The sports gaming genre has been in a monopolistic-driven design cycle for over ten years. League licensing will always result in limiting the selection of titles for gamers. Licenses, and the developers who carry them, dictate our game modes play style. A developer who decentralizes decision making by granting more autonomy to gamers will change everything.
VOLTA is a fictional, global street league in EA Sports FIFA. It represents the blueprint for major studios to break the trend and create fictional leagues as the basis for our sports games. Street-inspired sports games and fictional teams can compete with the major sports titles by taking cues from VOLTA and other competitive gaming genres.
First, sport is about freedom of movement, self-expression, culture, and community. The core tenets of sports share many traits with the philosophy of digital open-source. Open-source is a development model based on peer-production. It follows that, collectively, we are capable of leveraging community-generated works to sustain a genre of fictional sports gaming. In many ways, we already are. All we need is the right “killer-app” to do so.
Second, reimagining the sports we love into battle-royal inspired games will allow non-licensed sports games to not only enter the marketplace but thrive. VOLTA is a reimagined form of soccer gaming, and it offers a glimpse of what the sports genre can be in a fictional format.
Real sport is open-source. EA Games does not have a monopoly on the sport of soccer, and 2K Games does not have IP for every basketball play-ground. Further, there are no intellectual property rights on physics, locomotion, or competition. Sport in the purest sense is non-discriminate. Yet as gamers, we are playing within the shackles of a framework dominated by EA Sports, 2K Sports, and others who dictate which games we play, and how we play them. We are paying publishers for access to in-game content. The willingness of gamers to pay for customization tools is being taken advantage of.
Sports gaming excels with community-generated leagues, teams, and players. The modding community is capable. Gamers can sustain titles so long as the gameplay quality is premium-grade, and the create-tools are on point.
Discord and GitHub thrive because of software limitations within our sports games. Games do not have enough creative-tools to sustain sports games for more than a year or two. The limitations are tactful and intentional. The reasoning is two-fold: annual release cycles and licensing restrictions.
The most passionate gamers move off-platform to collaborate on custom leagues. With a bold enough studio willing to trust and reward creators, we will eventually dispense with licenses.
Some may argue: non-licensed games do not have a track record of success. My rebuttal here is that the licenses have nothing to do with the enjoyment of alternative game modes that currently drive sales. Case and point: NBA2k My Player. This open-world platform within NBA2K is a prime example of community-driven sport. It is a universe of endless user-created players. No NBA license is needed.
Similar to MyPlayer, VOLTA is simulation ball in a fantasy-league. It represents what the game soccer is on many levels yet remains fictional. It has a global appeal, fascinating court designs, and fun character building. The physics, locomotion, and animations perform well at high speeds. Developing it out further would make it a stand-alone title, and the prospect of emulating VOLTA represents an entry point into sports for major studios.
Secondly, sport is prime for battle royale game modes. We love battle royale for its accessibility to the masses, intense competition, and character customization. There is a power-shifting opportunity for studios to develop 100-player competitions for many sports — it just takes some imagination.
Creating sports competitions that allow millions of players to drop in and compete will also open up the genre to gamers from broader demographics. Capitalizing on battler royale is not novel, yet the sports genre has been slow to adopt such enjoyable, massive-multiplayer game modes. Fortnite, developed by Epic Games, has reportedly had over 400 million gamers in its lifespan. In 2019, Epic Games earned over $1.5 billion from the game.
Launching a non-licensed sports title is risky. A fraction of the battle royale market share is enough to function as an assurance against the risks of entering the market.
EA Sports VOLTA may have very well created the idea of sports gaming that may end their dominance. Our dependence on sports league licensing is unnecessary when gamers are designers. Triple-A Studios and indie studios alike: take note. The freedom that sport offers us on every playground in every city never sets limits on how we play. Neither should our games.