To have some fun with our staff writers, and to get them to pick a position and hold to it, today’s roundtable is going to make them choose a side in the following debate:
Going forward, sports games need to focus on one of the two following areas more — super realistic gameplay or enriching the experiences within modes?
Let’s see what the writers say!
It has to be that games focus on gameplay and get that as tight as possible. The way a game plays is the main draw. Having bad gameplay is like going to a fancy steakhouse and getting a burnt rib eye. It doesn’t matter how nice or elaborate the garnish is, if the main course is subpar then the entire meal is ruined.
This proves true in sports games. At the beginning of a game’s release window, many players will complain about franchise this or microtransactions that, but as the game goes along most end up finding gameplay issues being even worse.
I love NBA 2K. When I first popped in 2K19, I was still bothered by VC and having to “pay to compete” but my annoyance eventually faded. The same cannot be said about lingering gameplay issues like steal spamming in the park or the lack of a reliable post entry pass.
There’s no point building out modes if the game is unrealistic or broken in some way. Without a serious fun factor with the core gameplay, all the modes in the world won’t save a game from scathing criticism and rapid player drop off.
I’ll play devil’s advocate and say they should focus on the modes. A game like 2K, which I play religiously, has gotten to a place in their gameplay development where they seem to tweak things too much. In the course of a year, they’ll mess with shot percentages and so on to the point where once you get used to something and are comfortable, they go and change it all up and you have to adjust. (This year people were losing their minds about potential tweaks to how often steals happen.) That might mean that they’ve peaked and should just leave it alone.
Sure, each year you can still spend a liiiiittle time between releases tuning things on the gameplay side, but throw 90 percent of the resources towards improving MyCareer (which has a zillion complaints every year). Or to keep innovating MyLeague and MyTeam. Or maybe, by god, fix the servers!
Then with a game like NBA Live, which I fire up occasionally, the selling points are the modes themselves, like The One. Casual gamers will be more tempted by stuff like that over the minutia of gameplay tweaks they don’t understand. Especially now as all of the modes in all of the different games start to bleed together, I’d like to see the developers take more chances and give me something I never knew I wanted, but can’t live without once I try it. Like Court Battles in NBA Live, or dodgeball in 2K. Someone took a chance on a card collecting mode a few years back, and it changed the landscape of sports gaming. I’d like to see another game-changing mode in next year’s cycle.
NBA 2K’s success can be translated into a formula that any sports game can follow: airtight gameplay and robust mode offerings. Though the programming work is significant, that combination is all that a franchise needs to elevate itself to that level of quality. Establish a masterpiece of a base game and bring on the surplus modes. MLB The Show was almost there this season, but post-launch patches negatively impacted the previously stellar on-field gameplay, and highly touted mode upgrades were disappointments. Retro Mode remained little more than a different camera angle, and franchise superstars still randomly retired in the middle of a frustratingly broken offseason. I am a big fan of the subscription model for sports games: lock down an excellent gameplay-perfect base game at a reasonable price, and charge for additions as piece-by-piece DLC or an annual subscription. This would also allow for additional features or modes to be stress tested and fully fleshed out instead of rushed to meet release deadlines.
I would buy the WWE 2K games every year if they fixed their in-ring product. The clunky collisions and archaic feel to the gameplay are a significant turnoff for a franchise that otherwise has a creation suite to provide gigantic long-term value. Similarly, NHL’s Expansion Draft mode was exceptionally appealing to me, driving me to purchase the game on day one. However, I didn’t even get five games into the season before I gave up on the title because of its gameplay. In my eyes, the in-game updates were negligible since NHL 11, the last entry in the series that I played for a significant amount of time. In this instance, the new mode did very little to improve the overall experience because of the stagnant gameplay, though it definitely lured me in for a day one purchase. Otherwise, gamers can stick to older upgradable titles that balanced gameplay and content, such as NFL Street, WWF: No Mercy, and NHL Hitz 2003.
This is pretty simple. Gameplay needs to focus on realism and “cleanliness” — period.
“But it’s a video game bro! You can’t expect it to be so real!”
Yes, yes we can. As voiced by Matt and Elliott, gameplay is king. Deep modes lend well to fantastic gameplay and lead players to return time after time, wanting more. What I feel needs to be kept in mind and remembered is the fact that the big AAA titles are sports simulation games. A simulation is a reproduction of a real-life process or act. So to that extent games that have this moniker should feel and play like what we’d see or play for real. You’ve still got the “game” attachment of course, but my biased opinion is that the “game” part falls to the graphics and modes where realism may not matter as much. Using the only game series that I feel is close, NBA 2K shows us time and again over the last 3-4 years that they can build a product that has gameplay that is extremely hard to rival. Fans of the 2K series keep going back mainly because of the attention to detail and realism that NBA 2K brings to the table in terms of playing and feeling like a real NBA game we’d watch on TV.
Without A+ gameplay, you’re just not going to have a top notch game. Period.