Sports games slumping

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By Dan Johnson

Last week was a big week for those who enjoy their sports video games (raising hand now).

Electronic Arts released its latest version of college football delight, “NCAA ‘09,” for all the various consoles (sorry, DS owners, you’ll have to wait for Madden).

Traditionally, the release of a new virtual football game brings smiles to the masses who gladly fork over $60 for the right to say they were among the first to own — and play — the game.

I used to be one of those guys. I vividly recall waking up early the morning of the expected release date, heading to the mall and waiting for the doors to open. Once inside, I rushed to Gamestop, picked up the game and paid my money, and returned home to immerse myself in the game.

Most times, I came away feeling completely satisfied. Recently, though, those feelings have shifted from satisfaction to anger. And that’s why you’ll no longer see me rushing to the store.

Perhaps I’ve become jaded, or maybe it’s just that I’ve finally opened my eyes and have come to the realization that the games I buy don’t change much from year to year, aside from the rosters. Whatever the reason, I just don’t get the same feeling of excitement that I used to when a new game is released.

Perhaps this explains the apathetic feeling: When I was growing up, gamers always had multiple titles of the same sport to choose from. You don’t like Madden? That’s fine, you can play GameDay (published by SCEA) or the 2K series (by 2K Sports). The same held true for pretty much every sport out there — aside from maybe golf.

The competition between the developers was good, mostly for the gamers, who were able to reap the benefits of having so many good games to choose.

Now, the sports gaming industry is more like a monopoly. EA owns the exclusive rights to the NFL license. For gamers that don’t like the way Madden plays, they’re stuck. Heck, even the loyal Madden-ites have to admit the series has struggled mightily since 2006, the first year they operated without competition.

The recent versions of Madden have been plagued by programming bugs and other glitches that disrupt the game play — or at least have an obvious effect on the way the game plays out of the box. The game’s presentation has also suffered. Games in Madden no longer sport things that were standard several years ago, like referees on the field, chain gangs and nets behind the goalposts.

Sure, some of the issues with the game are a little nitpicky. But, EA opened themselves up to larger criticism when they entered into the exclusivity phase.

NCAA has gone through similar problems since becoming the only college football game in town. The current release, “NCAA ‘09,” has already been found to have numerous bugs and glitches.

While there are still some sports (baseball, basketball, hockey) that are available to gamers in multiple titles, the trend, unfortunately, appears to be headed toward what has already happened to football. Eventually, I fear, all sports games will be produced by a single company.

It looks like the golden age of sports gaming has passed us by and we didn’t even know it.