The Sports Desk – Six Things Sports Game Fans Are Dying To See That Won't Happen
Giving up isn't something athletes do; you never know when a team is going to comeback and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And yet there are some things in the sports video game universe that I'm safe in saying won't happen. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here you go...
NCAA Football Comes Back
July is usually a time for summer frivolity, but now it instead serves as a bitter reminder that we are bereft of an NCAA Football title. Due to ongoing licensing and paid-compensation issues surrounding an unholy legal morass involving the NCAA, Electronic Arts, universities, conferences, and the players themselves, we are without college football now, and I predict, for a long time.
With the battle over whether student-athletes should be paid for playing eating away at the NCAA, there is no going back to the way things were. At best, players, universities, and all the real-life entities could work together to offer a comprehensive licensing package, but I believe the cost of this would be prohibitive to a studio like EA Sports for a product that is not a huge seller. What I believe is more likely is that EA Sports would have to go to each individual player, conference, and school to get their licensing rights individually or in groups, creating a huge cost for inclusion. We all know that just getting some of the players or schools is not the kind of experience fans want. It's all or nothing, and I think it'll be the latter when it comes to NCAA football.
NFL License Exclusivity Ends
Ever since the NFL signed an exclusivity agreement with EA and its Madden series, fans have missed the competition brought by rival developer Visual Concepts and its NFL 2K series. But regardless whether you like Madden or not, it's the NFL that determines who gets its license, and the league prefers single brand partnerships. Madden is a high-profile, successful series that the league is happy to align with, and therefore I think the two will continue to work with each other exclusively until either the series' quality drops off a cliff or the NFL ceases to be popular. I don't think either will happen anytime soon.
Major Sports Games Go Non-Yearly
While some sports titles like UFC aren't currently yearly, your Maddens, FIFAs, NBA 2Ks, etc. will stick to the yearly schedule. The companies involved currently make a lot of money doing that, and it's very reliable income that helps power those companies on the whole. Other than the financial concerns, I spoke to one sports developer who cast a bright side on the practice of yearly sports titles: Unlike persistent PC titles that update with features big and small, the yearly schedule – even with its short development turnaround – can switch or upgrade engines from year to year (similar to how EA started using the Frostbite engine recently), something they said wouldn't be possible if titles like Madden only kept adding to the same platform. Not having graphical jumps might not harm an MMORPG, for example, but it would be very conspicuous for a sports title before long.
There's also a certain momentum that accompanies a stable yearly schedule. Look at EA's NBA series, which has missed multiple yearly iterations. While the early word on the NBA Live 18 is that it's better than some of the previous incarnations of the series, even with multiple years to craft the product it still doesn't have near the feature set nor polish of the yearly NBA 2K franchise.
Servers For Old Games Are Kept On
Every year there is a story about how the servers for a five-year-old sports title are being turned off, which causes the fans still playing those titles to become outraged. Time may have moved on for everyone else, but for whatever the reason – whether it's a certain feature or the gameplay – these fans are still playing the title even though it's well past its prime. Server space isn't infinite, and it makes sense that the publisher and/or developer would move on from spending resources on an old title. This happens in other genres as well, such as shooters or MMORPGs, but given how many sports titles keep coming out, the leash is particularly short for sports titles. Besides, a company would much rather you buy the new title than hang on to an old one.
Microtransactions Go Away
With modes featuring microtransactions such as Ultimate Team making so much money ($800 million a year for EA in particular), there's no way this is going away. No way.
The Return of The Full First-Party Sports Slate
There used to be a time when the first-parties put out a full lineup of sports titles, from football to hockey. With licenses and development costs, those companies determined it's not worth the money to have the third-best NBA title, for instance.
Not only would Sony or Microsoft find that getting back in the game not worth it these days from a competition standpoint, their first-party studio system is currently not equipped to deal with what it takes to put out sports titles anymore. Sony's 989 studios is long gone, and Microsoft's entire first-party studio structure as a whole has atrophied. Putting out a sports title requires a dedicated sports developer, not someone whom just dabbles on the side, and I don't think any of the platform manufacturers have anything close to the appetite necessary to go back to the glory days.
Nintendo, as always, is its own beast. While the Switch is hosting sports titles like NBA 2K18 and FIFA 18, Nintendo has never been interested in adopting a regular sports schedule of titles apart from exercises like Mario Golf/Tennis, and casual-focused rec sports titles. There's nothing wrong with this, but I would never expect that philosophy to morph into a full-on sports strategy like EA's, for instance.
Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.
NBA 2K18 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, PS3, 360) - September 19
Project Cars 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - September 22
FIFA 18 (above)(PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, PS3, 360) - September 29
Forza Motorsport 7 (Xbox One, PC) - October 3
GT Sport (PS4) - October 17
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week
PES 2018 Licensing Spree Continues With Liverpool Legends
Includes Steven Gerrard, Steve McManaman, Kevin Keegan, and more.