Sports and video games have been intrinsically tied together since the
very first Pong
arcade machine found its way into pubs and taverns across the United
States. From table tennis to football to basketball to baseball,
millions of gamers in almost every generation have played some version
of sports on their computers or consoles. I can remember the first time
I got to play href=""
target="_blank">TECMO Super Bowl on the Nintendo
Entertainment System at my friend's house (I never owned an NES) and
not having any idea what plays I should run. All I knew was that
handing it to Bo Jackson was the BEST way to win. So that's what I did.
From there I graduated to Joe
Montana's Sports Talk Football
and style="font-style: italic;">Pat Riley Basketball,
and I've been playing sports games ever since.

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Madden '09's
32-man league  didn't live up to its online potential.

But since the inception of online gaming, the sports gaming marketplace
has really only explored the web-based space in a very limited
direction. Rather than dabbling in more experimental online gaming
options - allowing for full football teams with 11 online players on a
side or leagues that allow players to create their own rookies to
compete against rivals for the title of top basketball forward or guard
- the online selections are still relatively limited. Even the latest
32-man leagues in Madden
feel tacked on and really don't live up to the
potential of the online space.

So with millions and millions of sports games sold over the decades,
why hasn't there been a concerted effort by the major sports publishers
to move the sporting arena into the MMO space? What's holding them back
from diving into the market and finding a new home for millions of
sports fans? Which features will a sports-based MMO need to succeed in
the North American market? Over the next few months I'll do my best to
try to explain why I think the video game giants haven't touched online
sports and the features one of these sports-based MMOs would need to
truly succeed.

As always, my In the
articles are by no means a blueprint for making a
sports MMO, but I do think that there are some fundamental ideals that
developers should strive for when combining the MMO with online sports.
My first article about sports-based MMOs is going to focus on the
concept of having persistent characters in a sports-based MMO world,
and what a developer should look at when they approach this sort of
game. I'll explore ideas like character advancement and what to do with
our real life "heroes", so make sure you keep reading!

It's All About Character

Perhaps the largest obstacle in the entire concept of creating a sports
MMO is this question: Who do we let players be? In games like style="font-style: italic;"> href="" target="_blank">World
of Warcraft, target="_blank">Age of Conan
and target="_blank">Warhammer
players take on the roles of heroes of the realm. Their avatars are the
individuals who can fight off the undead monsters, slice the heads off
of dragons, and cast spells that would make a nuclear bomb look tame.
But in a sports MMO, who are you?

Unfortunately, we already have sports heroes in our real world. Players
like Alex Rodriguez, Lebron James, Brett Favre and Sidney Crosby are
the reasons why gamers pick up the latest and greatest in sports
gaming. We enjoy playing as our favorite sports teams, and it would be
hard for developers to find a way to integrate our legends into the
game while still allowing players to feel like they're playing a
massive game.

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Real world
heroes already exist in sports.

But I don't think having the latest sports stars on their roster would
really be a boon for the sports MMO developers. While athletes have ups
and downs in their season (which could be adjusted via patches if you
wanted to include them), the lifespan of an MMO can last for years,
even decades. Grabbing the iconic team names and logos should be an
absolute must, but having the actual players isn't a necessity. It
would probably be in the developers best interest to focus on the
players and allowing them to have their own created characters would do
just that.

Most gamers love making their individualized characters. They want to
have that avatar that portrays their stylized vision of themselves.
Character creation, especially in a sports MMO, is a must. Most sports
game players know how to adjust their stats, and if a player doesn't,
allow them to choose a character "class" based on their sport that
adjusts their stats for them and then run them through some drills to
settle those stats into the gamers play style. This would have to be a
deep system, an incredible amount of customization to height, weight,
and facial features.

Advancement in a massively multiplayer online game is also a necessity.
In a sports game, you would essentially want a "skill-based" system,
although you wouldn't want to call it "skill-based." Instead, players
should have a list of statistics that they can improve through
training, practice and game time situations.  Most sports
games use some sort of skill or stat based numbers to give games an
idea of how good a player is at something. These statistic advancements
should be reasonable and fluctuate to a certain degree, but gamers
should never feel like their player is being penalized for not catching
more passes in a game. Instead, players could be given beneficial stat
increases for doing well in a game, but most of the statistic leveling
should be based on training and practicing.

After all, everyone knows the old saying" "Practice makes perfect."

Drawing Up the Plays

As I stated earlier in the article, developers shouldn't necessarily
have any current players from a sports league in their MMO. Instead,
they should pretend that the current players on those sports teams
don't even exist. While you could still use the logos and branding
associated with our favorite teams and include "veteran" made-up NPCs
to initially fill out the major teams, the developers should really
allow the players to populate each team rather than making the teams
pre-populated at a fixed roster size. Make the players the stars of the
Green Bay Packers or the Detroit Red Wings and they'll love you

Another option for developers would be to have players start out like
you might in a fantasy MMO. Rather than immediately jumping to the
pros, have players begin their careers on their local high school
sports team. Your characters stats would adjust depending on your
performance in games and in "off the field" activities (which I'll get
to later). To help players get over the feeling of being just a "low
man on the totem pole" players should be the best of the best on their
"high school" teams. Like any tutorial, this gives developers a chance
to go over how to play the game with the players and could even
introduce things like player housing and "off the field" activities in
this early stage of the game. An option to "graduate early" should be
available in this section, with a finite number of skill points awarded
to players that want to skip this phase. Of course, this option should
only be available to those players that have already gone on to play
college ball.

Eventually, when a gamer earns enough skill points or plays enough
games, they should then graduate onto the college level. Like high
school, this could be more of the same sort of tutorial options, but
the idea is that in this phase of the game, players should be more
skilled and the games more intense. On top of that, more "off the
field" activities should become available, and the idea of being
"drafted to the pros" should become a very real and very tangible point
on their radar. Again, after a certain point, players should become
eligible to "go pro" and enter into their leagues draft system.

The professional level is obviously the beginning of the end game for
players. The stats should continue to fluctuate, but in this stage of
the game the in-game skill takes major precedence. Instead, the
competition for gamers should be over things like ad endorsements or
Super Bowl rings or Stanley Cup playoff appearances. Leaderboards and
ranking systems would be a major draw for players, and people that can
achieve in-game "records" will become the individuals that others look
up to.

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You too can
engage in "off the field" activities!

Taking It Off the Field

Finally, players and their avatars will need to have something to do
when they're not scoring hat tricks or pitching no-hitters. In these
sports worlds, there should be ample opportunities for players to enjoy
the lifestyle of star athletes for better or for worse. There should be
some sort of system within the game that allows players to earn cold
hard cash, and if the gamer goes out of his way to make himself
available at all the social scenes, he should have the opportunity to
earn higher contracts with the team that he is playing for. Players
that are in the public spotlight often draw more attention to a team,
making them earn more money for their team with "featured TV games" or
via a sort of publicity endorsement.

Once that player has money, they can then spend it on hiring extra help
for training, buying a new car (which could be drivable!), a new house,
or going out on the town to earn even more publicity for himself.
Player-owned housing would be a necessity for this game along with
plenty of ways to furnish that house. The developer should give gamers
plenty of reasons to earn more money for themselves and their teams.
Developers looking to make a little bit of extra cash could even work
out ways to have in-game Nike, Adidas, or Reebok advertisements, but
allow pictures of the player avatars to be displayed on those in-game

Do you think I left out anything? Or are my ideas spot on? href="mailto:[email protected]">Drop me an email
or send some love on the Ten Ton Hammer forums!

In two weeks, I'm going to explore the notion of "teams" in the MMO
sports world, and how players could have the opportunity to influence
(or even own and operate) their own sports teams. On top of that, make
sure you check back in to In
the Trenches
next week to see my review of style="font-style: italic;">Pox Nora, the
latest game to be acquired by SOE. Until then, make sure your laces are
tight and your guns cocked, because you're style="font-style: italic;">In the Trenches.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016