The Irresistible Lure Of Sports Games
Sports games are an interesting thing. They attempt to pick up real-world activities and transport them into a virtual space, whether emphasising real-life simulation or creating a more gamified experience. They also do something that almost all gamers hate and despise: they release on an annual basis. This results in yearly releases that feel like carbon copies of the last one, making just minor changes in HUD elements or team rosters. Even if a game adds something new, like press conferences in FIFA 20, they are features that should have been in the game much earlier and don't warrant a full-priced release.
Yet, these sports games that are churned out every single season top sales charts, whether it's the latest Madden, FIFA, NBA, or even non-sports games that work on this annual clock. For the year 2020, sales data of the bestselling videogames in the USA, released by market research company NPD, showed us that Madden NFL 21, NBA 2K21, and FIFA 21 all featured in the top 15. These numbers come from a year in which many sporting seasons were cut short or outright cancelled, leading to many people falling out of interest with their preferred sport and leading to the thought process of, "maybe 2020 didn't warrant a new annual release at all?"
Nonetheless, this industry's giants delivered and brought out their new games by topping sales charts, a scary thought when we look at the massive impact that the pandemic had on the sports industry, bringing it to a complete standstill. And what we can take away from this is that you and I, the gaming community that is so vocal about copy-pasted annual releases are part of this too. The lure of sports games is something that we can't resist.
It is with no shame that I proclaim that FIFA was my weak spot and F1 is currently is. I always loved football and I still do. FIFA games are easily my most played titles and the first videogame I played when I got my PS4. While they don't provide an authentic footballing experience, instead opting to gamify the sport, they do let me live out my footballing fantasies.
EA's games allowed me to be a professional footballer and play amongst current football's greatest players. These games also allowed me to manage a football club, taking the helm of my team: signing new players, picking starting elevens, taking part in footballing derbies, and leading my team to national and continental glory. While it came with its flaws such as broken AI, limited in-game strategy, and repetitive gameplay, it succeeds in doing what I bought it to do: to give me the ultimate footballing experience.
My present love and obsession is Codemasters' series of F1 games. F1 drivers have said that this sport is almost like a videogame, and this holds true in the fact that it provides as close an experience to what actual racing drivers experience. The camera angle puts you in the helmet of a formula 1 driver, the tracks that you drive in the game are driven every year by this planet's fastest. The AI is surprisingly good and the game creates excellent battles that allow you to go wheel-to-wheel with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, and Daniel Ricciardo to name a few.
The game also captures the sheer speed of Formula 1, providing a perfect experience for all gamers that are F1 fans, and all F1 fans that are gamers. The game certainly isn't a simulator, more akin to the likes of mainstream sports games rather than the Forza Motorsport or Assetto Corsa series of games.
While this can and does apply to all other sports games, my experience with FIFA and F1 games tells me one thing: no one buys these games for how good they are as videogames, they buy these games for the sport that they aim to bring to you. I can say that FIFA is a bad videogame, but I will always recommend it to a football fan. And for us people who are avid lovers of these sports, we will always enjoy these games. They might be copy-pasted cash-grabbing embodiments of corporate greed, but they are still a videogame based on a sport, a sport that we love.
Playing sports games also comes in the way of enjoying and playing more traditional single-player games. In the summer of 2020, it was Hollow Knight, a beautiful and charming indie metroidvania with tons of cool and interesting gameplay mechanics hidden inside a deep and rich world. But then there was also my recently purchased copy of FIFA 2020.
After months of playing FIFA 19 well out of its lifespan, the lure of updated team rosters and kits, as well as minor new features were enough to suck me out of Hallownest and onto the football pitch: FIFA 20 in the bag and Hollow Knight forgotten. While I did get back to Hollow Knight and had an incredible time with it, the brand new sports game was an entity too powerful to ignore, too addictive to put back down, and too fun for me to leave behind.
The same conundrum arose in the winter of 2020, but this time it was F1 2019 and Ghost of Tsushima. Sucker Punch's brand new open-world samurai action-adventure was something I had started playing in October and the holidays were a perfect time to wrap it up. And yet the entire winter went by and my game file still showed the same number of hours played. Check my F1 files though, and the numbers would be far higher.
I almost exclusively played F1 2019 during the winter. I was so invested in this game and it provided me with such a fun time that I have no hard feelings against leaving Ghost of Tsushima back in the pitlane while I blasted in lap after lap of sheer enjoyment. As was with Hollow Knight, I did eventually finish Ghost of Tsushima and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sports games are annual releases that don't innovate much on their previous iterations. They are usually just copy-pasted versions of stuff we have been playing for years. This all holds true but so does the fact that these games are the ultimate mashup of two things that go very well together: sports and videogames. And for us gamers that have a sport we hold dearly in our hearts, sports games are a perfect way for us to experience them in all their glory.
So, to all those brilliant single-player stories and adventures that I have put aside for fast cars and rectangles of grass: I am sorry, but I can't resist it.