Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hatin' the Sports Games

Kotaku's Luke Plunkett recently put up an article examining why we gamers get so cranky over sports games. Quite an interesting read.

I recall feeling some indignation over sports games in years past, but I can't really remember why. I've actually enjoyed plenty of sports games throughout my gaming "career." Tecmo Super Bowl and Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on the SNES. Madden on the N64. Since then, I've drifted away from the licensed "simulation" sports games and stuck with the "video game-y" type. You know, the kind that abandon realism to ramp up the fun: NBA Street, the SSX games, Mario Tennis, etc.

I've been wondering exactly why so many of us get riled up over the sports genre. I've come up with a few guesses.

1. Electronic Arts.
Until recently, EA could be counted on for two things: making piles of money and making gamers angry. They've been working hard since 2008 to make up for past transgressions, and I forgave them completely when I heard they were picking up Tim Schafer's Brutal Legend after Activision abandoned it. But for years, you could always rely on EA to bring gamers' blood to a boil. And a lot of the time, it seemed like their sports game franchises were at the center of it. Like when EA got exclusive licenses to NFL teams, eliminating competitor franchises. Or the fact that each annual full-priced release of a franchise felt almost exactly like the last with a new roster.

For better or worse, when you think "sports games", chances are that your first thought involved an EA sports franchise. And that connection probably didn't help sports games gain favor with the gamer crowd.

2. Not "For Us."
I'm not sure what causes it, but we gamers tend to act openly hostile towards game genres and franchises that don't cater to our tastes. I don't know why we do it, but it happens all the time. We hate on sports games. We mock "kiddie" games. We scoff at fishing games, hunting games, movie tie-ins, Hannah Montana karaoke games. We seethe with anger when we see a developer "dumb down" a franchise to appeal to people besides ourselves, the hardest of the core. Maybe it ties into the same part of us the drives fanboyism. I don' t know.

We get especially indignant when we see games cater to the "frat" demographic, the "bros". It almost feels like a personal insult or being cheated on, in some weird way. "Games are our thing! We're your dedicated audience!" Our resentment of the audience causes us to resent the games that target them. And sports games tend to fall in that category.

Is this reasonable of us? Hardly. But it still happens.

These are just a couple of possible explanations for the sports game hate, and I'm sure there are many others. What about you guys? Why do you think we whine about these games so much?


  1. I think you're spot on the money with the "Not for us" theory. We (and by "we" I mean gamers) don't sport games because we don't like sport. Just like frat boys don't like fantasy games, because they don't like fantasy.

    This is all stereotypical stuff here, but people tend to play video games that they are interested in. Just like people are going to watch movies that spark their interests.

    I think what Nintendo has done with Mario Tennis, as well as other similar games, is clever in that is gets people to play sport games who normally wouldn't. It gives the games a fantasy setting that draws in a different crowd. I'm sure frat boys would like playing Mario Tennis, just like we would like playing regular sports games if we gave them a go. But, unless game companies can remove these stereotypes from certain genres, gaming will continue to be a split demographic hobby.

  2. I think what EA (and other sport video games) is trying to do is pull another demographic into their fan-base. And this sport-fan (or Frat-Boy as you call it) doesn't have a necessarily peaceful history with us. And our groups have different values: they have their brute strength and toughness, while we have our intelligence and other strategic skills. So it's only natural that we feel somewhat exasperated when these new "Gamers" join the territory that we worked so hard to procure.

  3. Personally I would say it is a combination of repeated high price for what seems like little reward. Unless you are a big sports fan, the new roster doesn't mean much. If you don't care about the real world tie-in, the players boil down to minions, tools and stats. So, why pay $50 a year for a new roster. The FPS example in the article doesn't hit the real problem with this which is the difference in the gameplay based on the new guns and maps. It's not changing character strings and switching some similar stats, it's changing the landscape and types of tools available. That's also the difference between a simulation tennis game and the gameplay of Mario Tennis. Sure there are the Mario fans, but the special moves and so on are a big difference.

    To better illustrate my point, look at the Tony Hawk skating games. Special moves and new landscapes to test one's skills on are both in abundance. Ya, they are skating games, but they don't get the same kind of rabid mobs, reminiscent of some zombie games, yelling and screaming for blood. A football field or basketball court are the same from one location to the next, most of the time, and the small behavior sets don't change from character to character or team to team.

    I'd say that's a big part of the reaction they get. Sports games don't normally change their gameplay in the public eye from one year to the next like the other games do. So, it seems like somebody is trying to rip us off. Generally that makes people mad.

  4. I believe the real reason we react badly to sports games and, by extension, casual games and platforms (hint: the Wii) is because we are afraid of losing our hobby to others. Over the history of video gaming, the various studios and corporations have shown that, 9 times out of 10, they will choose money over customer satisfication, or even national consumer rights.

    Casual games cater to a much larger audience than we are ever likely to be, and as such we know that alot of studios will prefer to go for that demographic rather than us; the casual audience have much fewer expectations of what games are and as such are far easier to please than us as well. The same is true of the sports game, where the 'frat boy' demographic are (and to boot, they were generally our bullies and tormentors in school/high school/college/etc).

    Basically, we, as a group, are afraid that companies will just give up on us and cater to a set of demographics who are easier to please and much larger than ourselves.

  5. Fishing! I cannot BELIEVE that they sell games about fishing! But they do (I think one slipped into one of my reviews as a side comment.) What's more boring than really fishing? Watching fishing on TV! And if that's not boring enough -- here: Try Rapella Fishing Trophy 2010!!

  6. That's actually a pretty good point, Doug. It's a pretty good explanation for our angst at games aimed toward other audiences. You might have just hit the nail on the head.

  7. Everyone here has a lot of good points on sports games. I think my main problem is that they've gone too far into realism for my tastes. Now I'm all for making games more realistic. I see games as an art form, and mirroring real life is a good way to draw us in to games and relate to the experiences of the characters we play.

    Now this is fine for story driven games, but when it comes to simulations, I'm not so keen on the idea. EA sports have developed their games to the point where playing a game looks and feels similar to watching sports on TV (I'm just waiting for the day they interrupt the game every five minutes for a commercial break). This I feel is a mistake. The more realistic a sports game gets the more bored I am. Whenever I sit down to play simulated football, I think to myself, "I'm so close to the real thing, I might as well get some friends together and play football in the park."

    For an example of this, many people put down the Guitar Hero games, saying I should just go learn to play guitar. I own a guitar, and I play it often. That's not why I play Guitar Hero. I play it because it's cartoony and fun to play with friends. If they released a Guitar Hero that was completely realistic to playing a real guitar, I would loose interest.

    So when I sit down to play a sports game, I want something fun. I want something wacky. If I wanted pure realism in my sports games, I'd go outside and play sports. But when I want to play video games, I pick something that will give me an experience that I could never have myself in the real world.

  8. Nicely done!
    EA is a major put off. I almost shudder every time I get addicted to the sims cos I know I'll rush out and buy the latest expansion despite the fact I know EA are money hungry pricks and that I probably won't notice much difference in it.
    They always do it, they put their money into all the advertising but if they CAN milk it into a billion expansions that coulda been in the initial game, they will.
    The second point is right on the money for me tbh. I always tune out when I hear someone say their favourite game is something like FIFA or "High school musical super awesome happy dance sequence!"
    ... I hope to God that second one doesn't exist...
    Point is, that despite the fact that, yes, they are games, I don't count them as what I'd call "proper".

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