As a casual video gamer, sports games have always been one of my favorite genres. I like being able to play an entire game from start to finish, without having to devote a month of my life to beat the game. My natural love for sports probably also contributes to this preference, but whatever the case, it’s safe to say that they’ve been a staple of my entertainment system for a very long time. Unfortunately, when it comes to innovation in gaming, the sports franchises seem to lag the rest of the field.
I’d argue that this is because of the monopolies that surround most major professional sports, but it may also have something to do with the temptation to release a new game every single year. After being burned too many times, I did finally cut my upgrade cycle from every year to once every 2 or 3 years, but even with less frequent purchases I still notice that there are pieces of each game that seems to be endlessly recycled year after year after year.
Specifically, I’m talking about the commentary in EA Sports games. Whether you’re playing NBA Live or John Madden football, having live commentators lends a certain amount of realism to the experience. Sure, their puns are cheesy and sometimes there are glitches where they’ll tell you how bad you did on a great play, but overall I enjoy having someone critique my every press of a button.
The problem is though, that after you’ve played a few games, you start to hit repeat commentary and what was once cute and funny quickly becomes annoying. If EA provided entirely new commentary with each new version of the game, this would be less obnoxious, but in recent years they’ve added almost zero new commentary and just continue to repeat the same tired expressions from past versions of their games.
While I understand that there are limitations to how much content can be put on a disc and financial considerations over how much time these famous celebs can spend in a sound studio, I do think that EA is missing out on an extremely lucrative market.
Just like people are willing to purchase ring tones to customize their cell phones, I bet that sport franchise customers would happily pay a dollar or two to get their favorite commentators “in the game”. As someone who grew up watching the Lakers play, I’d be thrilled to hear some of of Chickisms that legendary sport commentator Chick Hearn used to say. Even though Chick has passed away, it wouldn’t be hard for his estate to use some of his in-game footage to re-introduce expressions like the Dime Store score or Leapin’ Lena to an entirely new generation of sports fans.
Better yet, EA could set up some kind of an online locker, where fans of the game could share their own commentary and use people’s own social networks to give us a reason to upgrade. When I was in school, I had a friend of mine who’d say “that was slammin” everytime we played and while this expression would get old if John Madden used it, I’d pay real money to hear my friend sitting next to me while I played. This could also be a good avenue for the professional players to extend their own brand. Whether it’s Shaq talking smack about Kobe or Darth Vader calling plays for John Madden, the creativity would be endless.
From EA’s perspective, they could not only use these updates as a source of revenue, but it would also give their customers a reason to buy more games. By allowing customers to make free updates over the course of a season, it would provide a strong incentive to always have the latest copy. It would also make some of the personalization even more meaningful.
It’s great that I can create a superstar player that looks like me (even if I’m not 6’5″ with one percent body fat), but how much fun is it when the game calls out “great basket by number 35”, instead of pronouncing Freeberg as my last name? Given how small audio files actually are, there shouldn’t be any technical difficulties associated with implementing this type of system. While the repetition from in-game commentary might not be noticeable to the control groups who are testing EA’s games for an hour or two, for long time fans like myself it’s a great feature that becomes irritating the longer you play. Instead of creating a product that causes less satisfaction over time, EA should be using dynamic sports commentary to improve how their games age.