When a series is as popular and as long-running as Tekken, the goal is always to one-up previous installments by adding enough changes, while still keeping it familiar enough to make everyone happy. At least, that’s what Tekken 8 director Katsuhiro Harada and producer Michael Murray told me when I spoke to them at this year’s Evo.
I chatted with the duo about Tekken 8’s place in the series’ history and the legacy of one of the most popular fighting game series there is. While its beloved, Tekken has become a major stressor in the lives of its creators. But as in the past, Harada is sure that this new entry will come out on top, despite the challenge of surpassing Tekken 7’s sales looming over the team’s head.
“Our goal for the game is hard to define,” Harada tells Pro Well Tech, “but the challenge from a business perspective is the toughest to overcome. Tekken 7 sold 10 million copies and we want to pass that. We just want to take everything that we accomplished with that game and up it by 130%.”
“It’s the same for me,” Murray adds. “I just want more people to know Tekken. Like how someone might know Laura Croft. To see more people enjoying the series through more avenues. Whether it’s through shirts, anime like the recent Tekken one, or whatever.”
Of course, that starts with getting more people into the series. While that seems like an easy feat for a juggernaut like this, there’s always the never-ending goal of knocking down the learning barriers in fighting games. I asked Harada how Tekken 8 would help ease in players who had the widespread perception that Tekken is the most complex fighter to learn.
“I really don’t agree with Tekken being the hardest fighter to get into,” Harada says. “There’s a lot of fighters out there that are harder than Tekken, but they don’t have the audience we do. Tekken doesn’t have the entry barrier they do and we put emphasis on it being a pick-up-and-play game. But like any fighter, to be the best, you’re going to have to put the time in to get there.”
“Plus there’s lots of easy fighters on the market that don’t even pick up a lasting audience like Tekken has,” Harada says. “We’ve found it’s important for a game to have our philosophy of being easy to get into, but having a lot to learn and master. That’s why Tekken keeps people hooked.”
“It’s also an elitist thing.” Murray adds with a laugh. “I’ve found many times that there’s this psychological element of players believing, ‘I play Tekken and it’s the hardest, so I’m a better fighting game player,’ when it really isn’t the case.”
After asking about the team’s plans, Harada pulled out a counterattack and asked me a question of his own: “How do you think Tekken could bring in more casual players?” I answered that I don’t think a series like Tekken, with its vast legacy and modern, stylized appeal, has to worry about that. Harada just shook his head and corrected my overanalyzing with one familiar term.
“That’s why I’m so interested in Riot’s Project L,” Harada says. “They’ve got an IP and free-to-play. That’s an easy success formula. Plus there’s the Marvel vs Capcom-esque formula that American players love. But what I’m really eyeing is the business formula and how they’re going to make money … Fighting games can sell characters, but once you’ve bought your main, that’s it. I wish I could be a temporary Riot employee so I could find out.”
Murray adds that he doesn’t think that free-to-play models completely save fighting games. You’ll always have that initial player base, but how will it handle the drop-off that games like the delisted Multiversus experience? This is something that the Tekken series itself has actually dealt with when venturing into free-to-play on the PlayStation 3 with Tekken Revolution.
“When we did Tekken Revolution on PS3, we learned the consoles weren’t maybe the best platform at the time for free-to-play. If we had done it on a PC, maybe it would have been quite different. Console players, regardless of the price, wanted, the full package,” Murray said.
“Yeah, it kind of led to a mini-Tekken resurgence,” Murray adds. “Sales for the other full product Tekken games went up when Revolution dropped.”
Despite their importance to gaming history, many fighting games still struggle to break out of a niche. So just why is Tekken this huge outlier when it comes to mainstream appeal ,along with Street Fighter and the controversy king, Mortal Kombat?
“We’re able to constantly update with the times,” Murray says. “Yeah the gameplay is fun, but a game can’t thrive on that alone. First, it was because of the PlayStation One, where Tekken was able to show off this new 3D fighting world with polygon models. And that continues now because Tekken is always able to be this benchmark of what’s next.”
“We’re just able to understand the consumer.” he continues. “We know who our consumer base is. They’re not all going like hardcore fighting game players. Some just want to grab some beer and pizza with friends and mash buttons together. Some are alone enjoying story and arcade mode. From the style to the features and marketing, we know our target and we consistently tailor Tekken to that target.”
Tekken 8 launches on January 26, 2024, for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.