14th May2020

Video Games Flourish as Sports Games are Losing their Appeal

by James Smith

Video game preferences differ as much as there are people in the world and on the whole, this is a good thing, as it provides us with a breadth of variety and choice. Recent information from Nielsen shows that towards the tail end of March, play time in the country increased by some 45%, while there was 44% increase in worldwide sales within the same period.

Whether you prefer to play first-person shooters like Call of Duty or simply collecting equipment aesthetic items like skins to use in games of crash in CSGO, there are a plethora of gaming options out there to suit everyone’s needs.

Although the increase includes Animal Crossing games, a new game with a record 5 million downloads since it was released; sports games also contribute significantly to the increase. In April, NBA2K20 Players Tournament was aired by ESPN, while MBL the Show for baseball players aired on YouTube and Twitch.

Invariably, this is arguably the best time to take a shot at playing sports video games. Sadly, there is a problem: sport gaming isn’t as attractive as it used to be. Sports gamers are limited to a handful of choices unlike before when they had limitless options to choose from. While some of the existing games are great on screens, the same can’t be said of their quality when actually playing them. No wonder that game fans have severally expressed their displeasure at the loss of quality and over dependence on micro transaction services.

For instance, consider the Madden series, EA Sport’s running of NFL games. After Madden 20 was released last summer, it has enjoyed tremendous patronage. According to Metacritic, a review-aggregation site, the game scored 76 on Metascore. This is the franchise’s worst performance since 2001. Its 1.6 user score is also considered abysmal, a response to overwhelming dislike by players, per Metacrtic.

In comparison with previous versions of the Madden games, this is the worst record so far, not even the NFL 2K series, its major competitor, had such a score. The NBA 2K series from 2K Sports doesn’t fare better. The NBA 2K20, its latest edition, scored 78 on Metascore. Since 2,000, the franchise hasn’t recorded such a low score, while the 1.0 user score is also a record low for the franchise. Thus, recently, the low fan ratings started by NBA 2K18, a low score that puts it in the same category with other infamous micro transaction-laden offerings has continued to this day.

FIFA 20 from the stable of EA Sports scored 1.1 on user score, that’s aside to its sub-80 Metascore, the first low score since 2000. In the past, EA NHL series was widely accepted by gamers. However, its current 77 score on Metascore shows the games’ current status as indicated by NHL 20’s 3.6 user rating this year. Only MBL the Show, from Sony, the reigning champion of baseball games, has escaped the low ratings and decreased acceptance by the fans. With a Metascore of 83 and 6.9 user rating, Sony is in a class of its own.

While user ratings are good, one should tread carefully with them because they are most times biased. However, it should be noted that there are no tangible reasons for scoring these games low except that users are getting fed up with these franchises that are doing nothing to improve their products but are simply concerned with profits.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, major leagues were accustomed to licensing their franchise to multiple publishers across multiple consoles simultaneously. Examples abound. In 2002, NFL 2K3, Madden, NFL Fever, and NFL GameDay were simulation games for Xbox and PS2 users. These offer NFL Blitz 20-03 as an arcade option while the Backyard Football offers some kid-friendly themes. Thus, players weren’t stuck to a single game or platform. They could easily switch from an underperforming platform to a better one. The competition put franchises on their feet as they saw the need to keep improving not to be pushed out of business by their competitors. Madden still recycles some of the new features that those franchises added to their games to improve their attractiveness.

This came to a halt in 2005. EA got the right to monopolize the NFL when it signed a deal with the NFL giving it the exclusive right to promote the league. That signaled the end of NFL 2K series as it lost the opportunity to have a level playing field to compete with Madden. Shortly thereafter, 2K Sports followed the same path by securing an exclusive right for MBL, a move that killed MVP Baseball series, EA Sport’s favourite.

Market forces contributed to the downfall in games’ quality. Shortly before the 2010s, the popular NBA-Live series was dominated by NBA 2K and EA was forced to cancel some of its proposed installments such as NBA Live 20 among others. After the discontinuation of the Major League Baseball series by 2K in 2014, only The Show was left standing. By 2020, only the Pre Evolution Soccer series from Konami franchise remains the only foil for 2K, EA, or Sony available in the market.

Perfection was far from sports video gaming back in the days. It was difficult for those franchises to find the right fan base size. They couldn’t sustain their franchises due to the poor fan base and high cost of production. Perhaps the market was designed to support just a handful of options as the steadily increasing studio budgets are forcing mid-tier developers out of the competition.

This trend is not peculiar to sports but all gaming genres. Aggressive micro-transactions are typical examples, same as the gradual movement towards game service. Even if The Show and MVP Baseball are allowed to compete favourably with each other and NFL 2K can compete with Madden without restriction on the virtual shelf of PlayStation Store, it would have been pretty difficult to avoid such realities.

Nevertheless, modern day gamers aren’t content with the available options, thanks to a lack of choice and competition that supports the proliferation of sub-par products out of desperation to make more money than customer satisfaction through realistic gameplay and exciting features. Right now that sports video games is supposed to be the go-to for online games, it is difficult not to think retrospectively of how the previous gaming era would have fared better than this.
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