I still remember the last time I was excited about the release of a sports game.
It was back when I was playing NCAA Football 09 by EA Sports and fulfilling the fantasy of leading my favorite college team to a national title. To be honest, it has been years since I’ve had that much fun playing a licensed sports game. Now, we could get into why the college football game doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s a topic for another day.
The more important point is that it has been about a decade, and I think the licensed sports genre is at an all-time low — especially the NBA 2K series, the FIFA series, and the Madden series. Why? I believe there are two major problems that have contributed to the decline of sports games: the evolution of microtransactions (including the part they play in revenue for these games) and the way developers and publishers look at the concept of live services.
At this point in their evolution, these games are virtually a “live service”. And I can’t help but think of Jim Sterling and his crusade to raise awareness about live services.
I said on today’s Jimquisition that you’ll hear “Live Services” a lot this year.
Ubisoft today revealed its future plans, and guess what! They revolve around live services, live services, live services.
They literally don’t want to make games anymore, just like I said. pic.twitter.com/0lYwdOm0YL
— Jim Sterling (@JimSterling) February 13, 2018
The crazy part is that as Madden, NBA 2k and FIFA become more of a “live service,” their end product becomes worse and worse. And despite the fact that they try to pump up the options available with each game, the $60 entry fee makes each subsequent version a poor value.
Or maybe it’s not a surprise at all. Maybe with the focus switched from creation of a quality game experience to a way to keep the player online (and spending), innovation has taken a back seat to revenue streams. (Obviously, I should stop saying “maybe” since pretty much everyone agrees that’s what happened. When was the last time you were surprised or excited about a sports game development? Hell, Madden thinks they can woo us by promising us yet another tweak to the way running backs spin. I think it was just a couple years ago that their big selling point was adding realistic player celebrations. Way to push the envelope, Madden. Just forget about trying to create a compelling story mode. It’s way more important to perfect the Blake Bortles touchdown spike.)
Earlier this month, Joe (AngryJoe) Vargas released a video where he went on a well-deserved rant about the microtransactions associated with this games. The rant culminated with the simple conclusion that these games should be free to play considering how little they change each year.
And I agree, most of the time, you’re paying $60 for a roster update and some aesthetic changes. Not to mention the chance to start your “Ultimate Team” from scratch yet again. How is it that loot boxes are the root of all evil, but no one will point out that the card packs for these games are loot boxes on steroids?
So I’m going to go one better on AngryJoe’s rant. I’m done. Done with sports games until they do one of two things: 1.) either go back to making new, interesting games with meaningful changes in play and modes or 2.) stop pretending that you have a new product and go with a free-to-play model. After all, even Clash of Clans doesn’t have the nerve to charge me for a base game before suctioning cash out of my wallet in a never-ending series of microtransactions.
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