become the next big thing. A wave of popularity catapults it back into the spotlight. It becomes the number one selling fighting game in the holidays. No tournaments are held for it until the beginning of the next year when pros have had ample time to practice. Its first tournament is nothing gimmicky like the Battle for the Stones, but just a plain competition of skill. The viewers come rolling in and this new version of MVCI rides a wave of popularity straight to EVO 2019.

All hope is not lost.

The only thing you have to do is:

Spend.

More.

Money.

And isn’t that just how the video game business works.

Either way, as someone who has been there before, remember that EVO inclusion doesn’t really matter all that much. What really matters is whether or not you are having fun with your game of choice. If so, then no one can take that from you. Practice, run tournaments, and enjoy what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t. Don’t sweat the numbers. Don’t get into huge online arguments about whether or not your game is thriving. Just play it. Just play it, because it doesn’t matter if MVCI is dead. All that matters is whether or not you are still having fun playing it. Isn’t that what games are for?

Sincerely,

A Skullgirls Fan

P.S. Skullgirls for EVO 2019!