What's new in sports video games?
The bad news is actually the good news this year for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (OK, E3 for you gamers).
Newsflash: the economy is crappy and not all of us can afford to spend money on big titles. Of course that means that companies are stepping their game up to compete with the plethora of free, low system requirement social network games that have exploded in the last year (which likely counted for low-work productivity for some of you lads).
There will be some upgraded classic titles, some new, exploding sports titles and a few dusted off old favorites. Before the expo kicks off on Tuesday (it goes until Thursday at the Los Angeles Convention Center) Scott Steinberg, head of TechSavvy, a video game consulting firm, checks in to give us a heads up of what the big sporting videogame news will be out of the conference this week.
Question: Which games are coming down the pipeline?
"There's an obvious personal favorite, 'NBA Jam,' which is a remake. If you were into the boom-shak-a-lack-a back in the day, this is a more arcade experience coming back. It recaptures a little bit of the magic and the multiplayer mayhem that characterized the Genesis-Super Nintendo consoles and arcade games.
Obviously the MMA game from EA Sports is going to be huge; this is due to exploded interest in martial arts. You hear about it in sporting circles now ... and this EA Sports MMA game promises to be more Fight Night. So it'll be a little bit more brutal, more action oriented. It promises to slam the competiton's face into the mat. You can bet a lot of eyes are going to be on it at the conference and beyond.
Madden NFL: this looks to be another clear cut victory for the Super Bowl crowd. This year's addition -- they did a number of surveys to see how players actually played, and most people really only used about a dozen plays most of the time. So they've really sped up the pacing. Essentially what it means is that you can opt to have the game pick plays for you and jump right in as if the coach were screaming plays in your ear and you were QB'ing it. This year's addition takes that concept even one step further while also hoping to not alienate the finger and face paint crowd as well.
I think we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about 'NBA Elite.' We don't have a lot of details about it, but it's the next evolution of the 'NBA Live' franchise. The difference is this year they're retiring the live name, and are opting to go with NBA Elite, which reflects some fundamental changes to the games' mechanics. It's going to play a lot looser and a lot more life-like to the actual sport itself.
Q: Why are we seeing this rise of new sports gaming titles? There's also a lacrosse game in the works, too, right?
A: You're seeing publishers coming to groups with the fact that players are playing games differently. They're looking at what fans want and trying to tailor it. You're also seeing a number of other trends on the rise like motion control, that'll redefine how we play sports games as a whole.
Q: You kind of jumped the gun there. I was going to ask about the growth of Wii and Microsoft's upcoming Project Natal. Any chance the next generation of professional gamers will be actual athletes?
A: "God, I hope not. I don't know about that. But you're going to have games that better reflect the action and intricacies of the actual sport and players will be mimicking the motions to throw the ball, hut the ball. You'll be simulating swinging your baseball bat. But let's put it this way: you'd smash in a lot of coffee tables and TVs before you'd approach world class status. Most of them simulate the rough gestures and motions associated with pulling the string back on a bow or steering a wheel on a speeding stock car. But are you really going to be burning enough calories and have the potential to be the next Michael Jordan? I don't know about that. Right now we can barely keep Wii remotes in our hands without sending them flying to a buddy's skull.
Q: Sounds like this year is going to be a great year for sports-themed gaming.
A: "Oh yes, they're not going to be all over the show floor, but digital games and digitally downloaded games are on the rise as well, like 'Thunder Nascar,' you can do that without even having to get off the couch. We're seeing a number of sports games being offered through this format, and can be pretty much on demand.
Q: What else is new?
A: "You can buy apps for your iPhones, there are plenty of games there. We're only going to see thousands more appear for both smart phones and devices like the iPad. You've also got a number of online games coming out that you can play on your desktop or web browser, like 'Quickhit Football,' which is a free to play football simulation or iRacing.com, which allows you to go head-to-head with hundreds of other drivers. You're seeing gaming exploding across the board, so it's increasingly becoming present on all platforms."
Q: Why is sports-themed gaming so hot this year? Lots of new titles and new ways to get it, it seems.
"With every year video games become more widely accepted. The audience keeps growing by leaps and bounds and the sporting audience keeps growing by leaps and bounds. Instead of going to the epic $60 retail experience, they're looking for content across the board. They're looking to get games that are more across the board. Even for a teenager these days, to sit in front of a TV for hours at a time is much smaller in 2010. Smaller, more bite sized experiences are becoming more en vogue. And sports is hungry for more ways to play it."
Q: What about games for social networks? Will we see a lot of that this year, too?
A: "You can find an array of sports titles on Facebook. Mixed martial arts games, football, baseball and soccer: these games are incredibly accessible, they're free to play and they have low system requirements. These are helping to grow the market for sports games. It's partially driven by the economy. People are looking for more entertainment. If you look at gaming on a per dollar basis, you get more value for every dollar from a game. In terms of a big box retailer, it's raising the quality bar for what's on the market."
Kelley L. Carter is a freelance entertainment reporter. She can be reached at Kelley@thekelleylcarter.com.