It’s time for sports video games to abandon the annual release model

For more than ten years, I have been reporting on sports games, and I have played nearly three times as long. Whenever I talk to anyone about the latest intermediate entry in Madden NFL or NBA 2K, the first question I always receive is, “If I already own last year’s, should I buy this?” I used to have to Think more about whether I would recommend sports game players to choose the latest iteration, but in the past few years, the game feels like this: iteration.Now, my answer is always, “How important is this [this year’s tentpole feature] Give you? How important is it to have an up-to-date roster? “If one of them is wishful thinking, my answer is either “waiting for sale” or “only play last year’s games.” “As the years go by, this song and dance will only become more compelling and continue.

My companion Game informant Editor Kimberley Wallace recently wrote a column about how sports games fall into the norm, and I totally agree. The Madden team tried to put more emphasis on its franchise model (note that only after large-scale fan activities), the NHL series implemented various game enhancements to achieve mediocre results, and the once-acclaimed NBA 2K franchise also changed Obsolete and so on. The entries passed each time are exploitative. The defense that sports games always provide is Their development cycle is short because they need to come out at the beginning of each season. This is a fair defense for developers in many ways; it is unlikely that developers will make the final decision to release the game every year. The decision may come from the licensee or the publisher.

However, sports genre is not the only category, and EA Sports and 2K Games are not the only publishers that have been criticized for their annual or rapid release schedules. Other franchises, publishers and genres that have been criticized in the past have found ways to alleviate or circumvent this problem. Capcom was previously notorious for the way it released new versions of Street Fighter games. How does it solve the problem? It released Street Fighter V as a platform after several years of development. Street Fighter V is hardly my favorite series, especially when it was released, but the development team has been working hard to improve it, proving that the long-running series can get rid of tradition and transition to a platform format.

What about other franchises that have been criticized in the past for their annual release schedules? What immediately comes to mind is Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. In recent years, Assassin’s Creed has no longer adopted the annual release method. Instead, it has provided players with a large number of playgrounds in games such as Odyssey and Hall of Valor, and then in the following years through large-scale expansion (paid and free) in these Build on the foundation of the world. Not only that, but games are usually developed by different (or even multiple) studios. Although new games continue to be released every year, Call of Duty has adopted a similar approach; instead of sacrificing the annual release calendar, the publisher Activision has implemented a rotation of development responsibilities involving Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer Games. Even so, the products of the “Call of Duty” franchise can be extended from one year to the next through Warzone.

The Assassin’s Creed series has succeeded in moving away from the annual release model

When you start to understand the development of various types of games in recent years, the annual release method feels outdated. Developers can now release a large number of game updates and fundamentally change parts of their games long after the release. Madden NFL 22 even took advantage of this ability by improving its entire scouting system in a franchise model a few months after its release. Why not apply this concept to multi-year projects? Why can’t I buy a copy of Madden and then purchase the annual roster and feature updates in the form of cheaper seasonal content in the next few years? This will also prevent the online community from splitting up, and make it actually feel like the next evolution of the series when a new version of the game is launched a few years later, rather than the half-step we are used to.

In the past, when talking with sports game developers from many companies, one of the biggest sticking points was that sports itself did not develop so much year by year, so it was difficult to innovate games based on these sports. By transitioning to a platform approach, this will alleviate the expectation that each year will bring drastic changes. Believe it or not, EA Sports already has a game that runs this way: EA Sports UFC 4. The EA Sports UFC series has traditionally run in a two-year cycle, and each item is based on the progress made in the past games and is still innovating in professional and online suite models. It is true that UFC does not have a clear season like the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, but it shows that a release calendar that is at least once every two years can serve sports championships and can even bring more innovation and development in the series from games to game.

EA Sports UFC 4

Although operating under different circumstances, the EA Sports UFC series releases games every two years

Of course, there are several factors beyond the developer’s control. As mentioned earlier, many licensing contracts (especially exclusive/restrictive contracts) signed with established sports leagues are entirely possible to require publishers to release games once a year. In addition, many of these games of the year sold well despite criticism.For example, Madden NFL 22 was released in August and soon Become one of the best-selling games of 2021, Became the best-selling game in its release month. Similarly, “FIFA 22” and “NBA 2K22” both performed strongly in the month of release, ranking 2nd and 3rd respectively, only to be defeated by Madden NFL 22, which again became the best-selling game in the second month. Row. Although Metacritic’s comprehensive review score is lower than usual, these sales figures still appear. Madden NFL 22 has a PlayStation 5 score of 68.

In order to change the status quo of the release schedule and methods, the alliances and publishers of these games need to see obvious evidence that some kind of change is necessary or superior. Sadly, I don’t know how this happened without a test case of another major player in the sports video game field, or the uncharacteristically uncharacteristic flagship version of the year. Until then, I worry that we will fall into the same annual schedule we have seen since sports games became big business.

It may take a long time for us to see major publishers of sports video game franchises adopt this publishing method, but it is becoming increasingly clear that some things need to change. Facts have proved that abandoning the annual distribution model is effective for some non-sports franchises, and it is natural that it can operate well in the field of sports games. The question now is which major publisher or league is actually willing to take this risk, and may confuse with the golden goose that has proven annualized sporting events for decades.