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Matchmaking, microtransactions and Street Fighter's comeback: Yoshi Ono on V

'There's no way I can tell you we're not confident at all! God knows what kind of article you'd put out then!'

Street Fighter is back, though with the numerous iterations of Street Fighter 4 it doesn't feel like it's been away for long. This time, though, looks different - Street Fighter V, a PC and PlayStation 4 exclusive, is the foundation for the next generation of the series, and promises to be part of a new model that moves away from the regular expansions. After a successful beta run - and, let's not forget, a less successful one - it's all shaping up rather well.

Eurogamer caught up with Street Fighter producer Yoshi Ono, as well as Capcom's senior product manager Matt Dahlgren, at Paris Games Week late last month to discuss the new game, and once we'd convinced Ono we weren't responsible for the character leaks that hit our sister site in Portugal he was happy to talk.

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It must be nice to finally have a release date.

Yoshi Ono: My main concern is getting the game ready in terms of master ROM submissions. I've got a lot on my mind! We're looking at everything - positive and negative feedback - and we want to get in the player's hands as soon as possible. It reminds me of Street Fighter 4, at this point, where it's a really exciting point and we can get all the details out. Or they have come out, in some form... I really just want to talk to everyone about the game a lot.

What's been the biggest thing you've taken away from the beta?

Yoshi Ono: Getting the matchmaking working smoothly.... There's no way to reiterate how important that is, we now realise. We've been really grateful that players have stuck with us, we've had a few phases and I think it's got better and better. When each one kicks off there's always a bit of a rough patch, but that's what it's for. We want to identify the bottlenecks, get things working. I think when each phase has run out, by the end of the weekend, we've got really smooth matchmaking, and that makes us happy.

We don't want to just stress test the network aspect of the game- this is the first time we're not releasing an arcade version, so we're missing that on-site testing we'd get to fine-tune the characters. It's really valuable for us, and while putting it at every event in the world, having a beta on console means we can up the number of people playing from the thousands to the tens of thousands, and that's what we need to have a roster of 16 characters with a finely balanced, level playing field. When you go to an event there's a trend towards pro characters, famous ones, but having it out there means we're getting data on every character.

Are you confident that come release in February there won't be any hiccups?

Yoshi Ono: There's no way I can tell you we're not confident at all! God knows what kind of article you'd put out then! I obviously am confident! And the beta's been so useful, we've got the kinks worked out and we see what we need to do working up to launch. I think it'll all work out in the end.

With the lack of an arcade version, you've given your friend Harada-san a free run - Tekken's everywhere in arcades in Tokyo.

Yoshi Ono: The Japanese arcade isn't what it used to be. I think there's a big difference between Capcom, Street Fighter and me and Namco, Tekken and Mr. Harada. We're in different situations - both companies run arcades in Japan, but the Capcom ones are going towards crane catchers and one-off cabinets. There's not much space for the typical arcade cabinet. That's the situation. The Namco arcades, they're still very much on the video game side, and Mr. Harada's giving it a good run with Tekken in the arcades, and more power to him for that, but we're not in a comparable situation.

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Speaking of Harada-san. You can't speak on his behalf, but you saw your end of the bargain with the crossover. Is there every any chance he'll see his end?

Yoshi Ono: He'd get really upset if I spoke on his behalf too much, but... I do know things I could tell you... Let's leave it at that. I'll leave it to your imagination whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Back to Street Fighter V. You're moving away from different iterations, and you've now got a base platform, which I think everyone's happy about. But something that might be lost - going back to Ultra Street Fighter 4, there's so many different flavours of each character. Is that something you're hoping to have somehow in Street Fighter V?

Yoshi Ono: It's an interesting question. That's not my entire answer, by the way...

We did have, before Ultra, Hyper Street Fighter 2, and it had a thing where you could pick the SF2 version, the Super version and so forth. It's interesting, but as much as the core community loves that granularity, it doesn't make any sense to the non-core people. It's not something that appeals to everyone. We wouldn't see anything like that in the game in the next year or so. But it's an interesting idea - that we could bring a Street Fighter festival feel where people debate how Ryu's light punch was overpowered in Super - I made that up, but you can put something that makes sense in there - that kind of debate that people have as hardcore players is one of the aspects of Street Fighter, so it's an interesting idea we might consider in the future.

Street Fighter 4, when it came out, it revived the series and got a lot of people who hadn't played since Street Fighter 2 back into it. With all the iterations of 4, though, it doesn't feel like so long ago that we last had a Street Fighter - has the amount of iterations has tarnished the series, and made it harder to get that broader audience?

Yoshi Ono: I had that concern when I wrote the design doc originally. Like you say, the series was dead for decades and we revived it for Street Fighter 4. What we saw happen in its lifespan - and it's still out there and being played - we were able to get a lot of people back onboard with the series, people who'd lapsed and even brand new players. Over the years that community has really tightened down to the hardcore people, and there's a sense of the less hardcore people dropping out as they can no longer compete.

The game got tuned a little more in the hardcore direction as it went on and it got tightened up, they couldn't keep up with the pace. What we want to do with Street Fighter V is start again, to start from scratch. It won't even have been a year since the Ultra release date - it'll be about a year when V comes out - so it isn't this ten year gap. Even though it hasn't got that brand-newness, you're all on the same level now. If you played Street Fighter 4 and you realised after a couple of years you couldn't keep up with the pro players, this is your chance to go in again - everyone's starting from scratch. You've got new systems, and it's a reset we want to build on from here on out. The excitement of that possibility overtakes my concerns about how it's not a comeback like Street Fighter 4.

How long have you wanted to do a more modular Street Fighter - and how did you get Capcom on board?

Yoshi Ono: I tricked them into it! To rephrase that... I convinced them of the viability of this business model, which is something we haven't done before. It's understandable that certain people in the company will be sceptical, but I put my neck on the line and all those cliches and said I think we could make this work. I believe it can work in this title. I'm convinced it's the right step. Push comes to shove, it's such a different game from Street Fighter 2 which came out 20 odd years ago.

It's still a fighting game, one-on-one, and you could look at it that way - it's an evolution of that system. The way people play the game, and how they play it, this model of how we release it is the genuinely new aspect, and I don't blame someone who's not used to that idea to need time to get onboard with it. A company is a company - it's not just being conservative, people need to be able to understand something fully, and I really want to have it come through that this is how you make a fighting game in the 21st century.

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The microtransactions - I know you went into great detail about how it works, and how you can earn things - but people still flinch when they hear that word. Are you confident you've got the balance right?

Matt Dahlgren: I think, definitely - and it comes down to our philosophy. We're trying to reward players who stay engaged with the game, and we have respect for our competitive players and we're making sure that everything that can impact the outcome of a match needs to be earnable with in-game fight money. Microtransactions can be perceived quite negatively, but this time around it's much more player friendly - players have more choice about what they want, previously it was bundled in one pack and now you can pick and choose what you want to work towards and get that content for free.

Street Fighter 4 ended up with 44 characters, you've got 16 in V with six coming in the first year. My maths is terrible so I can't figure out how long it'd take you to get to 44.... How long will you support it for?

Yoshi Ono: A lot of it will depend on once the game's out in the wild, and if the model we make comes to fruition and I can be proven right about it being the right choice. Simple maths suggests it'd take five years to get to the roster of Street Fighter 4, and we want to keep the game going for that amount of time. We want to support it as long as we can, we honestly will have to see - we don't know anymore than anyone else does how it's going to turn out next February, once we do this completely new way of doing things.

We're being told to wrap up. Have you still got your little Blanka, or is that not on-brand seeing as he's not in Street Fighter V yet?

Yoshi Ono: It's in my desk in Tokyo. I got here and I was like 'Blanka!' Maybe Blanka was being left behind, and he's the one who leaked it all to Eurogamer Portugal?

Okay, one very last one. Has Chun-Li got a bra yet?

Yoshi Ono: She's at a Marks & Spencer as we speak, picking one up that fits her. By the time the game comes out, she'll be comporting herself. Yeah, she'll be sorted out by the time you see her.