#8 of 2012: NHL 13

Posted December 19th, 2012 at 10:00 am


At one point Madden NFL 12 faced the prospect of releasing while the league was in the midst of an ongoing lockout. Later NBA 2K12 actually did have to deal with the league being locked out for the first two months it would be on the market. The conflict with the NHL though has dragged on even farther with the possibility that no season at all will come about.

That certainly has affected NHL 13 and not just in sales (which was up initially and has dropped off since) but in consumer perception. Fans of the NHL are left without the daily news of the season to drive interest while those who otherwise might not care either way have even less reason to pick up the game that represents the league. NHL 13 offered some significant technological advancements but ultimately did not have the reach to draw in anyone but the ultra hardcore crowd. 

The ranking of games in the best of 2012 list is based on number of factors including the personal amount of enjoyment had with a particular title, whether advertised features were fully delivered, post-release support, community interaction and communication, overall gameplay experience, feature set, and online play performance. Again this is largely a personal take and one with the advantage of tracking the games beyond just the release frame and does not act as some sort of recap of those with the highest scores on Metacritic. The analysis is weighted heavily towards those high in fun factor while considering them as a whole and compared relatively to the field.

The NHL series has become arguably the least accessible major sports franchise. Joystiq touched on the topic and it holds true for many. Ever since NHL 09 when EA Sports Hockey League was introduced (finishing as the runner-up  in 2008) the appeal for those who are not intensely knowledgeable or experienced with the series has significantly dwindled. At the same time series such as FIFA and NBA 2K have been able to grow while reaching new demographics that previously would not have had interest. It’s a serious concern for the NHL franchise that will have to be addressed by EA going forward.

The big new feature expansion for NHL 13 came with GM Connected mode which offered the opportunity to involve as many as 750 users in a single league. The breakdown would have a commissioner, single GM for each team, and then “players” who could get involved in an Online Team Play environment. It was an idea that was made to sound spectacular but logistically turned out to be a nightmare as it proved to be difficult to manage and sustain. The number of people who would be able to take full advantage of the feature was limited. It didn’t help that navigation within GM Connected was so frustratingly sluggish that it turned many away from playing almost immediately.

Other improvements came with the new skating engine (incorporating physics) and improved AI. The recognition of the benefits of those two areas was appreciated but, again, generally only by those who have consistently played the series and could identify the differences when compared to year’s past. Be a Pro and EA Sports Hockey League got a number of understated improvements as well.

Ultimately it is hard to overcome the effect of the lockout. EA made one attempt to provide some fresh content outside the scope of the league with a huge roster update to European teams. Regardless with no NHL on a daily basis interest in the game was going to dissipate quickly.

The NHL series has been very steady late this generation and has continued to offer innovations along with more than sufficient content. This isn’t NCAA Football where effort has been lacking. However its inaccessible nature, and limited appeal, has become more apparent at the same time. The lockout has only further exposed that the series has hit a wall of sorts. It’ll need to do something big next year in order to recover from the damage done by the league’s absence and capture back consumers that may have been lost in the process.

Year in Review
Much more to come throughout the month!
•#8 of 2012: NHL 13
•#9 of 2012: NCAA Football 13
•#10 of 2012: NFL Blitz
•Vote for the 2012 Community Choice Awards
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: Disingenuous Marketing and Unfulfilled Features
•Revisiting the Top Stories of 2012: The Disastrous Road Towards NBA Live 13