Ask Padre #1: Online Co-Op

Posted March 31st, 2007 at 11:21 pm

virtua tennis 3 360

Lately we’ve seen online co-op become more prevalent in games, Crackdown being possibly the most publicized and utilized. Virtua Tennis 3 was just released on the 360 and it included co-op matches in doubles play. Despite that addition to the sports lineup, it seems that thus far this is something that hasn’t been given the level of attention or consideration that many people have hoped for. That may actually be the case with online play in general.

In my discussions with EA Sports representatives, they recognize that they are in catch-up mode concerning the area of online play features. They have as much as admitted that they didn’t focus enough on it previously, however they have now changed their mindset and hope to not only match what is being done by others but they desire to excel and become innovators.

For 2K Sports they have been seen as the innovators the past several years. However many issues were encountered with the features they introduced. While they offered things such as league systems and online sliders, much of the time those features were broken and never worked properly. Even their recent releases have been plagued by technical problems. That is just as bad as not offering them at all.

So while both companies hope to expand their online feature set, it has to make sense for the co-op to exist in the first place. While it would seem natural for a game like NBA Street: Homecourt, it may not fit as well with a game such as MLB 2K7.

There are also the technical limitations that have to be considered. Will the games run as smoothly with multiple participants, or will lag ruin the experience? We’ve come to a point where that really shouldn’t be a problem, but take for example the lag patch released by EA for Madden 07 on the 360. Prior to that patch, all EA Sports games were plagued by connection issues based on how far the two opponents were located from each other. That has now finally been fixed, but it took long enough to set things straight. If there are problems getting one vs one games to perform up to the standards people expect, just throwing out co-op in order to have it available is really not the best idea if it ends up being a disappointment.

So considering these factors, when can we expect to see a feature such as co-op make its way into more sports titles? The potential to see it in the football games is there, and it could be one way for All Pro Football 2K8 to differentiate itself. They’ll need to add aspects to the game that are unique. EA is looking to move forward and has big plans for online, but we still may be another year away from seeing those fully set into motion. The NBA games probably offer a more natural transition to co-op than even football does. The baseball and hockey titles would seem to be more difficult or confusing to implement or participate in, so I wouldn’t expect it for those in the immediate future.

2K is actually releasing their new ‘arcade’ style baseball game The Bigs this summer, and it includes “online play for up to four players”. The co-op seems to be easier work with in the simpler games right now. Virtua Tennis with its doubles matches which are easy to understand and play. The Bigs has the fast pace and ‘anything can happen’ gameplay, which is more inviting to people who may just want to jump in and play without worring about achieving the realistic experience they tend to expect from a game like MLB 2K7. That gives the developers more opportunity to be creative. After getting comfortable with it in those type of games, it may be more likely that they’ll expand to the ‘simulation’ style games.

Overall I’m confident that not only will co-op become a staple of online sports gaming over the next couple years, but there will be much more coming that will exceed expectations. These companies recognize that the demand for it is there, and that by concentrating more on it they’ll develop a stronger base of consumers for the future.

Thanks to Andy Winthrop for the topic suggestion.