The lineup for sports gamers has gotten increasingly smaller as the years have gone by. This is no mystery.
In what started as a promising generation with healthy competition amongst the genre, ended with a number of series fizzling out and becoming nonexistent by the end. Some of this attrition has to do with licensing agreements but many of those agreements were struck when no viable second party was wanting into the market.
So what is it, exactly, that is driving publishers like 2K Sports away from the sports gaming market?
Unfortunately, the answer is almost impossible to quantify. What we do know, is that it all starts with sales and money. The situation gets a little more confusing when you see that sales for games like Madden, FIFA, NCAA, MLB: The Show, and perhaps most importantly, NBA 2K, have generally been very good. 2K really only has a presence in two sports (basketball, and baseball if you’re even willing to count their efforts there) as it stands, and its baseball game is seemingly on its way out.
Furthermore, you have sports that are incredibly vulnerable right now, most notably NCAA Football. Not to mention, you there are wide open markets in college basketball, tennis, and baseball (one console still doesn’t have a game). So let’s take a look at some sports individually, and the chances 2K will take a shot at the market for them:
NFL Football: Not Likely
It’s no secret that football is the most popular sport in the country, and Madden’s sales reflect that. Despite generally poor reviews over the course of the generation, the game continues to sell and make loads of money for EA – certainly enough money that might make it tempting for another publisher to swoop in and take a bite of those sales. Unfortunately, a relatively cloudy exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA has allowed them to monopolize the sport. The chances that either would want to endanger their success are pretty minimal, as it stands to reason a renewal is more likely than not. However, there is certainly reason for 2K Sports to try to get into the NFL market one last time.
College Football: Almost Impossible
With the O’Bannon lawsuit going on, it’s easy to wonder if we’ve see the last of college sports games for a while. EA promises to move ahead with their series, but even that series looks liable to be shut down at any point in the future. The chances that 2K would want to get themselves into that mess are slim to nil. The only fighting chance is that the lawsuit is ended soon, and stricter boundaries on player likeness are set up. If developers know exactly what they can and cannot do, some may be more inclined to make college sports games again. For now, no one's crazy enough to take on college sports with ongoing litigation.
The return of College Hoops looks very unlikely right now.
College Basketball: Very Unlikely
NBA 2K has made its way to the top of the sports gaming world, slaughtering expectations for critical reception and sales. Two years ago, I would have told you that them taking a shot at a college basketball series was very likely. After all, why wouldn’t they want to build off of their market? But again, a deal with the NCAA would stand in their way, and the NCAA has made it very clear they aren't in the video games business anymore.
I find it hard to believe that Microsoft is going to go into next-gen without having a publisher nailed down to make them a game. MLB: The Show is doing extremely well for Sony, and has even gotten the label “system seller” from many. Microsoft may try to nab an exclusive deal from someone like 2K, just to make sure they don’t lose the market in terms of console sales alone. If Microsoft is going into next-gen without baseball locked down from some company, it'll be a surprise to many.
Other: Very Likely
Between soccer, hockey, and golf, there is definitely a market for 2K to swoop in as a next-generation hero and build up some competition. Ultimately, it’s hard to believe that with its success in NBA 2K that the publisher won’t move on and try to expand it’s lineup. One of the key things to focus on will be how well they do with the WWE series, a massive franchise with huge sales potential. If they succeed there, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t turn that momentum towards other titles. Both Golf and Tennis have real potential, and if 2K wanted to try to take a bit out of the massive soccer market worldwide they could always try.