For as long as there have been video games, there have been sports video games. Being able to step into the shoes of your favourite sports stars and play alongside other members of your favourite team is an attractive prospect.
Most franchises have developed their offering over many years, creating more realistic gameplay that lets players immerse themselves in a simulation of their favourite sport. They have also become more intricate in terms of graphics, with the latest generation of consoles providing almost photo-realistic levels of detail that can occasionally be confused for real life.
Some of the sports game franchises that we know today are decades old, while others have a shorter heritage. Here is a look at some of the all-time best.
1. Madden NFL
Madden is one of the oldest American football games, with three decades of releases behind it. Named after legendary NFL coach commentator, John Madden, the original titles featured Madden on the box art.
The game’s first title “John Madden Football” was released in 1988 on the Apple II, with versions for the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS following in 1989. The original games were not officially licensed, and therefore player and team names were changed so that they were different enough to avoid legal issues, but similar enough so players knew who they were supposed to be.
Modern gamers don’t have to put up with such quirks. Instead, contemporary Madden games are released every year, with updated officially licensed player rosters and plenty of new features, including a career mode that lengthens gameplay significantly, allowing the player to take part in several seasons.
For players who are good enough to get their team that far, the Madden games let them compete in the Super Bowl. This season, according to oddschecker.com the Baltimore Ravens are currently favourite to win Super Bowl LIV, however, players of Madden NFL 20 will be able to create a very different scenario.
2. FIFA Football (Soccer)
While there had been many football games before it, none had received official licensing from FIFA before. This made FIFA International Soccer (the game’s first release) the first of its kind when it launched in 1993.
FIFA games have been released on just about every single gaming platform, including the Amiga, Sega Game Gear, Nintendo Game Boy, Sony PlayStation, the failed Gizmondo, PC, iOS and a device called Zeebo.
Licensing is comprehensive. Unlike Madden, which requires licensing from just one league, FIFA games include licensed teams and players from most major association football leagues around the world. This includes everything from the English Premier League to the Russian Premier League, the Chinese Super League, Saudi Professional League and the Brazilian Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A.
Unlike Madden titles, FIFA has received a new release every year since its first game in 1993.
FIFA 12 became the fastest-selling sports game when it sold more than 3.2 million copies in its first week, generating over $186 million in revenue for EA Sports.
3. Formula 1 (Codemasters)
Formula 1 games have been released across numerous platforms since “Pole Position” hit shelves in 1983. This has seen games released for a myriad of platforms, including the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Playstation, Dreamcast, PC, and all modern consoles.
Like Madden, several early games did not have official licenses from the FIA or the teams, so relied on depicted drivers with similar (but changed) names, and the teams by their car colours.
Sony Computer Entertainment Liverpool did a great job developing much more realistic titles for the PlayStation 2, with several releases between 2001 and 2007. However, it was Codemasters that have made Formula 1 games into what they are today with their first title for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2010.
These Codemasters titles are known for their realism in how they accurately simulate the conditions on a Formula 1 circuit. For example, when it has been raining on the track, dry lines will appear at different rates around the circuit. Damp areas will remain where trees overhang the circuit (shading it from the drying effects of the sun) or where dips in the track allow water to pool.
Commentary is also removed from the game, a feature that had been included by the SCE titles for PlayStation 2. Instead, your mechanic will communicate updates about your car and the track through the radio. Players must also interact with members of the press between on-track sessions, adding further to the realism of the simulation.
The Codemasters games are widely praised by fans and critics alike, and the latest version is used each year for the official Formula 1 Esports Series.
4. NBA 2K
NBA 2K has 20 years of history under its belt, with its first titles released on the Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. Like FIFA, it has received an annual update ever since the first title in November 1999.
The game receives consistent praise from both fans and critics, particularly for its attention to detail and exciting gameplay. Like the Formula 1 games, the NBA 2K games have been used in the official NBA 2K League since its inaugural season in 2018.
Like most contemporary major sports simulation games, NBA 2K features a career mode, known as MyCareer, that lets players develop their character over several seasons.
It also features MyGM, a mode that lets players take on the role of General Manager for a basketball team. This sets the game apart from other sports, where separate “manager” games are released. The most popular of these is Football Manager, which receives annual releases.
Overall, these sports game titles have developed into some of the most popular and most profitable franchises available for gamers. They have a wide appeal, attracting both fans of the sport they depict and fans of the games themselves.
Their annual releases are also more easily justified by the ever-evolving lineups within teams and players wanting these changes reflected in their virtual team rosters. Despite the short time between their releases, they continue to attract critical acclaim and praise from fans, while adding new features with every release.