GAMING – How Should Sports Games Be Released?

There are lots of different sports games franchises, mostly from EA and 2K but also some notable ones from Sony. You know, there’s the Madden, the NBA 2K, Tiger Woods, MLB, Hot Shots Golf, etc. As far as these games go, the status quo is that the sequels are released yearly and featuring tweaks and improvements here and there and roster updates, they’re released at full retail price. This is how sports games have been released from the beginning and that’s how it’s going down to this day.
Many people hate this and cannot understand how gamers can keep on buying the same game year after year and at full price. And why is it that with so many iterations, these sports games always have some problems like bugs or bad design or glitches?

I can understand these criticisms and often times I agree with the people who hate sports games and how they’re released like this. NHL 09 many would argue ain’t that different from NHL 08 and yet NHL 09 this year costs the same as games like Dead Space, Gears of War 2, LittleBigPlanet, etc. By common sense, this just seems wrong.

But many don’t really know the full story of why it works like this. The sports game developers almost always new experimental ideas in new games. Sometimes, such experimentation results in glitchy and buggy releases of poor execution. This is also because they have such a tight deadline. As soon as they release this year’s iteration, they are immediately taken to the drawing boards for the next iteration and by a month or two months’ time, they’re programming the next year’s release. Improving the graphics in such a tight timeframe is a tough obstacle as well. Yet, ask any gamer that’s played every iteration of a certain sports franchise and he’ll tell you how each iteration is different. Whether or not those differences resulted in good games is the most important question and usually, since the developers are so tight on schedule, the execution isn’t pretty. But there are times when it works and a lot of improvement and new ideas show up in a new iteration and such great execution wouldn’t have occurred if the iteration was just released any other way.

SPORTS GAMES AS DIGITAL DOWNLOADS?

But even so, to many gamers, it seems that it would be best for consumers if the new iterations just was released as updates in the form of digital download. If the new iteration isn’t going to change much of the game anyway except for a few tweaks and a roster update, why not just release an yearly downloadable update to that game? I’ve heard many people argue for this kind of release style. After all, this style will definitely save a lot of money for sports fans and also will encourage gamers to keep updating their sports games.

It sounds really good in concept but I personally don’t fully support this idea. Like I said, every yearly release of a sports game introduces a new concept (e.g. Madden 09 has the Madden IQ, Tiger Woods 09 has the new coach mode) and sometimes graphics and animations get a major overhaul (as was the case with MLB 08: The Show) and such things won’t happen if sports games are just updated every year via downloadable content. Of course, many of the times, these new concepts and graphics upgrade end up problematic but there’s always a good possibility that it’ll end up great, as was the case – according to the reviews I’ve read – of NHL 09.

To put it simply, making sports games be released as downloads stagnates the genre more than ever before because innovations and major overhauls would be discouraged. The good thing about this kind of distribution would be that it would definitely be cheaper for consumers and ensure solid quality sports gaming everywhere but the bad thing is that it will stay the same for who knows how long.

BUT COME ON, THE STATUS QUO SUCKS!

Yes, yes it does. Paying fully retail price for yearly updates that may be buggy, glitchy, poorly executed, and/or be barely changed from the previous iteration is not a good option for consumers at all. Surely, there must be a solution for this.

AND HERE’S MY PROPOSITION

Release each iteration at half the full retail price (meaning $30 in America for the PS3/360). And then some time after the release (probably after 6 months or so), release the roster upgrade and minor tweaks/improvements in the form of digital download for a reasonable price ($20?). After that, release another hard copy iteration of the series with major overhaul and new experimental concepts. Keep releasing it like this.

Yes, it’s a pretty crazy and revolutionary proposition and developers and publishers will definitely look at that and shake their heads. Release their games at half the price and then make it up with digital download update a few months later? Why would they want to do that?

Here are my reasons: First, it would bolster the sales. People will look at the cheap price and be encouraged to buy it. There will be many units of the games sold. Next, when people find problems with the games, they can always be guaranteed that issues will be fixed and improved with a follow-up digital download update, which costs even less. This not only bolsters the sales of the game, but also means that gamers will be more likely to buy the next iteration when it releases since any problem it’ll have will be addressed via digital download update. What I’m proposing here is a way to release sports games that’s both good for consumers and the developers’/publishers’ wallets.

I have a feeling that this will most likely never happen but what do you guys think? Isn’t my proposition pretty sound? And please, if you find any part of that proposition too problematic, feel free to comment on it. I know this was a long blog, but I hope it was an interesting read.