The Sports Genre has become basically the only genre to release game after game each year with no real upgrades or excitement to come whether then irrelevant new features or minor graphic upgrades. Of course Music/Rhythm games are falling into the same category with the slew of Guitar Hero: BLAH BLAH BLAH’s coming out and appears to be killing the genre.
Back on topic though the difference between those two types of games is that sports games haven’t really taken advantage of technological advances into their games. Now the only game that has really upped the ante is the EA Sports NHL franchise which switched control over to the thumbsticks and added new features that have won them dozens of sports awards over the last 2-3 years.
The big feature of course, has to be the Be-A-Pro Team Play feature. This allows people to create their own player with pretty terrible and generic stats but with decent customization, and then allows them to play hockey games with a close up almost third-person camera angle against other players. Now the thing that is different besides the camera is the fact that you aren’t vsing one person you are vsing a full team of human players meaning 6v6 (including the goaltender).
This means you and your team must play position,call for passes,setup plays, and most importantly help out your goaltender. While playing you earn experience points and EA keeps complete coverage of your stats goals,assists,checks,shots,fights,fights won, and so many more. I have personally convinced an Xbox Live friend to rent it and play with me. Him being from Alabama was very skeptical of hockey but when we got into the games I never seen someone enjoy hockey so much. He was finishing checks in the corners and giggling like a little girl every hit.
This feature along with the fact that you could create your own hockey club and you and your friends can go into a sort of matchmaking sytem and fight for wins to raise your team on the leaderboards and compete in EA Sports Tournaments. The whole time gaining more experience and getting better as a team, which increases your player rating with points to add to his ratings and makes your team even more impressive.
The point I am trying to get at is that, everyone knows what to expect from sports games. A 1v1 against a friend who comes over, some other guy online, or playing a dynasty mode with yourself until you win 3 Super Bowl’s and get bored. With Xbox Live and other online services out now and some developers even demanding some sort of multiplayer mode for their games because they see where the future is heading, it is almost a necessity for games to offer something to the new generation of gaming and this is where sports titles can really thrive.
The only game that really offers a good teamwork experience is shooting games, now not everyone has shot a gun in real life but almost everyone has played a sport in their life. Whether it be football,hockey,soccer, or baseball they know the thrill of bombing a touchdown pass, deking through defenders for a game winning goal, or smashing in a game winning run. They are great moments that you may remember from your childhood or would like to still do but are a little older and may not be exceptable to throw on some shoulder pads and rail into your friend at 30 years old for a sack.
That is where sports games can change all of this. Now I know hardcore Madden fans will complain and argue that no one cares because they live for playing classic Madden versus but those arent the people EA and 2k need to worry about. They need to worry about increasing the fanbase because the people who buy their games each year are most likely not going anywhere but down so this could only help increase sales.
The future isn’t with miniscule features like new QB vision or lead blocker controls. It is with features that truly change your gaming experience and makes you want to convince your friends to get it and play with you. This can be easily done with the help of EA Vancouver the studio responsible for the NHL franchise.
They are taking steps in one of the less popular sports titles and adding features that makes non-hockey fans want to play because the #1 reason which is you can enjoy it with friends and of course the #2 its competitive. If the features I have mentioned before are placed in Madden or even FIFA the sales would increase drastically not to mention it would be so much more fun to play.
How it would work aside, it would be great to be down by a touchdown with two minutes left and your friend is at QB coordinating the offense while you are in the backfield at running back and you have the rest of the team rounded out with people you have met online that you have played pick-up games with and had your own version of signing them to play for your team. So with your band of teammates from all over you fight for every yard marching down field fighting to get out of bounds and force your way into the endzone to tie the game and bring it to overtime.
Moments like those that only happen on TV or you pull off similar ones with comebacks in shooting games are ones that will make gamers keep coming back.
Now Madden this year added a limited Online Co-op mode which allows you and a friend to team up and vs a CPU team and you are given the camera as you would get in the NFL Superstar mode which gives you a close up camera and more realistic yet harder movement control. I have played this quite a lot lately and have had some exciting moments like a 33-32 victory with 4 seconds on the clock and my friend nailing a 51 yard field goal to win it, or my friend controlling the linebacker hitting the running back on a toss play and myself seeing the ball come lose run to it, pick it up off the ground and run it all the way back 78 yards for a touchdown.
The mode is very limited but it would appear that hopefully EA is thinking about this mode because except for one game all of our scores have been realistic, along with the yardage, and realism of the play. We even switched the quarter lengths up between 6-10 minute quarters and the results did not change. Apparently the EA team has gotten the formula right and its just the ambition to try to offer a feature just like another one of their franchises offers.
Allowing gamers to experience great moments when they play their games like they obtain from other genres could be very close in our future but something that could be even closer than a more team based sports game is the use of Project Natal in these games.
The thing that goes along with the future of gaming without question should be the coming soon Project Natal. Who knows if sports developers will utilize it and I know some features may be pretty impossible with a use of gaming peripheral (ex: The Wii) but it could give gamers a realistic experience in some positions. Maybe a quarterback mode in Madden and a goalie mode in NHL/FIFA especially with the development of the goalie mode in NHL and the already made animations that allowed the goalie use of almost all limbs so it wouldnt be unreasonable to think the feature would be easy to implement. Still much isn’t known about Natal and won’t be until Gamesfest next year which starts February 10th in Seattle and spans the globe. Yet you can’t help but let your mind wander thinking about having the ability to stand in a QB pose in front of your tv and flick your arm deep and launch a pass on your screen with great precision as if you were truly doing it.
So much is still unanswered about the future of sports games but there is much untapped potential infront of these developers its just up to them to take a chance on something new and exciting.