I am a sports gaming fanatic and a recovering Maddenholic. The struggle is real. Every year I had a tradition in July of buying an NCAA football game, naming all the players on my favorite team (Woo-Pig) and playing several seasons before the annual release of Madden, and followed a similar pattern with Madden until the end of Football season. Then I would purchase a basketball game, which would be my go-to-game until the NBA season ended.
As you would imagine, playing a game extensively for 7-ish months can reveal a lot of warts. This is why sports games include “sliders”. For those unfamiliar, these sliders enable subtle, or not-so-subtle tweaking of everything in the game. This can be incredibly frustrating to a sports fan, as you always want to create the most “sim-like” experience possible and with 100 different fields to tweak on a 1-100 scale, the combinations and outcomes are endless. The mark of a great sports game, for me, is one that, out of the box, can be played without the need for slider adjustment.
The NBA 2k series comes with a slider preset for simulation that for the most part can be played with good results depending on gameplay style. The gold standard for me has been NCAA 14 which can be played on default Heisman difficulty with great results for hundreds of games. These games never make you feel like you need to/should exploit gameplay holes in order to make the game enjoyable. These games make you feel like you are playing their respective sports, not video games based on their respective sports. The more you know about basketball the better you can potentially be at playing an NBA 2k game once you become accustomed with its mechanics. Improvements in realistic player movement off the ball make this more true every year.
Then there was Madden. Sheesh. Where to start? I have been playing Madden every year since the late 90’s and it honestly feels as though the game gets harder to play every year. It is amazing that every once in a while you actually get a decent game, but some are so unplayable you have to question how it made it onto retail shelves. There have been years where players regularly fumbled 10 times a game, or on default all-madden difficulty, the game resembles arena football more than the NFL. To add insult to injury, many times sliders are actually broken or reversed and you begin to wonder if this game is being designed by someone in their garage. How is it that the gameplay experience could be so much better in a college game, made by the same company, with over 100 teams?
I wouldn’t make the assumption that Madden’s struggles are due to the NFL license lying solely with EA and a lack of competition. EA made the NCAA series without competition and made some great games. I’m not sure you could realistically call EA’s attempts at creating current gen basketball or baseball games competition with the 2k series and MLB the show. I would make my case for the NFL parting ways with EA by saying this: great sports games yield an increase in fan interest. This would create more revenue for the conglomerate that is the NFL. I used to be a casual NBA fan, but as I’ve discovered the 2k series of basketball games and the level of realism has increased, my view on the brand of basketball in the NBA has evolved. You find yourself wanting to watch these players and teams you see in the game. This all adds to the enjoyment as you watch your favorite players in person to use them within the game.
I realize that I am probably in the minority here but I know many people who long for the days of NFL 2k5, and would these people not be more interested in the product on the real field when it mirrored what they experienced in their own games? Could the NFL stand to sell a few more subscriptions of Sunday Ticket to someone who becomes a fan of the Miami Dolphins based on their experience with a game, who happens to live in Arizona? This is my plea, give us our choice back and in turn open the potential for future NFL titles by dropping exclusivity with EA. This would assuredly give us a better product from EA or its competitors who are waiting.