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Building the better next-gen sports game

by Harry Cee

It’s that time of year for another Madden release and also signalling the start of a new gaming season. It’s that time of year that many people on tomorrow may just call into work after lining up at midnight to get the latest release to play. This will be the first year that I actually get a Madden release since maybe 2009 or 2010 simply to see what the next gen version can do.

I did check it out over the weekend and a few things came to mind as I played and wondered how much longer people will keep buying yearly iterations of games that can only be pushed so far technologically speaking. And it’s just not Madden, but sports games as a whole that should probably change their model rather than just continually pour our yearly increments of nothing new.

Here are a few ideas that they could consider:

Roll out new games every 3 to 5 years

This is a complaint that many people make when it comes to sports games. Every year, there is little innovation or newness except the roster. Let’s be honest, if games are being built on the same engine, there is no reason that gamers should pay 60 bucks for a glorified roster update. IN speaking to a friend of mine over the weekend, he came out with a great idea. Rather than continuously reinvent the wheel every year, make the game once and then do it like Battlefield is done: Make a separate disk yearly for all of the extra little graphical additions or commentary that is needed to keep the game updated and fresh. In other words, treat it like premium DLC. I can’t say that I am a programmer but if Madden is pretty much built on the same engine yearly then charging people possibly ½ for roster and stat updates and graphical bumps would probably go a long er ay to keeping people in the game. We are moving to a point where most games are digital anyway so why bother to keep re-creating sports games from the ground up yearly? Some sports games barely do a little more that switch the menus around and still charge you full price to play and one of the biggest offenders in my opinion is EA’s FIFA World Cup series. The World Cup is a tournament that only comes around every 4 years and rather than EA make it a DLC which would have attached fine with the FIFA series, they made a separate game and then charged full price for a small part of the game. Konami on the other hand, charges a very small fee for the World Cup DLC or if you know where to look you can add mods that gives you not only the World Cup but other soccer tournaments for free. It should make one ask themselves why does EA nickel and dime for increments and worse, why do consumers keep paying full price? The World Cup 2014 game came out in June was on the exact same engine as FIFA 14 and there is no reason in the world why it couldn’t be included. When the Euro 2012 was played, a 25 dollar DLC was released for FIFA 12 which included 53 teams and 8 stadiums. So again, why pay full price for something that is a part of the game? If we aren’t careful, game makers will charge to play the playoff and then the Super Bowl, NBA Finals or World Series.

The new consoles are now at a point where at least in the short run they are competitive with PC rigs because now we are installing games to hard drives, and we require internet connections to get some advanced features and multiplayer online so it couldn’t hurt game companies to roll out DLCs for your NBA 2Ks and your Maddens since we are at the peak of how graphically they will look. So unless there is a shift in how a game is controlled or some other innovation to how sports games are played (coff KINECT failed !!) then we as consumers should see that there is little value in continually purchasing sports games yearly.

Rolling saves over a’la Mass Effect

One of the best parts of the Mass Effect series was the idea that your save games affected each game that you played (just more proof that sports games run on the same engines) so regardless of how much Mass Effect changed from the first iteration to the newest, you were guaranteed that you were able to jump right into your story without having to start a new narrative. So, why can’t the same be done with a sports game? If you are playing a dynasty and you get about 10 years in (which I really wonder who has time to play that long), then once the newest iteration of that sports game comes out, you either will make the choice of getting the new game and starting all over from scratch or sticking with the old one. So then the question is, along with rolling out graphical and roster tweaks a’la DLC, how about allowing me to carry my seasons over? If I made a player and he is 4 years into his hall of fame career, it would piss me off to have to start him all over again. And it’s even worse in FIFA games where players really have to start off from the bottom rung just to break into the starting XI. Sports games now should have the ability to allow players to carry over careers and stats of their teams and allow them to pick up where they left off in their career should they choose to. If you have a created player she should be able to be imported and you can’t say that it’s impossible because for years when EA had the NCAA license, their incentive for getting people to get both the NCAA games and Madden was to get the NCAA game, build your player up and by the time Madden came out, transfer that player to your Madden game and spend less time having to build them up. So, there is no reason why you can’t do the same with careers.

Allowing for more mods

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer allows for mods that enhances a game’s playability and I think if more sports games allowed that, then more people would get them. Essentially it works like this for PES: In soccer there are many tournaments that are played throughout the year and because both EA and Konami have secured rights to different ones and probably have a few that they have never gotten, then it’s impossible to be able to play some in a game. EA’s model has been, “if it’s in the game, it’s in the game.” If that is so, then what about the missing tournaments that we don’t get? What about missing players and federations? Missing players can be alleviated by just creating them. Most of us recall back in the 90s when Michael Jordan was missing from NBA Live we would take some time to create him and BAM, game on. But nowadays, players want to be able to do more than just add on extra players. We want to do more than sometimes create a new team or a new stadium with limited tools that the consoles gives us. When you have people that take the time out to make their game a unique experience like roster tweaking, making classic uniforms and again, tournaments you don’t get in the basic game, it should tell developers something besides let’s charge consumers extra money to get this throwback uniform via DLC or have them pay extra for unlocking a stadium. But I guess one argument that can be made is one of ownership as most companies are happy to tell consumers that just because you bought the game doesn’t give you rights over its content. However if one knows where to look, there is a bunch of information regarding how to mod some of your favorite sports games to keep them fresh for a while after its initial release.

In conclusion, there is a lot of innovation that game companies could do to make sports games better for this generation. While Madden’s year return will as always be good for EA, we already know some of the complaints that will come from consumers. If gaming companies yearly sports franchises want to get ahead they need to do so by offering more to consumers which will allow them to continue their games without having to buy a brand new package as well as ways to create user content which will ensure the longevity of the game. There are cases of where content can be moved from game to game without that content being lost and it could certainly work for sports games. Hopefully, game companies will figure out how to do this without having to charge consumers full price every year for incremental content.

About Armand (1270 Articles)
Armand is a husband, father, and life long comics fan. A devoted fan of Batman and the Valiant Universe he loves writing for PCU, when he's not running his mouth on the PCU podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @armandmhill
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