Street Fighter 5's in-game ads went live this week - and they make a mockery of the series' famous character design.
According to Capcom, this sponsored content appears in-game "to remind you about costumes, bundles and the Capcom Pro Tour". Well, it certainly does that.
I'm not too bothered about the "supported by" image you get when a match is loading. This doesn't feel intrusive and doesn't mess about with any Street Fighter design I care about at least. It looks like this:
And I'm not bothered by in-game ads appearing in the three tournament stages available in the game. I tend not to play on these stages because they're not particularly interesting, and I'd always considered them an advert for the Capcom Pro Tour anyway.
But I do take issue with the adverts now emblazoned on Street Fighter's famous roster of characters, because they're so out of place. These characters have an iconic identity 30 years in the making. Guilde's USA flag tattoo, Dhalsim's skull necklace, the kanji "ten" (天) - meaning "Heaven" - on Akuma's back... I could go on. Even if you don't currently play Street Fighter 5, these characters are pop culture, their designs as instantly recognisable as the most mainstream characters video games have to offer.
These in-game ads trample over Street Fighter 5's character designs. They pull me out of its virtual world. They make me roll my eyes. They're so uncool it hurts. It makes the game look ugly as sin. They're stupid and embarrassing and even though I know Street Fighter's characters aren't real, I feel sorry for them.
I have this image in my head of Ryu and Ken and Chun-Li and Zangief and all the others sitting in a meeting room, listening to a suited and booted Capcom executive delivering a fancy Microsoft PowerPoint presentation on the "upside opportunity" of wearing adverts on their clothes. "I didn't rip Sagat's chest open for this," Ryu, fist clenched, whispers under his breath. "I WILL CRUSH YOU LIKE CORPORATE WHORE YOU ARE!" screams Zangief, who leaps out of his chair, his enormous arms outstretched. Then S.I.N. soldiers storm into the room with taser guns, crippling each and every street fighter in the blink of an eye. "As I was saying..." the Capcom executive continues, calmly, "this is an upside opportunity, and the headwind on our runway will give us the momentum we need as Q1 2019 approaches."
With these in-game adverts enabled, Guile's USA tattoo is replaced by a promotional image for the Capcom Pro Tour.
Dhalsim has little Capcom Pro Tour images on the skulls he wears as a necklace (those skulls, by the way, are those of village children that died during a plague, according to the Street Fighter wiki, which makes Capcom's decision to declare them ad space particularly grim).
The evil dictator himself, M. Bison, looks a lot less threatening with a big CPT image on his chest.
Cammy, here, doing her best to stay professional while shilling for Capcom.
Here's G telling us, the Capcom Pro Tour needs you!
But the worst offender has to be what Capcom's done to Akuma. Perhaps the coolest character in fighting game history has his most iconic move, the wonderful Raging Demon, reduced to a soul-destroying advert for the Capcom Pro Tour. Yikes.
I love the Capcom Pro Tour, and I'm looking forward to watching the Capcom Cup this weekend, when I'll be rooting for local hero and current Evo champion Benjamin "Problem X" Simon. But I very much do not love seeing my favourite Street Fighter characters wearing adverts for the thing. And I'm wincing at the thought of being served adverts for the Capcom Pro Tour while watching the Capcom Pro Tour, like I'm drowning in a cacophonous CPT advert inception. And what if Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi, one of the greatest fighting game players of all time and the best Akuma player in the world, nails his opponent with a Raging Demon for a dramatic comeback win, his character turns his back, the screen flashes and... it's there, an advert for the CPT. It's not the same, is it?
Their implementation is also proper weird. Capcom encourages players to enable in-game ads by rewarding those who do with Fight Money, the virtual currency used to buy characters and costumes. But the amount offered is negligible. It's as if Capcom itself is embarrassed by what it's doing, and offering a handful of Fight Money as an incentive is some back door way of saying, 'yeah, we know. Sorry!'
I'm aware you can turn these ads off, but that's not the point, is it? This is a matter of principle. The Street Fighter community has, as you'd expect, reacted negatively to these in-game ads. But they've also done a wonderful job of taking the piss out of them. Here are some of my favourite creations that highlight just how dumb these adverts look.
I wonder what Street Fighter 5 will look like next year. Perhaps Dhalsim will get a can of Red Bull printed on his skulls. Maybe Akuma's back will find itself with a Razer poster slapped on it. After all, the upside opportunity is great indeed.