Sports Games Desperately Need Alternative Online Experiences

Posted February 26th, 2015 at 1:15 pm


In a recent Press Row Podcast episode I proposed the idea again that MLB: The Show, which has struggled mightily with online performance and stability since inception, should offer an “Extra Innings” mode online. That proposal generated a significant response from listeners on social media and forums intrigued by the concept and the benefits it would offer – along with expressing hope that other sports games could include unique online experiences. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean “mini-games” are what consumers desire but rather experiences that can feel complete and as though something was accomplished but in a shorter time frame.

It’s one thing to ask for a time commitment of 45 minutes to an hour to play a single game online. That alone eliminates many from playing regularly. But it’s the poor experiences that take place within that time frame which amplifies that as an investment many find not worth making. It’s no coincidence that publishers have cited high percentages of users as having played each game online just once only to never return.

When games are that long facing someone who plays in a disruptive, annoying, or exploitative fashion becomes more problematic. Cheaters or those who disconnect intentionally wreck the enjoyment for those who are simply looking for a fun and competitive affair. However make a game only last a few minutes (up to maybe 20) and that becomes far less of a concern. It’s a big part of why FIFA has grown so significantly as each match only takes around 15 minutes. The time wasted when meeting up with an undesireable opponent is vastly reduced.

The same can be said for network/server issues. The Show and NBA 2K have had the biggest issues in this area but they’re simply unavoidable from time to time regardless of the game or publisher. Reducing the time it takes to play a game reduces the chance of being plagued for long stretches by severe lag or disconnects that can negate having even played to begin with.

EA Sports introduced the “OT Drill” for online play in NCAA Football 06. The feature was received extremely well as it offered a way to play online that could end in a matter of minutes or stretch on for longer – and when that happened naturally the games would only become more dramatic and intense. It was a fantastic idea to provide a competitive mode online that was quick and fun but still felt substantial and satisfying. For some reason the feature wasn’t included in NCAA 07 and never returned.

2K Sports is on the right track now in NBA 2K15 with MyPark. Games to 15 or 21 means just committing 10-15 minutes. The feature can be improved however in some very simple ways. The primary one is to get rid of the “Got Next” system which wastes people’s time by making them stand around and wait for the next opportunity to play – sometimes for longer than is spent playing. Once active on the courts though it’s a lot of fun and the benefits are evident.

An “Extra Innings” mode for baseball would be just about ideal. How many times does the team that scores first end up winning an online game of The Show anyway? How many people quit right after giving up a run? Games online, due in part to the lag, sync issues, and disconnects, are a complete drag and go on for far too long and are very low scoring and too often predictable. On offense batting averages are abnormally low while pitchers record far too many strikeouts.

There would at least be some drama starting in extra innings and intriguing managerial decisions to be made. If there is troublesome lag the players get out of it quicker. If someone disconnects, which should be far less likely in games that last a few minutes rather than an hour, it’s not as big a deal whether or not it was done intentionally.

It may not be the case for everyone, which is why it’d be an option not a replacement, but I’d rather play four or five of those in the span it would take to play a single nine inning game that would have no guarantee of even being enjoyable or reaching completion.

The idea could be applied to other sports games too. An “Overtime” mode in Madden, NBA 2K, and NHL would make a lot of sense.

Shortening quarter or period length in the traditional online games is not the answer. Neither is removing presentation or coming up with something like “Quick Counts” in The Show. All that does is make each game feel far less strategic and far more reliant on being ultra-aggressive. The regular games should remain, and last as long as needed for that to be a suitable experience, but should be supplemented by other ways to play competitively.

2K Sports is at least attempting to innovate with these consumer concerns in mind. Somehow EA had the right idea 10 years ago and have yet to revisit it. Hopefully publishers all take notice that this is something not only beneficial to consumers but also to them as well. The more people are connected and online, and desire that head-to-head or cooperative online experience, the more they’re engaged in the product and for a longer period of time.