One of my hobbies ever since I can remember has been playing sports video games. Being born in the early ’80s I started off with a NES console and have purchased a console every generation since, although I haven’t picked up a PS4 or Xbox One…yet. Sure I play other games, but the main reason I’ve forked over thousands of dollars on consoles is sports games.
As soon as I got my hand on an iPad a few years ago I started to wonder if the future of sports gaming wasn’t on the touch screen. It took a little while, but I think it’s starting to happen slowly.
Last month R.B.I. Baseball 14 was launched. Gamers of my generation will undoubtebly remember the fun, fast paced action of R.B.I. Baseball on the NES. After almost 20 years, the game returned on April 9th. For the most part, it lives up to the hype. It’s simple, fun baseball with a MLB license.
There are three really interesting things about this game:
- It’s the same game on iOS as it is on the consoles
- It costs money and there are no in-app purchases
- MLB produced the game
Let’s take a closer look at each.
It’s the same game on iOS as it is on the consoles
The game was released on iOS, PS3, and Xbox 360, with Android, PS4, and Xbox One releases coming “this spring”. I haven’t played the game on the consoles, but I have read a lot of reviews, articles, and tweets about the game and from what I can discern there is no difference between the versions.
This is huge for touch sports gaming. In the past games have always been a watered down version of the original. The simplicity of R.B.I. goes a long way in making this a possibility, but the simple fact that they released the same game on a mobile platform on the same day as a console release is very telling. We may not be that far off from touch taking over.
It costs money and there are no in-app purchases
The few mobile sports games that haven’t sucked have been littered with in-app purchases. In-app purchases ruin the fundamentals of games for me, and that’s why I personally try to buy mobile games that don’t have them. I’m happy to pay a premium for a great game. As soon as you give the game away for free and introduce in-app purchases, the game is no longer a game. You don’t win with skill and creativity, you win with either a ridiculous time investment or by opening up your wallet. The business owner in me understands why they do it, but the gamer in me despises it.
R.B.I. was $4.99 in the app store. Presumably it will be the same on Android. For that $4.99 you get the whole game. It’s all about enjoying the game. For a sports game to be successful, I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t have in-app purchases (or limit them to bonuses like throwback jerseys or classic teams).
MLB produced the game
This is where it really gets interesting for me. The game was produced by MLB Advanced Media, a division of Major League Baseball. When leagues itself produce games, their motivations change. It becomes about hooking the fan with great gameplay so that they become an even bigger fan of the game. The game can be a financial loss and still be a success. Leagues also have the advantage of not needing to pay themselves for a license. They can access everything they need from the past and the present without having to jump through hoops and pay outrageous fees. They likely also have more motivation to maintain the game for the long term.
The result, I think, is a much better experience for the consumer. Do I want all sports games to come from the leagues? No, of course not. I still think there are a ton of options to succeed as an independent developer with sports games. I may someday pursue some of those myself. Who I think this hurts is companies like EA. And really, is there anyone out there who isn’t sick of EA at this point?
In the end, I wonder how far we are away from sports gaming moving to touch screens. A game like R.B.I. is nowhere near as feature-filled as something like MLB The Show. But could it be there in a few years? Maybe. Touch screens can have a lot more complex functionality than you might initially think because the on-screen controls can change on the fly. Buttons can come and go as gameplay changes. Not only can they come and go, but sometimes you don’t even need buttons. Swiping runners along the basepaths feels so natural that using a controller actually feels like a step back.
I’ve been fascinated by sports gaming my whole life, and now we’re entering a new era with unlimited possibilities. Touch screens open up new doors for control. App stores allow small indie gamers the ability to compete side-by-side with EA Sports. And the leagues themselves are starting to see the advantages of creating their own games.
I’m excited to see what the next few years brings. Your thoughts?