Predicting trends for sports games is difficult. Because the games are primarily annual iterations, we often mistake incremental improvements for long-term failure. A prominent NBA 2K developer has outlined how difficult it is to “sell” the community on changes that require 3-4 years of development when we want it now. So, in acknowledging these predictions are based on my shortsightedness and inability to recognize long-term visions, let’s try and predict some trends that may happen in 2019. Please don’t hold me to these.
Monetized Modes Remain Dominant But For How Much Longer?
Looking backwards, Madden, FIFA and NHL Ultimate Team, along with NBA 2K’s MyTeam, have been the dominant modes in sports games. This console generation has seen them become the focus of streams, marketing events and sports gaming twitter. And pack openings. They are a thing. These modes are the darling of publishers as they can extract hundreds of dollars out of a consumer. And while we can’t always look at the balance sheets to see exactly how reliant publishers are on these modes, there is enough noise around forums and Twitter to suggest that frustration is growing. These are voices in the wilderness at the moment, but expect them to become louder over the next 12 months.
This is not suggest that these modes will fall apart in the next 12 months, but I have my doubts they will be the dominant game modes at the end of the next console generation.
Franchise Modes Will Remain Unloved
The Ultimate Teams of the world are the focus of development teams because consumers could spend money on them numerous times throughout a game’s lifespan. Offline franchise gamers will pay for the game once. And so concludes the financial incentive for developers to appease this fan base. It’s the reality, and publishers only have to provide enough offline content to compel the initial purchase. Neither Madden, FIFA, Pro Evolution or NHL have radically transformed their franchise modes at any point of this console generation. Sure, minor features have been added, but nothing substantial enough to reach out to a new group of consumers or appease the long-term ones. I would assume these modes are still largely played by older gamers who are not enthused by card collecting. It’s a shame, but every indication is that this will continue.
However, there is one caveat. The above excludes the fantastic suite of features provided by NBA 2K’s MyLeague and MyGM modes. That team has realized that appealing to an informed segment of gamers who want simulation sports gaming is a worthwhile use of resources. Regardless, community members may eventually have to ask themselves, would we pay for a fully featured and resourced offline franchise mode as DLC? These gamers will not react positively to the mere suggestion they become DLC, but it may be the only way they get what they want.
These Will Be The Best Versions Of Each Game
It feels like just yesterday I was left with my mouth agape as I stared at the weather effects of Battlefield 4 on Xbox One — before I realized everyone else had got a PS4. That was five years ago and this generation is coming to a close. Companies have already started dropping hints about the new consoles through their PR vehicles in the gaming media. A look back at the major games from 2012 and 2013 shows that many of them were among the higher rated of that particular console generation. Development teams had ironed out many of the bugs and honed their game modes and features. They weren’t perfect, but reflected the accumulated knowledge gained from mistakes of the generation. Expect the games that come out this year to be among the best of the previous six years. Remember, NBA 2K barely supported online play a few years ago. Now, they can broadcast a damn TV show.
The NHL Series Will Hit A Major Fork In The Road
It’s becoming apparent EA’s NHL series is not sure of its identity. EASHL does not seem to be generating the engagement it wants, the offline modes have been similar for years, and many gameplay mechanics have not been touched year over year — I’m looking at you board play. The game has also pushed into the market that wants a more arcade style with NHL 3s. It remains to be seen where the Chel mode goes as well.
Looking back, after what seemed like a positive beta to me and many others, the development team adjusted the game away from the beta based on negative fan feedback. This in turn led to more negative feedback. So a few days ago, the team announced it would be re-trialing the tuners from the beta. It’s a bit of a mess. From the outside, it appears as if the developers don’t know what they want NHL to be. The series also struggles to account for all types of gamers because hockey is largely a niche sport (plus, the development team is smaller than the ones you would find on Madden or NBA 2K). The game is trying to please everyone, but has only succeeded in alienating everyone to a degree. This will reach a critical stage over the coming year.
Esports Suitability Will Have A Major Impact On The Design Of NBA 2K And Madden
If you ask your teenage children about esports and traditional sports, I would bet they are just as likely to know a big name in e-sports (I don’t know) as they are to know the best player in the NBA (Luka Doncic) [Ed. Note: he’s a Mavs fan, I’m letting him have this one]. Development teams need to take direction from the leagues to preserve that commercial relationship. And the leagues want esports. Here is what Michelle Micone, NFL Senior Vice President, Consumer Products, said about esports back in August: “We view esports as a key accelerant to growing the NFL as it enables new ways for young fans to engage in the sport through competition.”
NBA 2K and Madden have now had time to devote developmental time to ensuring their titles are compatible with esports. The NBA and NFL are pumping significant resources into these leagues, and this will force NBA 2K and Madden to do the same. What impact will this have in 2019? Aside from the infrastructure of finding and hosting potential players, gameplay features will be based around being esports friendly. To me, this means no overpowered competitive builds, and less reliance on animations that take away user control. And, of course, the focus will also be on trying to remove glitches as these can potentially be broadcast to thousands. We will need multiple years to determine whether the impact of esports on these games has been positive, but it’s happening.
Two Trends I Feel Less Confident About
First, EA is leading the way in bringing a mature inclusiveness to their games. Most of them have female avatars, career modes or leagues in some capacity. A positive and necessary message would be sent to the sports gaming community if NBA 2K also provided these opportunities. When players are doing triple somersault behind the back alley-oops, realism is no longer a credible excuse. Will they? It’s doubtful.
Second, the push for 2K to develop another football game will pick up steam. Forbes’ Brian Mazique outlined his case and cited the development team’s success in creating realistic sports gameplay. Many see this as a weakness of Madden, so there is a market opportunity there. There are so many reasons to say why this can’t happen, but more disenchanted Madden players will look to 2K if they ever come back to the turf.