20
Aug

Are We There Yet? The Next Golden Age of Sports Gaming

Last week I ran a poll on Twitter asking where folks felt the sports gaming industry stood as far as being in a Golden Age. Are we close? Are we not close? Are we already there?

54% of the 189 respondents felt that we were approaching a Golden Age of Sports, which led all categories. Some of the feedback I received discussed how visually we’ve never seen games as beautiful as we have today, but that there are still some areas left to be desired for us sports gamers.

If we are, indeed, approaching a Golden Age of sports gaming, what is it going to look like? What’s missing outside of the glitzy facade? Will we know when we are there? Here are three essentials that it would take to get us there.

 

College Sports Must Make a Comeback

“Having some college teams start to reappear in games definitely lends itself to the notion that perhaps we’re on the cusp of a Golden Age.”

The Texas Longhorns and Oregon Ducks as seen in Madden ’18‘s Longshot mode. This marks the first time a college football team has appeared in a video game since NCAA Football ’14.

If we’re truly going to enter into a Sports Gaming Golden Age, it certainly can’t be without college sports. It’s been 4 years since we’ve had a NCAA Football game from EA Sports, and while it doesn’t seem there’s much hope for a college game to make its comeback anytime soon, we have seen some hints with NBA 2K17 introducing a handful of college basketball teams in their “Prelude” and MyPlayer story last year.

Madden ’18 introduces the Texas Longhorns, Oregon Ducks, and some others in their new story mode, “Longshot.” So we’re making in-roads, but these appearances are being introduced on a school-by-school basis, and not all teams are ready to recommit to the endeavor.

Would a customizable fictional game ever work? One which would allow for folks to edit and share with the community?

Bill Walsh College Football (circa 1995), while not having customization, did use a slightly fictional version of real-life counterparts, such as South Bend, Ann Arbor, and College Station existing as playable teams. We’ve already dealt with fictional (cough cough) players in college games, so perhaps with some editing capability, a game such as NCAA Football or NCAA Basketball could once again breathe life.

Having some college teams start to reappear in games definitely lends itself to the notion that perhaps we’re on the cusp of a Golden Age.

Studio Competition

“It’s not a surprise to many that NBA 2K is considered the best console sports game, and many will point to the existing competition between 2K and EA as a primary reason why.”

2K Sports has turned NBA 2K into arguably the most well-respected sport game for consoles.

There are definitely those folks who feel exclusive licensing has hurt certain sport offerings, such as Madden who has owned the NFL rights since 2004. Similar sentiment can be felt even for games like EA’s NHL and San Diego Studio’s MLB The Show, games that do not have exclusivity, but ones who also do not have a direct competitor.

For those who believe this lack of competition is hurting game development, they can also point to a game like NBA 2K who has had to continue to compete with EA’s basketball title, only to have successfully surpassed it–a feat many felt was impossible.

Worth noting, however, NBA Live seems to be waking up from its hibernation and should help fuel even more competition between the studios.

It’s not a surprise to many that NBA 2K is considered the best console sports game, and many will point to the existing competition between 2K and EA as a primary reason why.

With that said, it’s not like games such as Madden or The Show have gone “unchanged” over the last 5-10 years–they have absolutely improved–but would there be more improvements and advancements if we had seen this same competition within all sport titles?

If there’s an argument to be made for a sports gaming Golden Age to be happening today, it would be found in this particular section. We’re seeing some tremendous games being developed, but not quite at a Golden-Age-level, as we simply can only wonder what could (or should) have been…

Franchise Mode 2.0

“Imagine playing your next franchise mode game with 500 people watching as you fight to stay in the top-tiered CFM for another season instead of being relegated to a lower-tiered league.”

A new feature for NHL ’18 is in-season contract extensions, but should we be seeing bigger enhancements by now?

While I plan to expand on this idea in its own write-up, this is an idea I’ve discussed with a few folks, even briefly with some on the NBA 2K development team (very informally). Today’s sports games have become dominated by card collecting modes such as HUT, MUT, FUT, MyTeam, Diamond Dynasty, etc. These modes are a lot of fun, and allow folks to seamlessly play head-to-head against other humans, even using a sort of psuedo-season that each studio has created for their game with certain goals, achievements, and so on.

We’ve all heard how much money these modes make through micro-transactions, but why must such a setup be exclusive to these card collecting modes? Why has such a divide been created in the first place?

For us to truly enter into a Golden Age of sports gaming, Franchise Mode 2.0–whatever that might end up being–must blend the instantly available head-to-head play these card collecting modes bring. It must also infuse some of the emerging eSports characteristics such as audience and exclusivity; imagine playing your next franchise mode game with 500 people watching as you fight to stay in the top-tiered CFM for another season instead of being relegated to a lower-tiered league.

While infusing these elements from other gaming modes, Franchise Mode 2.0 must also fully implement the game’s actual franchise elements such as the draft, free agency, etc (kudos to Madden being the only game that currently does so). For leagues that want to move at a slower pace or truly build a league that lasts for decades, carryover saves should be provided for leagues to continue with each games’ release. Text sport sim games such as Out of the Park Baseball have provided this sort of functionality for years, and it’s time our console games start to match such offerings.

These card modes aren’t going anywhere, nor should they, but for a Golden Age of sports gaming to truly emerge, we must find a new platform for Franchise Mode 2.0 to launch from; one that would allow for franchise mode elements from the past, present, and future to strive.

So what are your thoughts? What else aside from these three are “musts” for us to truly enter into a Golden Age of Sports gaming? Scroll to the bottom of this page to leave a comment!

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