It’s safe to say that while the gaming industry has intelligently moved towards live-service titles over the repetitive nature of yearly franchised releases, there is still one outstanding issue that acts as a blockade for many players who want to enjoy virtual versions of their favourite sports.
The sheer grind that some sports games implement, hiding some of the best players, rewards and content behind hours and hours of required playtime, leaves many feeling excluded due to their inability to sink these hours into a single game.
It doesn’t matter which sports you’re interested in, Football, Basketball, Ice Hockey, American Football or Baseball, the chances are that there is some sort of multiplayer element to the game and it revolves around building a team of the strongest players to compete against other players online.
Realistic progression is typically placed just out of reach for casual players meaning it leaves them at a rather unfair crossroads. Do they pump money into the game in order to keep up with the hardcore crowd or do they sit back and watch as everyone else passes them by?
Perhaps this decision is made simpler if the game in question is free-to-play, but even then with the seasonality of these games, it never usually takes long to spend the £/$60 that a brand new game would cost. Few sports games have adopted a free-to-play model at this point but it wouldn’t surprise us if more did adopt this approach in the future.
In defence of the developers, the cost to make and maintain a game has grown exponentially over the last decade. This is the primary cause of retail games slowly increasing in price as well as the need for long-term financial support in the form of microtransactions. You also have to take into account that sports games are typically released every 12 months meaning the development cycle is far shorter compared to other titles.
Ultimately, everyone will feel very differently about the time-sink needed to keep up with their favourite sports games. A working parent will possibly feel like they are at a disadvantage compared to someone with fewer personal commitments who can dedicate more time to their progression.
One thing that’s for sure is that most of the content that is locked away behind these purchases is completely non-essential. This is where ‘pack luck’ comes into play and doesn’t offer any guarantees to players who do spend their money on in-game currencies.
Yeah, you can probably build a stronger FIFA 23, NHL or Madden Ultimate Team if you invest real money into FIFA coins, but the coin system still allows for a completely free route to a team of Icons. NBA 2K’s MyTeam probably sets the best example of balancing free and paid progression but it’s taken years to get to this point.
While no one wants to see the grind in sports games get worse, there’s something to be said that it needs to exist to add balance to all experiences. Let people pay to jump the queue if they want, but as long as those benefits aren’t explicitly offering advantages for cash, then what’s the harm being done?