What makes a good sports videogame?
I've been playing sports games since 1995. NBA Live 95 (yes, that long) might seem like a long time ago to some of you, but to me it was the beginning of a long love affair with sports games, one that has lasted through my childhood, teen years and into my adulthood.
As I've grown, so have sports games. I remember playing the awful but strangely addictive World League Basketball on SNES, and looking back at that game it's very easy to see just how much games have evolved over the years.
Every year we're bombarded with sports games, and around about September every year is the beginning of the annual titles: Madden, FIFA, NBA 2K, F1, PES, Forza. But what gives these title worth, and what makes us stick to one specific brand?
I personally have no issues with annual installments, because I like the excitement of getting a new game. It also gives the developer more incentive to add and improve features, as is being seen in NBA 2K12 (who'd have thought NBA 2K11 could be bettered?).
It's funny though, because two years ago I was a raging NBA Live fanboy. What that series was able to show to me quite clearly is how quickly an IP can turn from something to nothing. Put simply, NBA Live turned into a series that had no interest in bettering the basketball gaming experience. That was a shame, because it was once one of the most lucrative and acclaimed IPs in the industry.
Where did the NBA Live series lose its touch? I don't think the games ever really got especially bad, but the experience just seemed stale next to what 2K Sports was bringing to the table on a yearly basis. I now also fear that FIFA is going to head down this very track, but I have more faith in the football fanatics that put that game together than I ever did with the NBA Live team.
As for the NBA 2K series, 2K Sports seems to know exactly what it takes to make a good sports game. It's not just about playing a match, but it's also about the competitiveness that fuels the match, and the ways in which we can engage with a virtual match. NBA 2K12 does this with My Player, PES 12 does it with the Football Live Suite, and FIFA does it with its own number of modes, including Be a Pro and other Career modes.
It's also important that certain mechanics are fixed/improved in new iterations, and that's also where NBA Live faltered. Physics, ball handling and animations issues plagued the series year-on-year, while its competitor looked to perfect its own unique mechanics by upping the difficulty and demanding more of the gamer.
Is it the overall sense of competitiveness that drives us towards sports games? I think it is. Almost every mode you come across in contemporary sports titles pushes you to be as successful as possible, and there is always the push to be up to the standard dictated by the game's own AI-controlled opposition. This includes in-game mechanics. In trying to replicate real-life movements onto a traditional controller, sports games are giving us the skills needed to compliment intense competitiveness that is fueling experiences.
And it's that sense of competitiveness that makes a sports game appealing to me. It's just a matter of implementing working mechanics that accurately replicate the tense struggle of a professional sport, allowing us to fulfill our lifelong fantasies of being the ultimate professional athlete.
By Gaetano Prestia
What attracts you to certain sports games? Is it the difficulty? The modes? The online component? Or do you prefer arcade sports games like NBA Jam to avoid the aggressive push to be successful in a mode like My Player?
NBA 2K12 Discussion Thread
PES 12 Discussion Thread
FIFA 12 Discussion Thread
F1 2011 Discussion Thread
Forza 4 Discussion Thread