The NFL’s impending lockout has pigskin lovers looking distraught and down. But look at the bright side; at least Madden 12 is still coming out. How else will you fill your Sunday afternoon void this fall when nothing is on TV? EA Sports’ insistence to push the game out in a lockout year makes sense both financially and in terms of demand because, well, heads need their Madden fix. With that said, this year would be used as an opportunity to regroup and make a better football sim should games resume in 2012.
Think about it. You or a friend cop latest Madden installment thinking they’ll finally get things right this year. Then the weeks pass and you find new exploits as well as old ones that didn’t get ironed out. After that you either play through the flaws or let the game sit on the shelf for the rest of the season. Doesn’t sound like a proper value at $60+ dollars now does it?
Additionally, the heavyweight franchises all tote roster updates that account for how players perform each week. It actually changes how the game is played more than you think since players, and teams, on hot and cold streaks compel you to change your strategy on the court or field. That dynamic would be lost in Madden 12 and thus feel like a step backward.
Singling out Madden isn’t the goal. This criticism can be applied to any annual sports game. NBA 2K11 is the best basketball sim to grace humanity according to most critics. Honestly it’s one of my favorite NBA 2K games. I still can’t look over its faults like the spin move dunk exploit, a my player mode that still progresses slower than AOL 3.0 and, lately, inconsistent networking for online play. Fifa 11’s enjoyable too but it’s got some serious oversights as well: namely its merciless AI.
My alternative plan calls for developers to spend two years making the best game possible while using the off year for expansions, including roster updates, that are downloadable or bought at the store. The off year could also be used to play up other properties if available. For instance, Madden could alternate years with NCAA Football. That prevents them from competing with one another since copies of NCAA, dropping a month or so before its NFL big brother, usually end up as trade fodder towards Madden anyway. That solely contributes to the used game market publishers hate. Even stores got smart and incorporated trade-in specials on NCAA towards buying Madden. Therefore, its evident the current release schedule doesn’t help EA as Madden stifles NCAA‘s sales potential every season.
However you have give credit when it’s due. Sometimes publishers realize they’re putting out a substandard product at pull the plug. NBA Elite 11, EA Sports’ NBA Live reboot, instantly comes to mind as it was advertised to revolutionize basketball games. Yet the public got their hands demo and it received an overwhelmingly negative response. EA caught wind of the fallout and realized they, despite pumping millions into the project, had a lemon on their hands. So they canceled the game on the eleventh hour. It was a shrewd, dicey fiscal move to make. Nevertheless, the moral suggests sometimes taking a huge L and going back to the drawing board is better than forcing sub par goods on consumers. The latter just weakens your brand and makes you less reputable as a source. That’s the last thing EA Sports wanted to accomplish as Elite intended to rekindle interest in their basketball games.
Creating games in today’s climate is more competitive, grueling and expensive than it’s ever been. It’s still extremely difficult to make a great experience in a year or less. Quality products take time, care and efficiency to hit stores with reasonable launch dates. Sports games, in spite of this, get churned out on harsh deadlines to meet publishers’ and shareholders’ expectations. The business is necessary because it gets the games we want to the stores. It’s just that its current practices hinder the final product’s worth.
Sports sims are based on pro leagues that don’t change much from year to year outside of rosters. Therefore coming up with new ways to play in yearly dev cycles is usually met with mixed results. Going for a bi-annual model would likely be arduous at first since consumers expect new sports games every fall. Still I hold it can work if one of the big developers, or an up and coming studio, has the pockets and the gall to take the plunge.