The Fighting Game Capcom Tried To Get Pulled From Arcades

Screenshot: FTE Games

Capcom once filed suit in an attempt to get Fighter’s History pulled from arcades. And today, you can play it on Switch! So, clearly, the lawsuit didn’t work out.

The explosion of the fighting game genre after the release of Street Fighter II in 1991 raised some legal questions. The avalanche of one-on-one martial arts games was due to the popularity of Capcom’s game. Also, most of these games took design cues from Street Fighter.

For example, in most of them, if you picked the main character and did a quarter-circle followed by a punch button, you were pretty much guaranteed to throw a projectile not dissimilar to a Hadouken.

The legal question was, in a nutshell, how much “inspiration” was too much? Even if a game didn’t copy the artwork, music, or character names directly, did the totality of it constitute a copyright violation? Capcom decided to go to court to find out.

While there were many Street Fighter II imitators in arcades, Capcom was particularly irked by Data East’s game Fighter’s History. Like Street Fighter II, it depicted a world-spanning martial arts tournament with fighters using different styles from different regions.

But to Capcom, some of the fighters and moves seemed a little too close for comfort—fighters with blond hair and green tank tops doing moves that were executed similarly to Guile’s Sonic Boom and Flash Kick, a Muay Thai fighter that looked similar to Sagat and threw fireballs, a young woman in traditional Chinese dress, etc.

Screenshot: FTE Games

Fighter’s History was pretty similar, and during that time a lot of people would come up to people at Capcom, come up to [president Kenzo] Tsujimoto, and say, ‘Are you sure you’re going to let this go? You can’t really let this go. This is really bad,’” Street Fighter II designer Akira Nishitani told Polygon in 2014.

In 1994, Capcom and Data East went to court. Capcom showed that Data East’s design document for Fighter’s History made numerous references to Street Fighter II. Data East argued that Capcom itself had based its characters on real-life fighting styles and real-life costumes, which were elements that any martial arts fighting game would necessarily have to use, and that control inputs like “quarter circle” were not protectable by copyright.

Gaming journalist Bill Kunkel was called in as an expert witness, arguing on behalf of Data East. Kunkel had already testified in a similar trial years ago, arguing that Magnavox’s dot-eating maze game K.C. Munchkin was not violating the copyright of Pac-Man.

Magnavox won in district court but ultimately lost on appeal, and Munchkin had to be pulled from shelves.

Fortunately, Data East prevailed in court this time around. I say “fortunately” because I believe that had Capcom prevailed here, it would have had a chilling effect on video game creation. Imitation and iteration are how game genres develop. Would the first-person shooter genre have developed like it did if Id Software was able to sue everyone else who created one?

The court ruled that anything that Data East did take from Street Fighter wasn’t copyrightable expression, and Fighter’s History was free to be sold—to arcades in 1994, and to Nintendo Switch owners in 2019, too.


Comments

    And to Snes owners in '94
    I've got the sequal; karnov's revenge on NeoGeo. It's not a very good game.

    " Imitation and iteration are how game genres develop."
    hmmmm yeah I'm not sure you have much of a leg to stand when using this as an example.

    Game genres develop when developers decide to impart their own original ideas into an already developed or existing genre. This is just a flat out copy and paste. I don't believe "Fighters History" developed anything in the genre and most people laugh at it when looking at it through a historical standpoint.

    Much like "Ashen" it looks like it was created cynically, trying to cash in on what is already popular. Hoping to invest a small amount into something that's an imitation of something much bigger and higher budget. Perhaps capturing a fanbase of those original games that just want something new to keep them occupied.

    It's dumb and i think a waste of time, but when you're driven by money that's what bad developers might do.

    I'm actually getting sick of seeing indie developers flat out copy higher budget games and call it "inspired by". It just ends up filling the steam store with trashy imitations, when indies are exactly the place that should have the freedom to take risks and innovate.
    Not aim to become another money hungry AAA corporate tool.

    But sure direct and blatant imitations are good Chris Kohler, hopefully someday someone may directly copy something and accidentally add something original to it.

      I was with you for most of your argument but I feel the swipe at Ashen is unfair, especially if you include it in your comment of 'trashy imitations'. As a huge fan of the DS / BB series, I feel it has certainly done enough to carve its own interesting niche much like Nioh, their only differences being budget.

        I'm not going to crap on you for liking it, but if you were to be honest with yourself, did you just want more dark souls after dark souls ended? I'd say you were their target market.

        I'm not going to crap on all indies it's just that I believe their motivations for making things aren't creatively genuine. That they are trying to come up with a get rich quick scheme, just like the other mass market companies.

        For example do you think all the hundreds of indie developers who made dark souls clones all of a sudden , all at once, became deeply passionate about hack and slash style games with increased difficulty and punishing mechanics? That they all miraculously were interested in this genre before or at the same time Dark souls became popular?

        Would you say that these studios were ever even known for these styles of games?
        I wouldn't care so much if the people working on these games were known for or had been genuinely interested in this style of game and had something original they wanted to bring to it. Something that actually inspired them other than ripping off a game they liked. It looks more like a gold rush , just like battle royal games.

        I'm not attacking them because i think they are shit, I just want them to be better creatively. And to be honest I believe some of them probably shouldn't be making games altogether.

        Indies are literally the only outlet at the moment to access new creatively original, non mass market games. The more of them that keep trying to be another Activision are just flooding the market with cynical games of no real creative value.

        I appreciate the amount of work that it takes to produce these clones but I feel bad that they are working so hard to copy something simply to make money. It's just not worth it at the end of the day, for us or them as people dedicated time in their lives to make something.

          Sorry to rant on about this stuff. I just feel like integrity has become a forgotten or meaningless word in the current creative field.

          It annoys me a lot that the new generation of creatives have this mindset because it makes me avoid anything they make.

    I remember it from back in the day & it was pretty bad.
    Just a lazy cash in.
    My, how much as changed in the games industry over the past few decades.

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