In this article, we asked a few of our senior writers their thoughts on yearly sports game releases. Below are their responses and reasoning for such responses.
While I know many gamers would strongly advocate for sports games becoming every other year releases with roster updates in between, I have to say that Sports games should be yearly releases. It’s completely fair to say that the changes from one iteration to the next are minimal for most sports franchises, but I don’t think we’d see greater improvements from one release to the next if games like Madden, FIFA, NBA 2K, and NHL become biannual releases. In fact, I think we’d see fringe titles like NHL, PGA, and UFC ultimately get canceled. The reason is simple: money. And nothing generates revenue for sports game publishers like Ultimate Team.
In EA’s last fiscal year, Ultimate Team generated over $700 million in revenue for nothing but digital content sales. 2K and Sony San Diego also see large revenue coming from their versions of Ultimate Team in NBA 2K and MLB, respectively. This revenue allows the fringe sports games like NHL and UFC to remain viable investments for companies like EA, who have hung on to a failing NBA Live franchise for almost no other reason than Ultimate Team.
Some will argue that these companies will make that money anyway over two years. But most won’t. After you have your team at a 98-99 overall, where’s the incentive to spend another few hundred dollars on packs to get more players? The people who spend money for their Ultimate Team have their teams to that level after five or six months, and their spending declines. EA would literally be sacrificing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue on top of lost game sales just for releasing sports titles bi-yearly.
On top of that, as much as players say there shouldn’t be yearly releases of sports games, they still go out and buy them every single year. People still take the day off for a Madden release in the United States, and the FIFA launch is an event in much of the UK and Europe. Game companies have proven repeatedly that until gamers vote with their wallets, they won’t change from their current model. Call of Duty is a perfect example. It took a few years of declining sales for Activision to bring back a Call of Duty experience that is more in line with its origins.
In the end, buying these games yearly is a necessary evil. Yearly releases provide companies like EA with the revenue needed to continue to support games like NHL and UFC, as well as take risks on new IPs that might not even be in the sports genre. Besides, I might complain about it, but I’ll still be playing Madden 18 in the fourth week of August.
Whilst many may try and argue that sports video games deserve yearly releases and need them to deliver the best product, I would argue that it is in actual fact completely unnecessary. I am a huge fan of the FIFA series. I have wasted hours of my life crafting my ultimate team on each generation of the game. Wasted because each year the hours of time and real money that I have placed into making an ultimate team goes down the drain as a new game almost exactly identical to the previous comes out.
The practices of EA when it comes to the FIFA series are downright nefarious. They have the market sewn up and their target audience will buy whatever they churn out. Look at FIFA 17. I have never played a game which felt so rushed. The usual game modes were good, but they haven’t changed a whole lot since FIFA 09. My real problem was with their new game mode; The Journey. If you look at these new game modes as the main reason for a Sports series bringing out a brand new triple-A priced game every year, then it is fairly understandable to feel short changed.
The Journey was unfinished. It had potential but it was rushed in at the last minute to make the game feel different. The practice of bringing out the same game year in year out while half-assedly adding game modes and slightly tweaking the existing gameplay is downright unethical. Especially when you consider that a large portion of FIFA players are children. In terms of gameplay, a release every two years with a large update every year would be much better. It would give EA a chance to get the game just right and experiment a little. A paid update every year would be much better than shelling out $50+ every year and the company would still make an absolute killing on Ultimate Team packs.
As long as people are willing to pay those big prices year in year out though it is highly unlikely that anything will change. I am ashamed to admit that I will keep doing so also.
The current state of sports viewership will keep the yearly titles from EA and 2K Sports in their annual release form. Three of the four major sports leagues in America saw viewership dip in the last year. These declines are likely a side effect of the decline of subscription based cable. As subscribers continue to cut the cord, exposure to these leagues will continue to shrink. Leagues demand yearly releases, especially those losing viewers by the millions.
While I believe sports games could easily transition to a bi-annual release format, they most likely will not. The media buzz these games receive from annual releases is too good for these leagues to pass up.