The Sports Desk – The Beginning Of The End Of This Generation
The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro are both out, but this is not the beginning of the next generation of home systems from Sony or Microsoft. Instead, we're four years into the life of the PS4 and Xbox One, meaning we're only halfway there. Sports franchises should be on the ascent, but instead it feels like we're adrift. Modes have stagnated, fanbases have become jaded, and although many sports series offer a solid gameplay experience, I get the feeling this generation of sports titles has already plateaued.
Companies have settled into the practice of focusing on post-launch monetization whether that's Ultimate Team, MyPlayer, MyClub, Diamond Dynasty or whatever. Along with this is the rise of the esports scene through online and in-person competitions. While these forms have indeed given players a reason to return to these titles after the initial release luster has worn off – and brought extra revenue – I think they've made the publishers comfortable with the status quo. New systems are always a convenient jumping-off point for new innovations, but if that point is three to four years away, sports fans can't afford to just coast there.
Another reason for my cynicism is that we're halfway through the generation and it still seems like we should have more to show for it. Looking at this year's titles, I don't see a lot of innovation happening. The games have gotten arguably better year-upon-year and added nice-to-have features like MLB's sim features and NBA 2K18's analytics, but it feels like monetization is the current big wave everyone is riding. Story modes are being included more and more – and these have been enjoyable – but I've wondered aloud if these have a limited future, and in the case of NBA 2K, we've already seen them folded into the monetization loop anyway. Furthermore, in the wider video game universe, this kind of story-based focus isn't even new, as the tide of Mass Effects, Telltale adventures, and the ilk is already receding.
We're halfway through this generation, and yet the term "legacy issues" has stuck around the necks of all the sports franchises to the point that our noses have become accustomed to the smell. I don't have a lot of confidence that fixing these is all of a sudden going to be a big crusade. It would be a beneficial use of time until the next generation of home consoles, but with sim engines wonky, player and franchise A.I. still not smart enough, and bugs an ever-present fact of video games since time immemorial, I'm not holding out hope developers find the magic solutions they've already been searching for.
New toys like VR and the Nintendo Switch offer hope, but VR simply doesn't have the install base to drag sports games forward. Also, in my sports VR experience, the gameplay and modes offered aren't robust enough to compete with current standards. As for the Switch, its mobility benefit isn't additive to the genre (only itself), and is just a different way to represent what's already there. This is unlike the Wii, for instance, which while certainly limited, represented new gameplay. Besides, EA hasn't even embraced the Switch yet, so it has had no impact on the sports genre to date.
Next year will bring a new wave of sports games that surely excite, surprise, and also disappoint. I'd love for 2018 to be a major jumping off point that introduces landmark features that carry us to the next systems the way that fantasy/microtransaction modes have taken us this far. But I'm hard-pressed to imagine what they would be.
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.
Madden NFL 18
NASCAR Heat 2
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018
NBA Live 18
Project Cars 2
Forza Motorsport 7
NBA 2K18 (Switch)
FIFA 18 (Switch)
Mutant Football League
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week
NBA Live 18 Livestrikes Begin
Franchise starts up its limited-time event challenges for apparel, shoes, traits, and more. This month features gear from companies like Undefeated and BAPE.