Monday, September 9, 2013

Blips: Annual Improvements

Source: The Truth Is Last Year's Games Had Problems. This Year's Are...Better?
Author: Stephen Totilo
Site: Kotaku

This inside look at the annual presentation of yearly sports titles shows the event to be as bizarre as it is routine. Basically a company like EA produces new sports simulation video games every year for every sport (recent basketball troubles notwithstanding), and so as part of the pitch for the new game, developers trot out the mistakes from the title that shipped fewer than 12 months ago and show how the most recent take improves the formula. The bottom line is supposed to be that every new game in a sports franchise is an improvement over the last one, not just the same game with roster updates, as has become the predominant accusation against EA's release strategy.

The GIF above is from Stephen Totilo's story and, though it took me a minute, I do see the difference between the two sides and the 2014 model does more accurately reflect how the human body moves when approaching a soccer ball for a kick. Is that change, and others like it, enough to justify paying another $60 year over year? Any game as complex as a sports simulation is going to have rough spots here and there, so I don't blame the developers for not achieving perfection and wanting to improve those facets with each iteration, but I also wonder how different FIFA 14 would be if there was no FIFA 13 and the team had double the usual time to produce it. Then again, they claim to focus on parts of the game where they've received feedback from players, so without an annual version of the game on the market, the developers are also missing out on certain criticisms.

With DLC the way it is now, annualized sports games seem ripe for the "service platform" model of updates. That is, you could buy a subscription of sorts to Madden Football and then instead of buying a totally new game next year, you get periodic updates as improved features roll out. In this model, simple animation "fixes" would be difficult to justify as purchasable content since it would likely fall under the "patch" category, and generally released for free. Right now though, the thirst for full-priced annual sports games has not let up, so there's not a strong business reason to change the format.

Ultimately I'm looking for an excuse to buy a new sports game since I stopped playing most of them once the Sega Genesis fell out of favor, save for a few soccer games here and there. Unfortunately, most new sports games seem to suck a lot of the fun out of the game at hand by hewing to evermore realistic simulation and TV presentation, both of which I care little about. Then again, as long as I can hand craft an entire team of create-a-characters, I'll at least be invested in my team, speaking as someone who doesn't follow professional sports very closely anymore. Maybe "silliness" could be a key addition to annual sports sims on next-gen consoles. In some old version of FIFA (don't remember the year) you could play in indoor arenas and one of the buttons was a straight-up two-armed shove. The most fun I've had with a soccer video game was turning off fouls and competing with my brother to see who could injure each others' entire rosters. Please, EA, bring this back! I can hear the presentations now, "Last year our game did not allow you to violently throw opposing players to the ground, but this year we've fixed all that by mapping that very action to the X button." *sigh* If only...

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