Question: What real-to-life attribute is the hardest for sports games to emulate?
Jayson Young: Running Back Vision -- For as long as video game football has existed, developers have struggled to make computer-controlled running backs a threat.
To this day, AI running backs still have trouble following their open blocking lanes and running to daylight. Vision is one of the key attributes in a successful running game, but over the years, it just hasn't translated correctly into video games. Whether the vision rating is 99 or 0, the computer logic still hasn't become advanced enough to pick out the right running lanes when the AI is carrying the ball.
I look forward to a day when CPU runners are tough to stop, not because they have been given superhuman boosts to their speed and tackle breaking abilities, but because they have exceptional field vision and can cut back against the grain on my defense when I overpursue or run my linebacker into the wrong gap.
Being a skilled passer isn't a given in basketball...or their digital counterparts but for different reasons.
Steve McPherson: Passing in basketball - This is not unrelated to what Jayson is talking about with regard to running back vision, but it afflicts the user as badly as the CPU in this case.
Passing, you might say, doesn't seem like it should be that hard to emulate. Press a button, there goes the pass. But there's a subtlety and art to passing in basketball that gets left on the table. Take something very simple: you can't fake a pass on the move in NBA 2K13. Once you fake the pass, you come to a dead stop. You also can't purposefully throw no-look passes. Sure, they happen every so often, but anyone who's watched Ricky Rubio play knows that the no-look pass is as much of a tool for a point guard as a pump fake is for a quarterback. Get the defense going one way, then go the other way. I can't tell you the number of times I've wanted to draw the defender in the post away from the roll man by looking him off but it seems like it would take an impossibly complicated control scheme to make that work.
And the complicatedness of the control scheme already puts a haze around passing. You're most accurate when using icon passing, but it takes enough button presses that you need to be running a play you know well to perfection to make the timing work. If you need to improvise, it moves too slow, and then when you do try to direct to whom you want the pass to go, you often end up throwing it to the opposite baseline rather than the rolling man because they both lie in essentially the same direction.
The NBA 2K series has worked hard to provide you with a dizzying array of shot options, yet right now, passing is comparatively vanilla. It still feels too random, too chancey, to genuinely represent the game.
Being smart on the field isn't a given.
Matthew Coe: Awareness - I'm thinking especially about football but this goes for any sport really. The catch-all awareness (AWR) rating in both NCAA Football and Madden are frustrating and really struggle in capturing anything close to real player intelligence.
In basketball, specifically NBA 2K13, awareness is broken down into offensive and defensive awareness. While this approach is better than just one awareness rating, it still fails to capture the nuances of any given player's ability to read, react, or anticipate things as they happen around them.
Eventually you can see the predictable patterns that the limited AI is capable of in all of the aforementioned games. This is a tough one to get right and I'm not sure if we'll ever truly see awareness implemented at an individual level for every player on the virtual playing field. It's probably going to take a major rethinking of AI to make believable actions/reactions possible.
No matter how talented, a lack of experience will always catch up to a rookie eventually.
Caley Roark: Experience: This is similar to Matthew's answer, in that it deals with a mental aspect of a game; but instead of simple intelligence or situational awareness, experience carries with it a raw familiarity of a game based on time served. The "wily veteran"-ess of virtual athletes, if you will.
We've seen some attempts at the this, but all have seemed a little "gamey" and more closely tied to awareness. Remember the ability to "steal plays" in past Madden's? Or reading colored pitches in MVP 2005? Those work, but don't necessarily relate to age, and depend on in-game mechanic.
The key, here, is that experience is something that makes (some) older players valuable. For most games, there's little upside in signing or trading for an older player with little growth potential. Some kind of experience rating would help.
No matter the player, if the attitude isn't right at any point -- their performance won't be either.