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Ironically, we need greater competition among sports games

This week’s news that EA has cancelled plans to release any future entries in the FIFA Manager series raises a wider debate about the lack of healthy competition in the sports genre. In an open letter to fans, FIFA Manager founder and designer Gerald Köhler cited a number of reasons for the "very tough" decision to axe the PC series, which has been running annually since 2001. Chief among them was the fact that “one game has practically dominated the market in recent years”. He's not-so-subtly calling out Sega's Football Manager series.

While the large number of people buying (and illegally downloading) FIFA Manager’s chief rival--not to mention the series' relatively high review scores--suggest Sega’s offering may be the better product, the disappearance of a competitor to keep FM developer Sports Interactive on its toes isn’t good for the games industry or for players.

The football management sub-genre may be a relatively small part of the overall sports market, but a lack of healthy competition has become evident in other areas too. I can’t speak for all sports, but for me this has been particularly noticeable on virtual basketball courts and football fields.

EA has dropped the ball on multiple occasions over the past few years while attempting to keep pace with 2K’s consistently excellent NBA 2K basketball series. Following the relative mediocrity of NBA Live 10, EA attempted to retool its basketball offering with NBA Elite 11, but the game was cancelled shortly before release following development problems and bad publicity. EA sat the next year out but vowed to come back stronger in 2012 with a new challenger in the form of NBA Live 13. However, in an eerily similar fashion to NBA Elite 11, the game was canned at the last minute due to quality concerns.

This year EA managed to push NBA Live 14 out the door, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. In stark contrast to NBA 2K14, the game was slammed by most critics. And despite EA’s promise to release a series of updates designed to make "drastic improvements", buyers are right to feel short changed. EA is better equipped than most to usurp a market leader, as the now defunct, former UFC publisher THQ would attest, but after its latest failed basketball comeback, might the publisher opt to reallocate resources instead? If so, 2K Games could begin resting on its laurels, or at the very least, do less to innovate in the face of zero competition.

There’s also currently a lack of real competition in the football market, where EA’s FIFA and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer have enjoyed one of the biggest gaming rivalries for over a decade. While PES was the undisputed king of footy games during the PS2 era (on the pitch at least), their roles were reversed over the lifetime of PS3 and Xbox 360. Certainly on a sales basis PES now plays second fiddle to EA’s juggernaut, leaving Konami with its work cut out if it’s going to meaningfully close the gap.

Despite being built on an adapted version of Kojima Productions' new Fox Engine, in a number of ways PES feels somewhat trapped in the past, and not just because it has yet to make the jump to PS4 and Xbox One. Recent examples are the exclusion of expected game features in PES 2014 and an online mode that was broken for a month after launch on Xbox 360.

It’s true that there are more significant barriers to entry in the heavily annualised AAA sports game market than in most other genres, not least a finite lack of official licenses for rivals to fight over. But that doesn’t make it any less disheartening to see worthy, veteran competitors forced to throw in the towel, or ageing ones coming back year after year with inferior products in search of one more payday. We need competition to keep the best games on their toes; to keep them innovating and finding exciting new ways to entertain us. Will this generation be the first to see real sports game competition die off? It's getting tougher and tougher to keep up with the front-runners, and while that speaks highly of the quality of FIFA and NBA 2K, I for one am wary of the future cost that a lack of true competition could have.

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7 comments

  • sheila-bayer - March 29, 2014 4:01 a.m.

    Great Game! got me addicted! The football real world events are related in TOTW and TOTM and team of the month. Very rich graphics and so many football techniques in the game fifacoinsexchange.com, the auction house is a great feature it helps you get to Messi and Ronaldo as players in your club quickly! Fifa 14 is definitely better than ever!
  • NinjaPopsicle - December 3, 2013 4:26 p.m.

    This isn't much of a surprise. EA has always been pretty mediocre at best when it came to trying to "improve" their sports titles. They're lucky they panicked and payed for the NFL license when they did or by now 2K would have likely done the same to the Madden games as it's doing to the NBA Live games.
  • david-castro - December 2, 2013 11:36 a.m.

    it ends February 2014
  • matthew-bigelow - December 1, 2013 12:48 p.m.

    EA's sports developers are lazy and not really all that talented. Year after year they promise things and never deliver. They spend so much money on exclusivity because they know if they had some decent competition they would be left in the dust. With all the money and resources at EA's disposal there is no excuse for putting out crap games every year. FIFA is an absolute joke and shouldn't be getting the high scores it is. I mean have the people reviewing those games ever watched an actual football match in their lives? And no I'm not talking about youtube highlight videos. It's an arcade game for 12 year old kids. Hopefully 2K will make a football game. After all they did make the greatest sports video game ever created in NFL 2K5. Theres things in that game that are unmatched even to this day almost a decade later. EA needs to get put in their place.
  • GR_JustinTowell - November 29, 2013 4:49 a.m.

    I've said for a long time I still think someone could come in fresh and make a better football game than FIFA.
  • Phantom Cipher - November 28, 2013 3:14 p.m.

    Any idea when the NFL /EA/ESPN exclusive deal comes to an end? American Football is suffering with one company doing all the work. The same goes to wrestling, baseball, and hockey
  • shawksta - November 28, 2013 9:57 a.m.

    Agree completely

Showing 1-7 of 7 comments

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