Yoshinori Ono: "Street Fighter 4 was an unwanted child"
Producer says 6.4m selling title was considered lost cause, internally
Yoshinori Ono, the Capcom producer who headed up production on Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter X Tekken has revealed that the publisher considered the IP to be "a dead franchise" not worth reviving as it "doesn't make any money".
Combined, the various iterations of Street Fighter IV have sold over 6.4 million copies across several platforms earning high 90s Metacritic rankings on PC, 360 and PS3.
Speaking to Eurogamer's Simon Parkin in a deeply personal interview spanning his career at Capcom, Ono talks about how difficult it was to persuade the publisher that it was worth rebooting the series with its first new game in nearly a decade.
"The company kept telling me: 'It's a dead franchise. It doesn't make any money," says Ono. "'We have series that make money like Resident Evil and Onimusha. Why bother with a dead franchise?'
"Eventually I was given a small budget to create a prototype. That wasn't really down to me pestering my superiors so much as all of the journalists and fans started making a lot of noise and pressuring Capcom. This was a strategic plot on my part. I had been asking all the journalists to make noise about the series when out and about.
"Until the day of release, Street Fighter 4 was an unwanted child. Everyone in the company kept telling me: 'Ono-san, seriously why are you persisting with this?"
"I would always tell them that it was their responsibility to tell Capcom, not me as I don't have the power. Journalists and fans have the power to move Capcom - not producers. With so many voices crying out for a Street Fighter game Capcom could no longer ignore it any more and so they gave the green light for a prototype and they asked me to create it. It's a miracle that happened after a decade...
"Until the day of release, Street Fighter 4 was an unwanted child. Everyone in the company kept telling me: 'Ono-san, seriously why are you persisting with this? You are using so much money, budget and resources. Why don't we use it on something else, something that will make money?' No-one had the intention of selling it, so I had virtually no help from other departments - they were all reluctant, right up to the day of release."
Ono paints a dramatic picture of professional life at Capcom, illustrating the incredible high-pressure and workload which eventually culminated in him collapsing and being admitted to hospital following a promotional tour for Street Fighter X Tekken earlier this year.
After that collapse, generally attributed to an incredibly high workload, there were fears that Ono would be forced to retire, but the producer says that he only had a week away from work before being packed off on a trip to Rome to Capcom's yearly Captivate event.
"I woke up and walked to the bathroom," Ono says of the morning after his return from the Street Fighter X Tekken trip. "When I opened the door the room was abnormally steamy. Stranger still: the steam was rising. It kept rising, up and up, and I didn't understand what was going on. It was like I was suffocating. Then, when the steam reached my head level I passed out cold and collapsed onto the tiles.
"My wife was at home and heard the crash. Later she told me that she ran into the bathroom. There was no steam, just my body on the floor. She called an ambulance and I was rushed to hospital. When I came to, the doctor told me that my blood acidity level was on par with someone who had just finished running a marathon. He asked me: 'Ono-san, what on earth you been up to?' I told him that I woke up, went for a bath and simply passed out. He didn't believe me. I guess I have been working too hard. You could say my health bar was on the dot."
Ono is also keen to put to bed any rumours that he was told to rest up by his employer after the incident, clarifying that he had little choice in the matter.
"Nobody told me to take a rest. When I returned to work, Capcom didn't even acknowledge that I had been in hospital."
"Whoever told you that is lying," Ono tells Parkin when the stories about Capcom wanting him to take time off are raised. "The situation is the complete opposite. Nobody told me to take a rest. When I returned to work, Capcom didn't even acknowledge that I had been in hospital.
"There was no change in my schedule. I was at home for an entire week before the doctors allowed me to return to work. When I returned to my desk there was a ticket to Rome waiting for me. There's no mercy. Everyone in the company says: 'Ono-san we've been so worried about you.' Then they hand me a timetable and it's completely filled with things to do."
Read the full interview with Ono, including his history in fluid dynamics modelling and remembering code off by heart, over at Eurogamer now.