2018 is going to be a critical and interesting year for sports video games. We're in the prime of this console generation, so are we going to see the best from the franchises or are companies on auto-pilot? Nobody knows for sure, but here are some key topics for the year that may show us where things are heading.
It's a dirty word these days, but the truth is sports gamers have been more or less comfortably living with microtransactions for years thanks to the various Ultimate Team-type modes most sports titles have these days. So the question becomes whether the existing model will change at all and possibly become more insidious.
Take-Two and Visual Concepts already stirred trouble with NBA 2K18's aggressive VC requirements and overall MyCareer grind, so it's crucial that NBA 2K19 offer a smoother progression path. The larger question, however, is which company is going to be the first to step out and possibly take microtransactions in a new direction? Will we see a title in 2018 introduce microtransactions into their GM/Franchise mode, for instance?
GM modes have traditionally been a haven for those who don't want to wade into the fantasy/consumables modes, and if your GM mode is stale, then you're probably not offering players much of a lasting alternative to the Ultimate Team-type mode. NBA Live, for instance, needs to build out its franchise mode, and it'll be interesting to see if its The One player career mode keeps its skill tree separate from its cosmetic player gear crates that can be bought with real money.
Speaking of NBA Live, Madden creative director Rex Dickson said that the football series plans to synk its Connected Franchise Mode with NBA Live's. He mentioned including live updates into CFM, but will Madden also get a player career mode (with its random gear crates) like NBA Live 18's The One? And/or will the random crates be used in Madden in some other/extra fashion?
THE MODE WAR
Continuing with the importance of game modes in 2018, the various modes – franchise, fantasy/Ultimate Team, player/MyCareer – all demand some attention and upgrading from year to year, but they don't always get it from developers. Whether it's your favorite Ultimate Team mode getting a new wrinkle or a franchise/GM mode taking a needed step forward, odds are not all game modes are going to get the boost they deserve.
It will be interesting to see how each franchise addresses this problem and perhaps signals where its priorities lie. Add in the growing importance of esports and how the competitive landscape affects gameplay changes, as well as the en vogue story modes, and it's getting to the point where each sports video game year is more likely to cater to a specific set of fans, giving those fans left out in the cold the option of skipping a year. Fans have often asked for the option to pay for different modes a la carte (I've argued that this will only stifle innovation), which seems like is happening de facto anyway.
WHERE ARE THE GAMES?
There's more to a year's roster of sports games than just the well-known, yearly fall titles. A good year needs options like The Golf Club 2 or racing games like Dirt 4 to also anchor the year, and I'm curious where those come from in 2018. The good news is we'll see UFC 3 and Tennis World Tour, but off the top of my head, what are we going to get until the fall?
Perhaps the tale of 2018 will be told by lesser-known upcoming titles like Laser League (shown), Super Mega Baseball 2, perhaps something World Cup-related from FIFA, or even a title we haven't heard about yet. Meanwhile, I can practically guarantee we aren't going to get the return of Fight Night (that's the UFC dev team), another MLB-licensed console title, or an EA golf game. And no, NFL 2K and NCAA aren't coming back, either.
On the racing side, now that the Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport franchises have released – and Dirt 4 and Project Cars 2 also came out in 2017 – the racing genre in 2018 seems a little thin. Codemasters is putting out its arcade racer OnRush and the usual F1 game, and Xbox One fans are getting another Forza Horizon (the two Forza franchises alternate years), but it looks lean for sim-racing fans in particular. On this front, it'll be interesting to see how developer Polyphony Digital supports GT Sport in 2018. An important December update is in the works, and hopefully that's just the start.
Sports developers – predominately EA Sports – are taking a wait-and-see approach to Nintendo's hot console, and it remains to be seen if 2018 is the year any of those plans come to fruition. NBA 2K and FIFA will hopefully continue to grow on the system – particularly with Nintendo's online program debuting, and it would be nice if Switch sports games approached parity and also proliferated. Likewise, it would be great to see more sports series on PC as well.
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Madden NFL 18
NASCAR Heat 2
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018
NBA Live 18
Project Cars 2
Forza Motorsport 7
NBA 2K18 (Switch)
FIFA 18 (Switch)
GT Sport (shown)
Mutant Football League
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week
Tennis World Tour Highlighted at PSX
In-game footage shown from an early build, as well as new players and other features announced.
AO Tennis Announced From Big Ant Studios
It's the official video game for the Australian Open, but it also features a career mode, customization options, and different court types. No known U.S. release date yet, however.
The First Stage Of NBA 2K League Qualifying Announced
Check out the AMA with league managing director Brendan Donohue.