IN THE NEWS: Could Competition Revive Sports Gaming?

EA Sports and 2K Sports have been the two sports gaming juggernauts for nearly two decades.

Sports gaming has lacked real competition for a long time and it is believed by many sports gamers that the quality of games has suffered as a result. Sure, companies such as Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive (parent company of 2K) are making bigger profits on their top games such as Madden NFL and NBA 2K than ever before. Yet the criticisms have been more numerous and common in recent years as well. There’s also less sports game choices than there were 15 to 20 years ago. Today’s sports gaming landscape seems very stale compared to the past. It needs a spark and some healthy competition may be the answer.

2K announced this week that its NFL arcade-style football game was going to be delayed at least past March 2022. When it is released, it will be the first major NFL game to be published by a company other than EA. With now more than one company publishing games with the NFL and PGA TOUR licenses, it looks as if we are finally seeing a glimmer of competition in the sports gaming market. And competition is what is beneficial to the consumer because it forces companies to bring their A-game to the forefront. This has been something that has been lacking for a long time.

It was in sports gaming’s “Golden Age” that the all-time classic ESPN NFL 2K5 was released.

When it comes to sports gaming, I miss the first decade of the 2000s. Back then, EA Sports experienced its peak when it came to the quality of its games, 2K was making its push to become Electronic Art’s biggest competitor, and other developers/publishers were throwing in their hats to see what they could do with the various sports franchises. There were several options available to the consumer for all of the major professional sports, as well as multiple games created for college football and basketball. Heck, EA even released an Arena Football and a couple of NCAA Baseball games during that stretch. There was also an assortment of arcade sports games for gamers that weren’t into sports sims such as NFL Blitz, The Bigs, NBA Street, FIFA Street, NFL Street, and NBA Ballers.

It truly was a golden age for sports video games. What began the change in the sports gaming landscape was when EA went into an exclusive contract with the NFL to publish their games in 2005. Suddenly, the era of NFL sim competition was over and it seemed to have a domino effect in the decline of sports gaming as a whole. Now, developers and publishers began to focus more on a particular sport rather than creating several sports games a year. For 2K, in time it became the NBA. San Diego Studio ended up leaning towards Major League Baseball.

While the 2010 decade saw the rise in sales and revenue for both EA and 2K, it felt as if sports gaming itself went into a decline. Many of the publishers (Acclaim, Midway, Microsoft) that were known for a variety of sports games stopped publishing them. We were now in the era of just one publisher releasing a sports sim for the three major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB). The NFL (Madden) and NHL ended up being published only by EA with 2K eventually bowing out of pro hockey. 2K had improved so much with its NBA 2K product that EA’s NBA Live was no longer released annually. Major League Baseball ended up being a PlayStation exclusive through San Diego Studio’s MLB The Show franchise as EA’s MVP Baseball and MLB 2K both faded away. Soccer games had basically been whittled down to EA’s FIFA franchise and Pro Evolution Soccer by Konami. And modes such as “My Player” or “Ultimate Team” became the main focus of both EA and 2K, as those modes with their multiple microtransactions were bringing the two companies more money than they had ever seen.

Credit: Electronic Arts
After several years of no NCAA Football games, EA announced earlier this year that it plans to release college football games once again.

Now in 2021, things seem to be changing again. EA announced that it was planning to release college football games again. Then a few months later, the organization also announced it was bringing back PGA Tour Golf. Earlier this month, EA purchased Metalhead Software, the developer of the Super Mega Baseball series. This means we will finally see baseball under the EA banner once again.

The NCAA Football series was one of the most beloved sports franchises in EA’s history. Its lineage goes back to Bill Walsh College Football during the 16-bit era and went all the way until NCAA Football 14 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But a lawsuit involving EA using player likenesses in the games led to the series being terminated.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour was the best-selling golf series in video game history. It was on various platforms, had terrific graphics and presentation for the time, and was even accessible for gamers who did not know anything about golf. It took full advantage of the fact that Woods had become one of the most recognized athletes in the world. But the controversy surrounding his affairs caused EA to part ways with him. Unfortunately, the games that followed didn’t have the same appeal without the “Tiger Woods” name attached to them. This caused EA to step away from golf games.

Credit: HB Studios
Landing Tiger Woods now gives the PGA TOUR 2K franchise legitimacy and likely fueled EA into making PGA golf games again.

While 2K has mainly been focused on the NBA and WWE for the past several years, the publisher teamed up with developer HB Studios to bring professional golf back to gaming starting in 2018 with The Golf Club 2019 featuring PGA TOUR. The partnership would continue and lead to PGA TOUR 2K21 being released in 2020. Earlier this year, 2K announced that it had signed Tiger Woods to be connected to its golf games going forward. So both EA and 2K will be publishing golf games.

I want to see more competition. Hopefully, EA will put some effort back into the NBA Live series so there can be at least two NBA choices. I would love to see something other than The Show and RBI Baseball for MLB. NHL gaming would benefit from having another developer in the mix. 2K’s baseball and hockey games were great games. Some developers are trying to create alternatives such as Canuck Play (Maximum Football 2020) and Axis Games (Axis Football 2020). But they would need time and likely more resources to really become a serious contender.

Oh the good ol’ days. I can’t wait to see 2K back in NFL gaming. Bring on the competition.


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