Despite what many may think, professional wrestling is better because of its entertainment aspect. If you don’t think so, just ask the sports video game juggernaut, EA Sports. Many could argue that sports should be about the raw competition. However, it is the entertainment factor, drama and narrative that happen surrounding a match-up that separates good from great.
The Future of EA Sports
The revelation is not something recent; EA Sports took note of this as early as 2011. One of EA Sports’ less popular franchises, Fight Night, featured a mode that year called Champions. The idea was to bring a Hollywood style blockbuster movie into the game. The player guides a fictitious boxer, Andre Bishop, out of prison and up through the ranks as a heavyweight championship contender. Cam Weber of EA Sports considered the narrative to be somewhat static, but did not deny that it was a step in the right direction. Fight Night Champion would receive critical praise and laid the ground work for a shift in the sports genre.
The Narrative Appeal
The importance of a good solid narrative is not loss on many but may not seem very important to the sports genre. Real life sports definitely gain popularity on their own, however, a good story make it that much better. Would anyone have cared to watch McGregor vs. Mayweather if there had not been a build leading up to the showdown? Some, sure, but perhaps not as many. Solid stories create the spectacle. It’s what makes moments worth remembering.
EA Sports is making narratives a mainstay in its sports games and their success has proven the perks of a solid narration. FIFA 17 featured The Journey, a mode where players take control of Alex Hunter, a rising star in the Premier League. FIFA 17 was then the highest-selling console game in the world last year. This year’s FIFA 18, will feature a part-two to the story. EA Sports has also expanded their other popular franchises with story modes as well. Madden 18 will feature its very own narrative-based mode in Longshot. Good stories make moments. Memorable moments make long lasting appeal. That long lasting appeal makes money. Sports by themselves will always be fun but with hit movies like Friday Night Lights and many others, there’s no doubt EA Sports is making a smart move with the addition of narrative modes.
More Than Just a Story, It’s a Strategy
The best and worst thing about sports games is that they come out every year. I’ve expressed my opinions on annual launches before, as they tend to stagnant consistent innovation. Typically, the average sports game player may skip one or two installments for the simple fact that some of them seem like simple roster updates. The sports genre has it bad as there is little margin for error and the importance of detail is extremely high. So, if EA Sports were to fail one year, it’s likely that the next year will already have a bad rep. If you’ve ever spent time in community threads, you’ll find this is true for all sports franchises. To some, there hasn’t been a good wrestling game since WWF: No Mercy. This is exactly why EA Sports’ push for narratives is an increasingly smart one.
The key is understanding the yearly restraints for developing sports titles.
- Details are not just important, they’re a necessity
- Gameplay has to capture what you see on TV
- Roster must be up-to-date
- Little innovation causes stagnation
- Too much innovation and you deviate from the sport
This is, of course, in addition to many other things the developers have to simply get right. Otherwise, players will notice. The addition of a story mode creates something of a middle ground that relieves a few of these restrictions to some extent. More importantly, when the stories for each game coincides with the previous game, it gives players a new legitimate reason to buy the next one. As long as the gameplay continues to hold up, EA Sports can add many innovations to the narratives whether it be through presentation, visuals, choices or multiple endings. Just to name a few.
Why It Works
Simply put, narrative modes won’t hurt them. The EA Sports franchises are well beyond established. Even with a terrible story mode, the games have all the fixings of a sports game like franchise modes, etc. However, if the story is good then players will notice. The appeal then brings together two full markets: people who are passionate about sports and can appreciate a good story and then those who are passionate about a good narrative while appreciating sports.
It’ll be interesting to see if other big name sports franchises bring back narrative driven modes or add new ones.
It is a great time to be a gamer and even better time to be a Sports Gamer.
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