As I've said in an earlier post, I'm not really fond of most professional sports. Still, that shouldn't necessarily affect video games.
After all, most of my distaste doesn't come from the sports themselves but rather the way they are organized. This shouldn't really translate to video games since my ability to invest in a particular team is not required.
And for the most part, it's true. I did used to play a fair amount of sports games in my youth. I was pretty addicted to "NBA Jam" and "World Series Baseball" for the Sega Game Gear. I often played various "Wayne Gretsky" games with my cousin, though I can't remember which ones. I didn't play many football games, but mostly because I just didn't understand them. I don't think they really count, but I enjoyed "Mario Tennis" for both the Virtual Boy and the Nintendo 64.
But there was one game that I remember very well. I didn't play it much, mostly because it was a rental and I was kind of starting to lose interest in sports games, but I definitely remember it. "Mutant League Hockey". It was a spin-off of "Mutant League Football", which I never played. It functioned like normal hockey, but the gimmick was that the players were mutants and the game's rules were looser, allowing players to play dirty and kill one another. While I can't remember how good the actual GAME was, the premise definitely amused.
Anyway, over time, all of the sports games just felt like rehashes of the same games. This is a common feeling. The core mechanics of these sports never change, so it's not surprising that the video games don't change much either.
Even so, sports fans love these games for the same reason geeks write fan-fiction. I'm not even kidding. They use these games to play out how they wish a particular season would go (spoiler alert: they're favorite team wins) and many games will allow them to create custom players as well (self-insert). I don't mean to disparage this practice, or fan-fiction for that matter. This is just something geeks do and rabid sports fans are just a socially accepted form of geekdom.
The problem is just that it doesn't leave much for anyone who ISN'T interested in playing the same game with an updated roster. The most notorious is the "Madden" series.
That's why this article from Kotaku was particularly hilarious.
For those of you who can't or won't click on the link, it basically talks about how a posting on Best Buy for the "Madden 13" game which had this somewhat unusual feature listed in the game description:
Confused? Well, basically this strange feature is ACTUALLY a feature for the upcoming "Assassin's Creed III: Liberation". It was just a very, very amusing copy error.
But STILL, this mistake brought memories of "Mutant League Hockey" flooding back to me and all I could think was, "Why aren't they STILL doing that?"
The fact is that the majority of long-time gamers don't bother with the annual official sports titles. Even so, the sports fans are a big enough market that the game publishers don't NEED the long-time gamer demographic to turn a massive profit.
But why don't they TRY? I mean, let's be honest here. The development of any given Madden game is really not all that creatively taxing. Why not create the game as usual and then have a handful of developers make a goofy alternative mode where you can insert random characters from video games and fiction? You have the standard easy-to-replicate core gameplay experience and the Bonus Mode where you can play as Altair and stab players in the back?
Granted, I don't expect the officially licensed games to do anything like this. The NFL would never allow their players to be subject to that kind of digital humiliation. It doesn't jibe well with their image. They want these players to appear as flawless Adonises. Throwing in a sense of humor or fantasy would diminish that in their minds.
But there are plenty of sports titles that aren't officially licensed but still don't try to do more than just emulate the gameplay of other popular series.
I really think they're missing a huge opportunity to have their cake and eat it too. I mean, so long as the core gameplay is still available and up to the standards of the sports fans, then they can pretty much do whatever they want and the sports fans will still buy it. Why not throw in something extra to try and attract people who wouldn't normally play that sort of game? Do things you can't normally do in the real world. Have the ability to add superheroes or video game characters or long-dead zombified sports legends to your rosters. Give them the ability to break into fights, assassinate each other, or use supernatural powers to add a new level of complexity to the game. Like I said, this can just be an optional gameplay mode, it doesn't have to be the only way to play.
These are video games, people. We should treat them like video games and not sports simulators.
Sure, EA can just keep releasing the same games every year and make a ton of money, but why not put in the extra effort and potentially make even MORE money by hitting two demographics at once like the Halo series does?
Just a thought.