Top Stories of 2008

Posted December 31st, 2008 at 8:59 am


14) Secondary Mode As An Individual
It began with Campus Legend and has grown to include Superstar, Road to the Show, Be a Pro, and Become a Legend. It has now become expected that games deliver on a secondary mode as they have really caught on with consumers. Expansion has been seen online where Online Team Play has resulted in a huge activity increase in EA Sports games and others are attempting their own online modes as well.

13) EA Sports Freestyle Created
EA Big was scrapped in favor of a new brand known as EA Sports Freestyle. This label would incorporate games that were more accessible or on the arcade side. It got off to a rough start with Facebreaker which is anything but accessible and literally painful to play. The next release was Celebrity Sports Showdown on the Wii. However things may be looking up for Freestyle if the 3 on 3 NHL Arcade set to release in February for $10 as a downloadable title turns out to be as enjoyable as it sounds.

12) EA Sports Halts Most PC Games
Complaints about the quality of the EA Sports PC games as well as pirating led to EA making the decision to shut down most of them for the 09 cycle. They’ll be returning with the 2010 offerings, re-vamped with a new strategy. Details of how they’ll be changed haven’t been discussed, but look for something similar to what they are doing in Asia with online based games. It seems likely that the games will be free and then either subscription based or supported by advertising and look to capitalize on micro-transactions.

11) EA Sports All-Play Is a Bust
Despite the Wii continuing to sell at an extraordinary rate, sales of the EA Sports games did not see growth in 2008 with the All-Play initiative. Tiger Woods is the strongest seller but even that isn’t seeing much movement despite an expanding user base. That has brought into question whether sim style sports games will ever have much of a market on the Wii.

10) 2K Sports Studio Move
Struggling franchises MLB 2K and NHL 2K moved to the more esteemed Visual Concepts studio for 2K9 and beyond. The result for NHL 2K9 was a return to simplicity, cleaner gameplay, and a few additions. They basically set the structure for future years but have a lot of ground to make up on the competition. That seems to be the likely path for MLB 2K9 as well.

9) NBA Live 365
The most innovative new feature (not mode) to sports gaming this year was Live 365. Taking data tracked by Synergy Sports and fed into the game on a daily basis, Live was able to offer the most up-to-date rosters and tendencies ever seen in a sports game. What that meant for how the game played is arguable but the information, normally only available to NBA teams that pay a lot of money for access to it, is fascinating for fans of the NBA to check out.

8) Companies Combat Used Sales
A hot topic this year was the concern of gaming companies over money lost through used sales. EA was the first to attempt a new route with sports gaming through NBA Live 365 by offering it free through a code included with new games but charging $10 for it otherwise. Meanwhile Take Two had a presentation where they laid out ideas on how to potentially bring in revenue through micro-transactions and subscriptions.

7) Community Interaction
While there has always been an element of community interaction it was taken to a whole new level this year. EA Sports especially reached out with developers posting on various forums along with community based events. It resulted in improvements being made to games directly based on feedback. Madden 09 was the biggest example of this where several changes were made prior to release due to the communication. It appears that this has been seen as valuable by both the companies and the communities and the impact will grow even more in 2010.

6) Roster Updates
NBA Live 09 took the concept of roster updates to another level with the Live 365 feature. All the sports gaming companies seem to have caught on to the importance of keeping the rosters accurate and updating the games on a regular basis. MLB 08 The Show really started the trend of frequent and detailed roster updates providing them weekly. Madden 09 has put out a weekly update and NBA 2K9 is doing them on an as-needed basis.

5) NFL Extends Exclusive License with EA
Originally set to expire next year, the NFL and EA negotiated an extension to the exclusive license. The deal now means that EA Sports will hold the exclusivity through at least Madden 2013 and will continue to produce other titles using the license.

4) EA Attempts to Purchase Take Two
It was drama that stretched on for over half the year. EA made an offer of $26 a share but Take Two resisted. If the sale had gone through there would have been no more of 2K Sports and competition in basketball and hockey would’ve been lost. It is interesting to wonder whether EA would be better or worse off if they did eventually make the purchase considering the current economy. That $26 a share offer certainly looks good to TT investors right now though with shares currently trading for just over $7.

3) End of the College Hoops Franchise
It was only a couple weeks after I had written that there didn’t appear to be enough sales to support two college basketball titles that Take Two scrapped the 2K Sports College Hoops series. Even though the game was far and away better than rival March Madness they didn’t feel it made financial sense to continue it. That resulted in EA Sports having the only college basketball game and changing the name from March Madness to NCAA Basketball.

2) EA Sports Hockey League
Offering the most unique online experience was NHL 09 with the EASHL. This is one direction that sports gaming will be going, towards more of an MMORPG type experience. The mode took Online Team Play to the next level by giving it a personal feel. What it amounted in was an insane amount of fun which reached beyond those who were fans of the game or sport prior.

1) Online Dynasty
NCAA Football 09 introduced the Online Dynasty which was so good it resulted in NCAA being my favorite sports game of the year. While keeping a level of competitive feel by involving other users it bypassed much of the frustrating elements that have plagued online gaming. Online Dynasty has expanded the value of the game a great deal and resulted in many people playing it well beyond where they have in the past. Going forward this will likely become an expected feature for future sports titles.