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Friday, September 16, 2005

Sports MMO part 2

Continuation of the sports MMO market

"There are more similarities between sports games and other genres than would be immediately evident. While golf and baseball games have “down time”, games like football (and soccer), hockey and basketball are pretty fast paced with a lot of action. These games have elements of both action games and platformers (try playing defensive back in a football game. A well placed jump is the difference between an interception or giving up a touchdown). There’s more than that. As psu wrote over at Tea Leaves, football is also a tactical RPG (a Roundtable submission). Another Roundtable submission, Only a Game looks at Sports and RPGs (great minds think alike, right?). So they are more genres than meet the eye in your average sports game.

Further proof? Look at the gameplay of any “career mode” in a sports game. Tiger Woods, in particular, is nothing more than and RPG in a polo and knickers. In your classic RPG you control the main character as you fight the bad guys, do good things for your village, gain levels and experience points and buy bigger swords with all the gold you earn. As you progress, you face increasingly difficult obstacles and adversaries. That’s a simplistic description, but you get the idea. Change a few things and you have the character progression in Tiger Woods. You make good shots, you earn money (XP) with which you upgrade your skills and buy better golf clubs. You start off playing low ranked pros and imaginary golfers (rats and giant spiders). Eventually you move up the ranks and play the likes of Phil Mickelson and Tiger himself (dragons and giants). It’s all there. And it’s not just in Tiger Woods. It’s in most sports games now. There’s the Heisman mode in the new NCAA Football game (Dynasty mode is more of a Manager Simulator. Genres galore!). ESPN’s 2K games also contain similar elements (”The Crib” in ESPN NFL 2k5 and “24/7″ in ESPN NBA 2k5) . The goal? Be strong, powerful and acquire phat lewt.

Wait, did I just describe a sports game or World of Warcraft?

That’s where I see the genres could meld and where online gaming could go - the convergence of MMORPGs and sports games. The more I thought about this, I saw not only the mixing of RPG elements and sports elements, but other genres - specifically, simulation games and “tycoon” type games.

I mentioned Shot-Online as the most promising game on the market right now. It’s an enjoyable on-line golf game in its own right. But there is so much more that could be done to make it a great MMO golf game. What if, instead of using the money you earn to buy upgraded skills you could “invest” in real estate. (a-la Second Life) After buying enough real estate, you could use the in-game course designer to design your own golf course. You could entice other gamers to golf your course by making it fun but difficult to play on, you could hold tournaments with in-game and real life rewards. Then the “tycoon” part kicks in. You could sell your own club merchandise, sell in-game housing for other golfers to live on your course, have players become your course pro to attract even more golfers. The possibilities are limitless.

One problem certain sports games have that golf doesn’t is being able to make it fun for everyone to play all the time. Football especially. Five guys on offense and at least four guys on defense play in the trenches. Not a lot going there, video game wise, but that’s where games are won and lost. I equate linemen to healers. No one likes to play the healer in a MMORPG but they are absolutely essential to the sucess of a party. The same with linemen in football. The trick is to make it fun to be a linemen. Let’s thrown in another genre - mini games! Some sort of mini-game could built in to determine if he is able to hold his block (of course the defender would be participate in a similar game). Something football-oriented. The mini-game would have to be more than just a button mashing contest (not that button mashing is bad!). If you can make it fun, not everyone would have to be the quarterback or free safety, getting all the glory. If you are a good linemen character, people will want you to play on there team! That will be the real trick for making the game successful. I’ve heard of stories where the outfielders in the MMO Baseball Game chatting while the inning progresses. Not exactly fun, if you ask me.

Racing games, and NASCAR in general, seem to be another possibility to include other genres. Not only would their be drivers but you could involve pit crews (mini games, again. Think Puzzle Pirates) and mechanics (think trade skills). A racer could have a garage full of cars that need maintenance and upkeep. There could be track designers here, as well. There’d also be room for artists to trick out your car. A racing sim has MMOG written all over it. And it’s not just the racing aspect of the game that would be the draw. There’d be enough genres to go around!

Another issue that isn’t genre related is equally important in solving - how do you organize enough people to hold a game and then keep them interested? Most games will last a half an hour or more. MMOGs have great communities (witness the PvP and PA WoW guilds) but there are also a disproportionate number of players that are just flat-out jerks. Dealing with them is an issue. Keeping people from dropping just before they lose will be a pain. But there are also great communities built around sports teams. I’m sure the community would take over and root out the bad seeds.

There’s a lot more than what I’ve listed here. I could go on but I’ll spare you. It’s obvious that genre blending is fun! Funny thing is, there really isn’t any genre blending going on. Any good game already has elements of numerous genres without even knowing it. There are just some genres that need to be formally introduced to each other!!"
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