Friday, August 17, 2007

Sports MMOG's: The Next Big Thing?

In the realm of the interactive sports experience there are many options a fan can choose to feel more immersed in a sport or league that they are not actually a part of. There are fantasy sports full of keeper leagues and auction based player selection, all of which allows a fan to "own" their team and guide it to victory in their leagues. The leagues themselves are fun and allow for a lot of social interaction between members with drafting, trading, smack talking, etc, taking place even when its the off-season.

In video games, you have team manager simulation software which allow you to play GM and team owner doing all the necessary things behind the scenes to allow your team success on the field. For those who actually like to play the game, like in the wildly popular Madden series, there is the franchise mode (adding a team manager simulation to actual game play), the superstar mode (allowing a player to control and guide an athlete throughout his playing career, even importing players from the college video game) and even a life simulation game unto itself with the NBA Ballers world of playing the game to accumulate as much stuff as possible. There is even a social aspect to the games with video game leagues, tournaments and online game play growing larger and larger amongst gamers.

It is obvious that sports fans like the interactivity of playing owner, general manager, coach, and/or the players themselves in a variety of formats as well as the enjoyment of the social interaction between other sports fans who participate in the same activities. If anything, look at the sports blogging community for further proof of the latter point.

So after all this comes my question...when is the sports MMOG going to become a reality and if its done correctly, will it be the next big thing in sports fan/gamer community?

The massive success of the World of Warcraft MMORPG has spawned millions copycats, it is only a matter of time before someone sees how much money is being spent and made on fantasy sports, sports video games, and even sports blogging and sees the massive potential for the sports MMOG.

In poking around on the internet, I found there are a few companies who are vying to be the first to successfully market this idea. Before I continue though, you should know I've never actually played Warcraft or Second Life or any MMOG so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

  • Football Superstars: A soccer MMOG which allows its players to create a soccer player, control that player from his perspective, start out training and playing soccer with friends in a park and eventually become good enough to play professionally, earning money "with which you could buy the best that life can offer. Lead the life of a football superstar in a Utopian world...".

    Basically, instead of experience points you earn money, instead of those guilds of online warriors, the players form teams. So this is more of a "Warcraftian" approach at the sports MMOG, only without the missions and tasks I would assume. Seems kind of limited, but for those who cannot play soccer in real life, I guess it could be fun. Kinda like you could go outside and have a real life, but instead you play the Sims.

  • Football Manager Live: Taking the popular Football Manager series and turning it into a MMOG. It seems to be a mix of the original Football Manager game, fantasy sports, and auction leagues all in one. You start a club from scratch, set-up mini-leagues, bid in player auctions and compete in live matches while controlling the tactics of games in real time, balancing finances, customizing your club and stadium and buying and selling players, auction style.

    This seems to be a different approach to the MMOG. Looks to be more like a fake fantasy league, which can be fun, but ultimately appears to be missing the point of the MMOG.

  • Empire of Sports: Finally, not a soccer MMOG. This game encompasses the entire world of sports. You create your character and develop their skills playing in a variety of games including basketball, tennis, skiing and a series of gym and fitness games, with more to be added. They make a point of saying these are not mini-games, but fully interactive and simulated versions of these sporting events. You then can travel around to a bunch of different "city centers" with facilities and services to help develop your character's athletic talents.

    This game seems to be more of a Second Life/Sims way of going about things, in that it is more of a social experience but still has its own way of providing a "leveling up" experience. You don't seem to be a part of any team here, just one person going about the business of becoming very good in the virtual world of sport. They don't make reference to any sort of money or anything, so I wonder what you can do other than develop your character's body by playing games and get good at them, all while meeting and talking to people online. Seems like it needs to be a bit more massive to be a MMOG.

  • Shot Online: A golf MMOG. You develop your golfing character to become a golf pro. If you practice every day and compete against players with different skills your character can to "level-up" their abilities. There are team matches to get money, tournaments, the ability to just purchase in game money, realistic and rare items to find and purchase in their mall, clothes to purchase, quests (to get those items I presume) and item exchanging with other gamers in the virtual world.

    All in all, this one seems to be the most complete MMOG out there...probably b/c its one of the few that is actually active. It has all the basic components of any MMOG out there. Seems like it wouldn't be bad if the golfing was actually good...which I have no idea b/c I didn't download it.

  • Ultimate Baseball Online: A baseball MMOG which allows a player to build their own character or become part of the community by creating teams, joining leagues, playing in tournaments, becoming a reporter(?), or managing the game as a GM (Game Master). If create your own team you make a team name, hometown, team motto, and preferred game times so that players can see what your team is all about. Then, you must recruit players (other gamers in the virtual world) and improving your team page with a team logo and news for people to read. Once the team is done, you can join a league for league play and play against people of similar skill levels. You can also develop your player's skills through practice, pick up games, and joining a team and playing in league games.

    My first impressions are that this doesn't seem as involved as the golf game and appears to be more like an online version of any baseball game you can play on an Xbox or PS3 only with a bit more control over things. Far less social as well I would think.

That's all I could find, anyone else have any out there (text-based games excluded)? Is anyone going to come out with a football or basketball game out there that would take over the market? We have many successful versions of the parts of what goes into a successful MMOG, but will someone put them all together for a genre changing sports MMOG? If the Warcraft, fantasy sports and sports video game market is any indication, surely the interest is there...its only a matter of time. Better yet, when it does happen...who will be the sports MMOG Leroy Jenkins (see below)?


Alex Loffstadt said...


Really wished you could have been in Leipzig last week and I could have answered these questions in person. :)

One of the sentiments we take to heart with Empire of Sports is that the game is not targeted at one set of gamers or another. The idea of the casual or hardcore gamer is entirely artificial as you'll find hardcore online players who play console games to relax etc. We all have games we love and those we can take or leave.

With Empire of Sports we fully expect to see a variety of players:

i) Those who will have a game of tennis with a friend or try and set a personal best in a sport every couple of weeks

ii) The players who choose to specialise in a single sport who train, play and compete as individuals, perhaps not playing team sports at all or seeing team sports as something they play casually or as some form of free agent

iii) But most importantly the player led teams and clubs. Not just in the team sports but the essential part of the social side of the game helping to train and support the Star Players of the game

The idea of teams and clubs in Empire of Sports has been at the heart of the game from the start, they are vital. You only control one avatar so the when you play as part of a team there is a new challenge and dynamic for players as they have to learn the skills, communication and tactics that you'd usually leave to an AI. The 3 sports intended for release are Basketball, Tennis, Skiing as well as the Virtual Gymnasium Games. These represent 3 different sporting dynamics but there are other sports in development there will be more team sports and I promise there will be more news on in the coming weeks and months.

On the issue of this to do in game the metabolism being built into the Avatars is far more than simply leveling a set of statistics, it’s designed to help your avatar react like a real athlete. You will get tired during matches so will need to think tactically about they way you play a lot more than other sports games, the way you train and play the game will effect your performance in all sports as they are all connected which also means the Avatar will adjust to your play style over a prolonged period of time. Just as importantly as a skill based game the training will give you an edge but you still need to hit the right button at the right time.

Ideas like tournament structures, in game currency, equipment, coaching, the potential impact of injuries, sponsorship and crafting etc. are ideas we intend to discuss in more depth as we get closer to release. If you have any questions or would like me to go into more depth please just let me know.

Alex (Empire of Sports Community Relations Manager)