Alright, I’m going to just come right out and say it: All these year-to-year sports games are just a huge cash grab. These annual releases are holding back sports-game development in some pretty profound ways. It would be better off for the entire sports gaming genre if all of these individual sports games just died.
As a games journalist, I’ve reviewed more than my fair share of sports games, and I always find them to be the hardest to review. The problem is, most sports games are absolutely identical to the game that came before it. Sure, players have changed around a bit, and stats have been altered here or there, but the system of gameplay is pretty much identical—at least barring a new console or something. Even the modes are practically identical. You have your exhibition games, your seasons, your create-a-player or manager modes, and so on so forth. Even these modes don’t change much, only offering up a few new features every year.
So whenever I review a sports game, I have to go over the same old control scheme again, talk about the one or two new features, and then spend a lifetime talking about graphical improvements or the way that the grass on the field shines the right way when people step on it. That’s not a new game; that’s an expansion pack.
And that’s exactly what it should be, an expansion pack… or at the very least, DLC. There’s no particular reason why we need to buy Madden 12, 13, 14, and 15 when the game can just as easily update itself via the Internet. Here, let me give you an example of how it probably should work.
The next generation of game consoles is coming out. When they launch, instead of companies releasing a sports game every year, they should release just one edition of the game to last us through the console’s lifetime. We can call them Madden: Xbox One Edition or FIFA: The PS4 Version or something. These games would be much like the sports games that we currently buy, with a set of features, modes, and stats that let us recreate some of our favorite sporting-game moments.
Then, monthly, the game updates itself with a fresh set of stats for every player. This will provide a kind of immersion that will link the game with the real world. Has your favorite basketball player been missing shots lately? Then he will do the same in the game. Has a team’s roster changed up because one of their star players had an injury? The game’s roster will update to reflect that. I don’t particularly care if companies like EA charge us a monthly fee for this update service either. Even if it cost 5 bucks a month, you’d still get a year out of it before you spent as much money as you would on another sports game.
But what about new modes? That’s also a simple fix: market them as DLC. If Tiger Wood 14 suddenly comes out with the “watch Tiger Woods eat a hamburger before his big golf tournament” mode, or, you know, another mode that might actually be fun to play, plenty of players will pick it up for, say, 15 dollars on Xbox LIVE or PSN. More importantly, the thousands of players who don’t really care about watching Tiger eat a hamburger and would rather just play random games of golf in their golf game wouldn’t have to pay anything extra for the parts of the game they want to experience.
OK, what about graphical updates? Well, those are simply patches. Granted, they might be pretty big patches considering they would be entire overhauls to the game’s graphical coding, but they are patches nonetheless. Even better, you could package the graphics updates as DLC as well. That way, the game’s graphics and gameplay are kept separate, and players who care about realistic grass sheen can dish out an extra five bucks for it while the rest of us can continue to have thrilling football games on our own, literally lackluster, turf.
In fact, you could package just about everything in sports games as DLC. Dream players? Make them DLC. New end-zone dances? Make them DLC. Halftime shows? DLC! Mascots? DLC!!! New stadiums? DLC!!!!!!! Aliens playing football? Well, that would be a little weird, but there is no reason why it couldn’t be DLC. Heck, even if people fell out of the loop for a few years, they could just pick up DLC combo packs to get up to speed, and nearly everyone would rush to drop a whole dump of money on the season pass as soon as the game came out.
The main reason why we need to stop releasing sports games over and over again is that we aren’t thinking of new ways to package the games themselves. The strange compulsion to re-up a franchise every year isn’t actually helping anyone. Developers would probably get more money and a more devoted following just by digitally updating its product all throughout a game generation. It’s time for developers to start thinking outside the box, or else we are all going to end up buying Madden 127 when we are 80 years old.
Former Contributing Writer