5. No ‘real’ atmosphere
The difference between a regular season and a playoff game is stark. A July afternoon at the ballpark is always a lazy good time, as the crowd halfway pays attention to what’s happening on the field in between eating hot dogs and drinking beer. Contrast that with a typical October playoff game – fans are seriously into it with every pitch, reacting to each and every strike, out, and run as if it’s the end of the world. The stadiums look different, too, with red-white-and-blue bunting dotting the walls and playoff logos etched into the field. The differences are major in basketball and hockey arenas, as fans get whipped up in post-season frenzies that make regular season matches look like afterthoughts. However, these nuances are barely – if at all – perceptible in our current generation of games.
What we want: We’re tired of pre-season, regular season, and post-season games all looking and feeling the same, so this one’s easy. When the playoffs roll around, we want to sense the crowd’s anticipation, fear, and excitement. Show the fan-made Stanley Cups being held aloft at the home team’s arena; let’s get a look at the homemade signs calling for an end to a particular franchise’s futility or demanding a repeat; have fans standing up with two strikes and clapping in unison like maniacs each and every inning like they do in the playoffs. When the stakes are the highest, we wanna feel it like we do when we watch the real thing.
4. Online jerks
The best thing about a good sports game is competition against another human. It doesn’t matter what game you’re talking about, though – there’s a universal idiocy running rampant through the sports gaming community. The worst offenders are the Disconnectors, the people who feel that they’re only allowed to win games but never, ever lose them. These guys conveniently disappear late in games when they’re behind without a chance of coming back. While technology has gotten a little better at helping identify them, these online jerks continue to destroy the appeal of gaming over the internet. And it only seems like it’s getting worse.
Above: What it feels like to have an opponent suddenly drop out of your game
What we want: These people need to pay. Anyone can have an accidental disconnection every now and again, but if it happens more than once in a short amount of time, temporarily ban them from playing ranked games. If it keeps on happening, ban ‘em forever. We know what you’re thinking: you can’t do that to people who pay for the game (and the service, if it’s Xbox Live). We say, “who cares?” The only way to change behavior is to eliminate the ability for it to happen. Even if it’s not their fault because, for example, they have a bad internet service, it doesn’t matter, because they still ruin their competitor’s good time. Get rid of the Disconnectors, and you’ll immediately have a better community.
3. Money plays
Guaranteed goals, post-up moves, and big gainers have been around since the dawn of sports video games. We all remember the right-left-right-left-shoot goals of old Sega NHL games, or the unstoppable Bo Jackson pitchout in Tecmo Bowl. In the pre-internet/message board days of the oh-so-innocent ‘80s and ‘90s, a lot of money plays were discovered the old-fashioned way (constant tinkering) and had no way of being fixed once the game hit the marketplace. We remember having gentlemen’s agreements to refrain from these plays, too – and if they were violated, fistfights and hard feelings quickly ensued. In the modern era, though, money plays are much easier to discover and more prevalent than ever – which quickly ramps down the fun factor.
What we want: We have a pretty good idea how complicated it is to make a sports game, and we understand even more that no matter how much you test a game before it goes out the door to consumers, things happen. People find glitches or bugs that were known about but developers secretly hoped didn’t get found. All we want is a vigilant post-release presence that allows for these glitches to be reported and fixed – quickly – so that our offline and online games can be as free from these guaranteed plays as soon as possible. We’ve been burned too many times by exploiters who’ve decided it’s more fun to spend time glitching their way to victory than playing a game the way it was meant to be.