Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Bizarre Challenger to the Madden Throne

Why do hot dogs come in packages of 10, but buns in packages of 8? Why do gas stations display their prices in 9/10 of a cent? Why do major airlines insist on charging more money for a one-way ticket than a round trip? These are some of the major annoyances in life, but none tops one of my personal pet peeves:

Why do the makers of football games for consoles (PS, XBox, etc.) not make the rosters able to be updated over the Internet?

The answers to all of the above, of course, is to make more money. In the case of the last example, it's particularly galling. Electronic Arts, makers of the venerable Madden franchise of football video games, has been doing this since 1988. See, Madden costs about $60. Every August, video gamers who are football fans (like myself) pony up the bucks. What do we get in return? Gee-whiz new features, like NFL Network play by play, or a new and improved "build your own superstar" subplot. But what we all really are paying for is the updated rosters: we all want to play as our favorite teams, with the right rankings of the breakout stars from last season (Marques Colston, anyone?), and the new hot rookies who are sure to make an impact (hello, JaMarcus Russell).

Now, every console on the market is able to be hooked up online. Imagine if you could just download the latest roster and rankings. Cool idea, right? Sure, and that is how it works on the PC version (mostly). But consoles are where the money is: that $60 every year is EA's lifeblood. Imagine how they felt a few years ago when some upstart, 2KSports, started making a worthy competitor to Madden: ESPN 2K5! It had even slicker TV-like graphics, all the NFL teams and players, and even ESPN personalities and presentations. In many ways, the gameplay was simpler, yet slicker, than Madden. If that was not enough, they had the cojones to price it at $20! It FLEW off the shelves. Guess what happened next? EA essentially bribed the NFL into giving them the exclusive rights to the teams, players, and stadiums of the NFL. Why? Same answer: money.

Although 2K5 was a better game in many ways, it was starved to death: no new rosters means no play, Sure, you could laboriously create new players, and move others to new teams, even update their ranking. By that time, you'd have missed the entire season. Sigh. Madden celebrated their complete domination by making their "classic teams" function even lamer: the classic teams would no longer have the names or numbers of the greats, just lame "QB #3." Joe Montana to Jerry Rice? Uh-uh. Aikman hands off to Emmitt? Nope. The Fridge over the goal line? Heck no.

Well, if they can't fight fair, it's time to fight any way you can. 2KSports is making another go of it, with their recently announced All-Pro Football 2K8. The tagline? "Football Resurrected." No you can't play as the Patriots or Broncos. No, you can't see Reggie Bush scamper all over the Superdome. But you CAN create your ultimate dream teams: Johnny Unitas hands off to Walter Payton. Barry Sanders eludes Dick Butkus. And, as you can see from the image, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice don uniforms from the same team once again. It's clever, but it's priced in the $60 rarified zone, so it's a hard call on taking a risk. Plus, although they call it "ultimate customization," the lack of NFL logos, uniforms, and stadiums puts it squarely into the realm of the Miami Sharks (Any Given Sunday) and Washington Sentinels (The Replacements): entertaining, but ain't quite the NFL. And even 2K doesn't offer updateable rosters: are they hoping to get us to buy next year's version with Brett Favre and Andre Rison?

Sigh, Makes me think of just biting the bullet and buying a PC to hook to the TV instead.

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