The Sports Desk – What Does The Future Hold For EA Sports' PGA Series?
We usually hear about EA Sports' plans for its latest golf title by now, but judging by the fact that nothing was mentioned in EA's latest financial call setting up the year, it doesn't look like we're getting anything in 2017. When EA released its last golf title – 2015's Rory McIlroy PGA Tour – it said the follow-up would not be an annual release like other games in the publisher's arsenal, but that doesn't mean that EA's roadmap for the franchise going forward is clear.
When it came out, Rory's on-the-disc content was bare compared to previous entries, and as such, EA supported it after launch with a series of free content drops. But with no current indication that those are going to extend the life of the 2015 title until we get an all-new game at some point, fans of the franchise are adrift.
The practice of yearly updates for a sports game is questioned by many gamers, but this lull comes at a bad time for EA's golf franchise in particular. Before Rory – the first golf game for the current generation of consoles as well as the first one to use DICE's Frostbite engine – the old Tiger series had some tentpole features such as its use of the Masters or online country clubs which it could build momentum with. But with the first Rory title dropping features and the series' current quiet period, it makes me wonder what it is going to look like when it returns. Could we even, gulp, be looking at an NBA Live-style abyss for EA Sports' golf series?
Competitors such as The Golf Club 2 are filling the void and making their own compelling case. While the competition isn't so vastly superior as in the case of NBA 2K vs. NBA Live, the more ground series like The Golf Club gain, the bigger hole EA Sports digs for itself with each passing year without a game as a counter-argument. I have no knowledge of what the PGA development team down at EA Tiburon is working on in regards to the series at the moment, but I think it's safe to say that they're doing something for the franchise even without anything officially announced on the horizon. However, I also believe that a consistent release schedule (whether yearly or every two years) confers an iterative momentum that many video game franchises benefit from. It's easier to keep up with the times than to play catch-up.
The series could be looking at VR – a natural fit for the sport – as a rallypoint going forward. But not only is there already competition on this front from the likes of The Golf Club VR and VR Golf Online, EA has been hesitant to dive into this area so far. Beyond that, with VR's limited current install base, I don't think VR can be the only basis for the next PGA game. A full-featured title is needed to re-establish the franchise, otherwise EA may as well just keep updating the old 2015 game, which is something EA isn't doing right now anyway.
Taking a broad look at EA's larger strategy with its sports titles makes me wonder where the PGA series fits in at all...
- Yearly Releases: With the next PGA game not announced for 2017, it doesn't even look like it's an every-other-year franchise like UFC.
- Ultimate Team: This lucrative component could be harder to do for PGA than other series, although mixing/matching equipment and clothes like in old Tiger games could be the way forward.
- Licenses: With an often pared down roster of real golfers and courses, I get the sense that this is a very expensive component for the series. The short-term use of The Masters was perhaps an example of how hard it is for PGA to address this important requirement for EA Sports titles.
- eSports: EA is clearly interested in driving its titles towards eSports when possible, but PGA isn't likely to capture the excitement of FIFA or Madden, for example.
Considering the context, PGA tour doesn't seem to fit into the EA Sports mold. However, this could be a boon for the franchise. If EA Sports were to treat it like its own special case, then anything is possible. Customizing the company's approach to PGA's dissemination, feature set, cost, etc. may be against the company grain, but given the circumstances, could be worth considering.
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