The annual sports title has been a staple ever since Madden hit the scene in the late 1980s. Throughout each console generation, almost all major sports titles have adopted the annualized model. There are currently around 10 annualized sports games that release on console every single year.
While the model has been financially lucrative for many companies — most notably for EA Sports and 2k — the model is not free from criticisms. The biggest of which is that year in and year out the consumer feels like they are simply paying for a $60 roster update. Even some of the most successful and critically well-received sports games seem to only marginally improve year-to-year with much of the game being a simple copy-and-paste of the previous years.
Features that would simply be check marks for franchises with longer development cycles, suddenly become “back of the box” features for sports titles. Games tout overhauled lighting, a simple control change, or a single feature being added to an already existing mode as justification for dipping their hand back into the consumer’s pocket. In the most extreme cases — as have been most prolific in the Madden franchise — a game will remove a feature one year only to reintroduce it as a new addition several iterations later. For instance, NBA 2k’s removal of Online Franchise from NBA 2k14 only to reintroduce a watered down version in 2k16.
For some sports gamers, they simply wait several years between purchases to get a sense of the progress that is occurring. Others have an annual desire for the latest rosters and most accurate jerseys and stadiums. They dish out $60 year after year for a game that is only slightly different than the previous years.
There has to be a better way, right? Perhaps it is time for sports game publishers to rethink the way that they release their titles.