Sports video games have had a long history of ups and downs; with their demographics changing from children putting quarters into simplistic arcade games to adults wanting an accurate representation of teams, their players, their stats, and ever increasing realism. However, the problem that arises within the gaming community and hyper realistic simulation sports games, is that their barrier for entry is very high in comparison to a comparable arcade sports title. In their efforts to cater to the hardcore players, they have made it difficult for those players to share the experience with other players outside of the core demographic.
(Gameplay images from Madden NFL 17)
Madden has been one of the most successful franchises in video game history along with being the pinnacle of the football experience. By focusing on being a simulator, including offensive and defensive playbooks, along with color commentary Madden was able to establish itself as the go-to experience for football fans. To compete for the market, other games began providing a more over-the-top experience that allowed for players to simply hop in and have fun. One such competitor was the NFL Blitz franchise.
(A hard tackle in NFL Blitz)
By returning to the playful essence of games, and not taking the game so seriously, NFL Blitz was able to create fun memories of not only the gameplay but of the comical elements of the game. For example NFL Blitz featured legal late hits; meaning that after a play was completed the players could continue to tackle each other sometimes even picking each other up and suplexing each other as if they were professional wrestlers. The slapstick comedic value of being able to use “Turbo” to run at your friend from across the field to tackle them and then continue to tackle them all the way back down the field for 20-30 yards was unforgettable.
However as the genre stands now titles such as NFL Blitz, NBA Street, and International Superstar Soccer 64, and the arcade games they inspired, have been shoved to the periphery by simulators. Which has made the arcade representation of sports games a gamble for companies to produce when they have to compete against juggernauts such as the Madden, NBA 2K, and FIFA franchises.
(PES 2017, Pro Evolution Soccer UI, more closely represents a spreadsheet than a gameplay menu)
The monopoly the simulation franchises have now created in their genre hurts the innovation of sports games as a whole. Without the representation of arcade gameplay within sports, even with something as simple as additional game modes, the genre of sports games may begin to lose the mass appeal they once had. The closer and closer the main franchises move towards a homogenized, hyper realistic, simulation experience the fewer and fewer people they will reach due to the increasing difficulty for players new to genre to enter these experiences and enjoy them.
Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor. You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.