Next-Gen Sports Games Need To Step Up

Updated: Sep 21

Sports games like NBA 2K and Madden are at an all time low in fan support. Of course, you wouldn’t know it by the game sales. Big game companies like 2K and EA Sports are pulling in big numbers for their respective titles. Fans would expect that to mean that recent titles are the best that have ever been. While in some ways that could be true, why are there so many fans quick to trash each latest installment?


While the laundry list of ‘I wish they would fix’ could go on for days, this peer into the future isn’t for that. The next generation of gaming consoles is upon us and expectations for the games they play are high. Since sports games are traditionally big sellers during every month of the calendar year, there should be some sort of innovation, right?


Sarcasm aside, let’s take an optimistic dive into the coming future of sports games. Let’s dream of the possibilities that the new hardware could bring.


My Player Modes - Difficulty

Every sports simulation game today has a ‘My Player’ mode. The idea is simple. Create your budding sports superstar and attempt to take them to championship glory. Customization options aside, most modern day sports games do a decent job at providing this mode. After picking a position, you launch into season after season on a team trying to first become a star. Once that is accomplished, you aim for the championship rings. Some games do this better than others, but nearly all are missing something... the difficulty.


Professionals are rare talents at their craft. With these sports sim games, the path to becoming a pro and becoming a hall of famer are all but assured the moment you turn on the game.


What if that wasn’t the case? What if the My Player mode was turned into a roguelike structured mode that actually featured skill, luck, and a bit of anxiety?


When we play a game, we all want to essentially enter the god mode cheat and be able to dunk from half court, steal every base, bicycle kick a goal from half field, and break a dozen tackles on the way to a 101 yard touchdown. Current day My Player modes provide that in spades thanks to the whole pay-to-play structure. What they don’t provide, however, is difficulty.


What if there was a hardcore mode that removed the ability to purchase your stat upgrades? What if your progression as a player was truly tied to your training, your performance on and off the court? What if injuries (both large and small) really came into play during every game?


Here’s what I propose. Once a character is created and the first ‘tryout’ is played, dump the created player into a game with real players rather than CPU controlled players. Then, with real metrics based upon a number of games, your created player can actually develop their own style. Not only that, playing numerous games with real people will truly build the character’s offensive and defensive IQ and tendencies.


This would allow matchmaking also to be a product of how many games were played with that character as well. Since higher games played would allow for more ‘improvement’, those players would be on a different tier. There could even be events where League Play requires teams to be played with players of various tiers rather than only playing against players of the same tier. I’m certain a fair system could be worked out through multiple modes or events to use these ‘hardcore’ players with.


Couple that with a more 'condensed' focus on created player games vs the CPU. Rather than just making the player play EVERY game in the current NBA season, they could focus on a smaller number of 'critical' or 'high visibility' games where the player is expected to get a larger role than usual. That way the casual players will be able to play to multiple seasons in a less time sucking fashion.


WHAT IF MODE

The Create-A-Player and Ultimate Team modes are very popular but there needs to be a mode in-between beyond the vanilla 'Play Now' mode.


Big time sports fans all have current and historical favorite players. Rather than spending so much time and energy on a 'story mode' for created players, they should develop a mode for you to helm your favorite player's career. They should start with historical players and then graduate to current.


What this will do is allow for players to put them on different teams, have control over how much or how little they develop, and maybe even change the course of championship history!


Here's a few scenarios they could try in the NBA:

- Tracy Mcgrady stays with the Toronto Raptors as he develops his career

- Grant Hill doesn't get injured and rises to superstardom

- Larry Johnson doesn't get injured and elevates his game

- Shawn Kemp develops his game after losing to the Bulls and gets revenge

- Westbrook, Durant, and Harden beat the Warriors and win a chip

- Eddy Curry develops his game and turns the Bulls into a powerhouse with a healthy Jay Williams


I'm certain there are plenty of other leagues where stories like these could be embellished in-game!


Ultimate Team AND MyPlayer Needs ‘Eras’

One of the biggest gripes I have with Ultimate Team (besides the pay to win formula) is the lack of love that historic players get from the community. Outside of the normal names that get high rarity treatment, many historic players and even teams rarely get any love.


The Ultimate Team modes have an opportunity to change that with changing the way that challenges are set up. As it stands, most of the modes require you to build a roster based upon the cards that you have. In some instances, like NBA 2K22’s new Draft mode, you are allowed to randomly pull cards and select the players you want to run with. All sports games’ Ultimate Team modes should have something to this effect on a greater scale.


Stressing the appreciation for the history of the sport is an important thing. Rule changes throughout the years have changed how each of the sports have evolved. The NBA progressed from a dominant big man’s game to a guard’s wonderland. The NFL went from a vicious tackling spectacle to a passer’s playground. Other sports have seen the same progression and these Ultimate Team modes should reflect that.


Some of the challenges or modes in Ultimate Team could be ‘era based’. This would allow for players whose game better suited the era to shine more. This is particularly important on the defensive end as players were allowed to be a lot more physical.


A beautiful example of this was when NBA 2K11 and 2k12 had their Jordan and “NBA’s Greatest” modes. Not only did you have to recreate iconic games or moments, you were allowed to play and see how historic teams played and matched up beyond just ‘the stars’. Even the presentation would change for the overlays and the commentary. Seeing the 60’s and the 70’s was a blast to see and play.


The game could not only set up ‘in game challenges’ in order to gain a special reward for your Ultimate Team, but also it could provide ways to change the gameplay through the rule changes.


Once the rule changes via the eras are established, this could also provide a way to spice up the MyPlayer modes as well. Imagine going through a MyPlayer mode where you are allowed to play in the Michael Jordan era or even the Showtime Lakers era! Doing so would really require the developers to work something out to pay some of the older stars to use their names and likenesses finally.


College To Pro Progression EXPANDED

One of the best features that EA Sports used to have was their import roster feature from their College sports games to their Pro sports games. While it seemed to be a great feature, in truth, most players weren't going to take the time to play a whole season of college ball just to turn around and play a season of pro ball with the rookie class they just played with.


Instead, the create-a-player feature could use a more 'focused' timeline similar to what the next gen version of NBA 2k does. The player could play conference rivalry games, classics, conference tourney games, and even NCAA tourney games as well. Maybe the games could be even more focused like playing against NBA-bound players that play the same position for valuable 'head-to-head' matchups as well.


Free To Play Version of Ultimate Team

If these developers are trying to make all of the money they can, it only makes sense to make the pay to win modes of their games free to play. If you can get more people playing your game you will have more of a chance to make money off of microtransactions. Of course, you could lock some of the better, more rewarding challenges and modes of play to those

who pay for the full version of the game.


ACTUAL BRAND COMPETITION

Let’s face it. Only having one NFL and one NBA game on the market stinks. The days where these leagues allowed for multiple developers to create a product forced them all to work harder to be different. Without a doubt, the next gen sports games need to be challenged!


Some developer needs to find another legendary coach to work with to challenge the Madden franchise. NBA Live needs to return with a vengeance. WWE definitely needs to allow more developers to try their hand at a simulation style WWE game as well. Thankfully there is at least the promise of an AEW video game on the way so that could be the competition that is needed both in real life and in the next gen video game realm!


The sports game genre really needs a shot in the arm and these next gen changes would really make a difference.