It has been a common complaint among video game players that sports games don’t change much from year to year. Update the rosters, tweak a couple of controls, maybe add one more motion capture move, and boom, you’ve got another US$60 game on the shelf. If you’re just another gamer sitting on your couch, such criticisms will likely be ignored by the industry, but when you’re a star athlete featured on the cover of Electronic Arts’ biggest hit, your words may end up carrying more weight.
At least, that’s the hope of Shaun Alexander, running back for the Seattle Seahawks. In a press appearance in New York last week, Alexander offered (registration required) his ideas about how EA’s aging Madden series could be made better. “Madden has always been great,” he said . “But it’s always been one-on-one, just you and another person, and real football is a team game.”
Alexander continued: “You should be able to make a team and play together with your friends. Like if you have 10 friends, you could all play different positions and be in 10 different houses and play together over the Internet. Or maybe you just have like five people, and you control the skill positions and the program controls the other guys.”
One can imagine the startled looks on the faces of attending EA executives as their star spokesperson started giving his opinions about how their game could be improved. Sports games have long offered multiplayer options for people sitting at the same console or computer—when I worked at EA, I once participated in an impromptu tournament of NHL 2000 where we daisy-chained eight Microsoft Sidewinder game pads together and played four-on-four on the same screen. Unfortunately, it has always been difficult to find enough people willing to sit down in one place. With the advent of always-on Internet connections like Xbox Live, however, there are new possibilities for sports games that have yet to be tried by any major publisher.
Counterstrike, for example, remains one of the most popular games online due to its fast action and reliance on good teamwork over button-mashing. Why haven’t we seen any first-person sports games? While some may claim not being able to see the whole field would make gameplay difficult, if everyone is controlling an individual player all the time it could work, although it may require changes to the user interface. Wouldn’t it be cool, though, to see the entire world spin about madly when your player gets tackled?
Integration with online gaming services could also mean that gamers could organize themselves into teams, and the performance of each team could be tracked. While it would be difficult to arrange times for all players to get together, serious teams could sign up for tournaments that could be broadcast live to anyone interested in viewing. While the idea seems far-fetched, remember that top Starcraft players in South Korea currently make six-figure incomes and have lucrative endorsement deals for doing just this sort of thing.
At the very least, it would be nice to see a new version of Madden that wasn’t plagued by bugs and missing features. When even your official spokespeople are asking for something new, maybe it’s time to listen?