Sports simulators and arcade sports games: one concept, two approaches, and a never-ending argument over which formula is better. Now, there's no real dispute over the style that dominates the retail market, as annual offerings from EA Sports keeps a tight grip with simulation series like Madden, FIFA, and NHL, just to name a few. But are they in direct competition with the quick thrill arcade offerings as has been the case in the past? Electronic Arts would say no, since they now hold the rights to old Midway franchises NBA Jam and NFL Blitz in a smart move to monopolize the market.
Each style has evolved over the years to pack more content and deliver new features, yet is one better than the other? Not really. But let's butt their heads together anyway and see how they've progressed, where they excel, and how broad the line is that separates them.
It's hard to pinpoint the true origins of simulation sports games, since early entries with that design in mind lacked the programming technology to apply every realistic nuance. I'm talking about the early nineties, when the Bit Wars were raging between SEGA and Nintendo and arcades were still doing a good job sucking up rolls of quarters. At this point, big hits and loud cheers would blast out of the arcade game cabinet, luring the throngs to the button-mashers. Thus, the fast-paced arcade style was the format at first.
Then the console media changed to CDs. Suddenly physical features were more realistic, and customizable options like playing full seasons, drafting and trading, and player profiles were integrated and refined with each year's entry. Rules and penalties started convoluting the gameplay, meaning you had to be both a veteran of the series and a serious aficionado of the particular sport to truly appreciate its complexities.
And here we have the breaking point, where many gamers grew tired of the dedication involved in the management of a sim game and would rather play a game that breaks the rules completely. The sad thing is that EA has refined its formula so well through the years, while enjoying the advantages of near perfect marketing and licensing agreements, that smaller developers have grown afraid to compete with them. And this one of the reasons we've seen a decline in arcade sports games over the last several years.
So yes, things do look grim for the world of arcade sports, but that doesn't necessarily make them worse in quality. And since most of the gaming audience has mood swings and cravings for both styles, now is a perfect opportunity to revitalize the genre.
Oh wait, EA is already doing that. Well, at least they're putting effort into the production, as the recent NBA Jam downloadable title packed in some meaty modes, quick and precise controls, and all the gravity-defying slam dunks fans had expected. The recently released NFL Blitz looks to do the same with the pigskin sport, with impossible catches and bone-crunching tackles to spare and nary a yellow flag in sight.
Interestingly, the download-only format may be the future for arcade sports. The cost is cheap, both for developers and consumers, and the content of the game seems on par with the price point. If you agree that games like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz are fun in short spurts and not lengthy campaigns, then the aforementioned solution is the correct one.
Perhaps indie developers will consider Android and iOS to be operating systems that could rekindle the genre. I know console patriots will cry foul at this notion, but it does seem a plausible place for a rebirth when you consider that most games on tablets and smartphones are designed for quick jolts of pleasure. It would no doubt be the easiest implementation of multiplayer brawls on the bus or over lunchtime with co-workers.
For reasons that I still can't put my finger on, EA's simulation powerhouse (and 2K Sports to a lesser degree) can put forth expected yearly entries in all their major sports, with a spattering of graphical updates and new content, and still manage to clean the money out of gamers' pockets. Until we see the profit margin drop considerably—and there are no foreseeable indications of this happening anytime soon—sim sports will remain on their comfortable pedestal, at least as far as revenue is concerned. But every gamer has a preference. Hopefully arcade sports games don't die out completely, because the market is still out there for a symbiotic relationship between the two.
Date: January 10, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. *