Sport plays an important role in almost every culture around the world. Whether it's baseball as America's favorite pastime, soccer as the national game of England, or cricket as the most-watched competition in India, these sports provide an outlet for people to channel their energy and passion.
That's why millions of people buy sports merchandise like jerseys, caps, and scarves each year. It's why people wait for hours outside training grounds just to get an autograph or selfie with their favorite player, and it's why some fans will travel across the world to watch a game.
It's also why sports betting is so popular, with fans trying to use their knowledge of players and the game to predict the outcomes of each match. While sports betting is available almost everywhere in Europe, it is a little different in the US. Wagering on games was permitted in mid-2018 in some states, and it has grown rapidly since then with more and more states going live. As of early 2022, there are now more than 125 legal sportsbooks, according to this research by OLBG. That figure is expected to rise in the coming years as more states and more fans take up sports betting.
Over the last couple of decades, video games that depict sports have become one of the most favored ways for fans to feel close to their beloved team or athlete. Rather than just watch them, these games let players partake in the action, recreate events they’ve seen on TV, and imagine what it's like to be one of their heroes.
But in that time, sports video games have evolved so much that the early releases are almost unrecognizable in comparison to modern versions. While contemporary titles have 4K graphics, players that look almost like photographs of their real-life counterparts, and physics that match real-life, games from the 1980s were more like monotonic stick figures.
But while it’s interesting to look back and see how far sports video games have come, it is perhaps more pertinent to understand what future titles will look like and what they will contain.
Each time a new generation of video games console is released, new game titles see a major step forward in graphics, physics and realism. With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X released just over a year ago, we’re beginning to see some of this now.
However, games released today (especially sports titles) are generally developed for both the current and previous generations. This is a commercial decision since it allows the publisher to sell copies to more people, especially at present with a chronic shortage of new consoles.
Although not a sports game, a very clear example of why developers do this can be seen in Cyberpunk 2077. While the PC and current-gen versions looked good (for the most part), the PS4 and Xbox One versions suffered tremendously with bugs and graphics glitches because the hardware wasn’t up to the task.
So, while the PlayStation 5 game looks better than the PS4 version, the difference is still quite small. In the next few years, this backwards compatibility will be dropped, leaving only current-gen releases of future sports games.
At the same time, developers will begin to understand how to better exploit the capabilities of the latest gaming machines, allowing them to create content that is even more realistic than today.
This will mainly be in the areas of “AI” producing more realistic NPC behavior, even better graphics, and enhanced control over the way players move so that they appear more life-like.
New Iterations of Microtransactions
Microtransactions are a widely used but often criticized form of monetization that’s used in video games of all types. They’ve become prominent in many leading sports game franchises, including FIFA, Madden, and NBA 2K, though some fans and critics consider them to be a way to “squeeze players’ wallets”.
Despite this, many fans continue to pay for the in-game items that are offered through these low-value transactions.
Some developers are now experimenting with new versions of in-game purchases. Ubisoft recently released Quartz, a proprietary NFT system that lets players buy and sell items they purchased through microtransactions. It is also believed that EA is developing something similar for FIFA and its other sports franchises.
It remains to be seen whether such a system will be popular with players or if it’ll be discontinued like Ubisoft’s Uplay Passport system from the early 2010s after a torrent of complaints from customers.
Virtual reality has been “almost here” for decades now, but it is beginning to feel like the technology is close to making it into the mainstream. VR gaming offers many new possibilities for sports franchises, as it allows fans to see a game from the perspective of their favorite player.
There are no signs that a VR version of a major sports video game like FIFA or MLB The Show is currently being developed at present, but it seems pretty likely that companies like 2K and EA have at least been experimenting with how they could make something like this in the future.
Some kinks need to be ironed out first. For example, how a player would move around or kick a ball while wearing a standard consumer VR headset. These issues are why Wii Sports contained only games that required upper body movements.