Face it, sports fans: People of all ages love watching football, baseball, basketball, etc., and ever since the first video game based on any sport was released for home consoles, people have loved playing sports video games. I myself grew up with the Madden NFL and NBA Live series, both from Electronic Arts (EA Games), and I still remember the thrill of throwing a Dan Marino touchdown, or making Shaquille O’Neal uncharacteristically fire up a three-pointer.
Many of the most popular sports video game franchises from years ago are still going strong, but compared to when I was a teenager (with seemingly limitless time to kill), the games themselves have gotten much more immersive and dynamic. I’m not just talking about the visuals, which have, of course, improved with every new console and game iteration. I would also argue that the games themselves are constantly getting closer to replicating the experience of watching real-life sporting events. For example, in EA Games’ soccer title, FIFA 15, due out in September, both the players and crowd react to what’s happening during any given match. That means viewers in the stands will actually start to get unruly if, let’s say, you’re playing as a supposedly dominant team and struggling against a league doormat.
Meanwhile, in EA Sports’ Madden NFL 15, set for release this month, the defensive side of the ball is now as involving as the offense. This has not always been the case in football-themed video games, even though the real-life game does require skill on both sides. Lastly, for EA Sports’ NHL 15, scheduled for release this September, technical upgrades include three layers of animation per player—for the character, their equipment, and their uniform. The game developers also enlisted a scientist who worked on the Large Hadron Collider to advise on puck movement. Put both developments together, and you get a hockey simulator in which the puck has all the possibilities of movement as the real thing.
So why the gradual march toward verisimilitude? Video games are evolving toward more authentic and immersive experiences all the time, but from a development point of view, companies have greater access to both athletes’ and video game fans’ insights than ever before. Millions of Madden games played online helped to inform the playbook of Madden NFL 15. Similarly, the developers of Grid Autosport—the new racing simulator from Bandai Namco and Codemasters—engaged with their franchise’s fan base, many of whom are also among the larger motorsport community. In these kinds of cases, all of this data potentially adds up to a more complete and authentic picture of any given sport.
The bottom line: It’s a good time to be playing sports video games, but where does it all end? If I had to wager a guess, I’d say a scenario in which gamers put on a virtual reality headset, and are transported onto a hardwood court (in the case of, say, a basketball simulator), where they get to face off against digital basketball players in an immersive version of a basketball game. Maybe you get to beam into the avatar of an NBA star yourself. Either way, it seems like the logical culmination of the trend for authenticity meeting game developers’ ever-growing access to athletes’ experiential data, and it would probably sell like Super Bowl tickets.
Personally, I’m tempted to say that I’d rather stick to the low-tech sports games of my youth. But let’s face it, if I was trying to make Shaq shoot three-pointers, I was likely bored and in serious need of a software upgrade. Not to mention some sunlight.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!