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Posts Tagged ‘EA Sports’

It's never too early, or too late, in the year to talk about baseball games. Right?

If you haven’t been reading Kotaku’s awesome weekend sports series, Stick Jockey, do yourself a favor and head over there immediately.  These weekly thinkpieces are consistently fascinating, especially considering that 99% of the sports game coverage out there is a very paint-by-numbers affair.

This week’s is no exception, as columnist Owen Good really shows his sports business chops examining the 2005 semi-exclusivity deal between 2K Sports and MLB.  Good does a much better job than I ever could in breaking down the how’s and why’s of the deal, but what I found to be really fascinating here is just how off the mark otherwise savvy companies like 2K and Major League Baseball could be in striking a deal, and how ultimately iffy a property MLB has become for a video game license.

There have been a few bright spots here and there (RBI on the NES, World Series on the Genesis, and Ken Griffey Jr. Presents MLB on the SNES come to mind), but baseball has had the must lackluster games library of all major US pro leagues, hands down.  The recently released Madden NFL Arcade and another tremendous annual installment of NHL, both from EA, remind me just how broken baseball games are.

So is the answer as simple as “wait till EA can do another MLB game?”  Possibly.  After all, the Triple Play series was becoming very good just before 2K locked up the exclusivity deal, and MLB2K has a lot of flaws that just wouldn’t make it through EA’s very polished sports game development process.  But Sony’s first party series MLB: The Show suffers for reasons wholly different from 2K’s product – an unforgiving difficulty curve and an engine that emphasizes photorealistic stadiums over responsive controls and a smooth play experience.

With baseball’s annual winter meetings just concluded, the countdown is on for next year’s outings.  They’ll likely be tweaked versions of last year’s games, built upon the same engines that 2K and Sony already introduced this console generation.  2K’s in particular seem to be showing its age.

It’d be great to see one of these license holders tear the whole thing down and start fresh.  Perhaps EA’s 7 year absence from our nation’s pastime will end up benefitting them AND us in 2012, for the simple reason that they haven’t had a baseball game on any current-gen system, and will have to field a whole new team and start fresh.

2K’s pricey misadventure makes it unlikely that anyone, be it EA, 2K, or another player, will be in a hurry to buy up exclusive licensing rights when they become available again for the 2012 season.  But if someone opens the checkbook, I hope MLB Digital Media takes a close look at the plan, the team, and at least asks to see a preview build this time around.  In all fairness, that office wasn’t yet created for the 2005 deal.  Who knows how many fans they’ve turned off or missed out with lackluster branded games since then?

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On Monday night, hordes of dedicated fans lined up outside their local Gamestops, Best Buys, and Wal-Marts to get their hands on Madden ’09, the 20th installment of EA’s powerhouse franchise.  This year’s version shipped on the 360, PS3, PSP, and weirdly enough, the PS2 and Nintendo DS.

I always get a chuckle out of how many systems get a visit from the Madden fairy each year.  I can understand releasing on PS2 – there are still plenty of active users, and EA just can’t turn their back on an installed base of that size.  But the DS? Who the hell plays Madden on the DS?  The same people that made Nintendogs and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise million sellers?  But I digress.

This year’s game is a big step up, and they’ve finally figured out how to take advantage of the PS3 and 360 equally.  Most importantly (at least for yours truly), the new Madden adjusts difficulty to each player’s Madden IQ, determined through a few in-game tests and then constantly adjusted after each match you play.

EA got some mileage out of the 20th anniversary, mostly in the mainstream press. It felt a little more subdued among dedicated gaming blogs, though.  Joystiq’s Kevin Kelly tried to manage a smile at the big Rose Bowl launch event, Kotaku covered a smaller, more low-key local event, and Deadspin’s correspondent, um…  basically had the worst time imaginable.  All in all, the launch just didn’t have that “Christmas morning” feel that we’ve had in past years.  In fact, it’s the first time in over a decade that I didn’t know anyobody that took Tuesday off work.

Make no mistake – Madden ’09 will still be one of the top 3 sellers this year.  It’s the most enduring franchise in gaming, and to EA’s credit, this year’s game really pushes the series forward.  But I think we’ve seen so many megawatt launches over the last year (Metal Gear Solid 4, Halo 3, Mario Kart Wii, Smash Bros. Brawl) that it’s tough to get too excited about one more.

We’ve come to normalize and even expect pretty frequent AAA releases.  As a fan and avid gamer, that’s great news.  We’re consistently seeing good games release throughout the year.  As a marketer, is a bit daunting.  Clearly, we’re all going to have to raise the bar.

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