We are underway in the NCAA Tournament, kicking off tonight with the first round play-in games coming and going and the real fun is about to begin. What better way to celebrate the kick off of the greatest basketball of the year than to figure out why we haven’t had a way, as gamers, to pay homage to the hardwood classic. We, up until the 2011 season, had a yearly release from Electronic Arts, and up until 2008 had a competitor in a 2K series as well. Unfortunately, after releasing NCAA Basketball 10, EA decided to shut down the only college offering at that point that existed. While it hasn’t seem to upset the market too much, the question still remains, why after three years have we still seen no offering by anyone in the college game. Still with a huge focus on the NBA game, EA and 2K, the main competitors in the sports world, still have not stepped up to the plate and brought anything to the table. It’s a wide open market and with no competition it would seem that someone would want to jump all over the chance to have a piece of the action. Even in a day an age where companies pay millions of dollars for exclusive licenses, a market that remains untouched still can not seem to generate interest, but again, why?
When Electronic Arts decided to pull the plug on the NCAA Basketball series, they sited that they did so because their was no market appeal for the game anymore. Even with it being the only one on the table, the game still struggled to find sales and even more struggled for both critical and consumer appeal. The biggest problem is the maker of the game, Electronic Arts has had a pro game on the table for the last couple of years and has been forced to pull it off the table because of dissatisfaction with the offering being put forth. The developer has struggled across the board with multiple offerings, in all sports, and over the last three years has not had a Metacritic score above an 82; other than the NHL series which year in and year out is one of the best, if not the best, sports simulation offered. When digging in deeper and looking specifically at the basketball offerings on the NBA front and NCAA front, the NBA’s highest rated game was their last, NBA Live 10 at an average of an 81 on Metacritic between the PS3 and Xbox 360. NCAA struggled even worse considering their last two offerings got a 75 or lower on the Metacritic scale. Point of the matter, EA just can’t make a successful basketball series in any shape or form.
Switching gears and looking into the NCAA 2K series, the results are much more head-scratching than that of the EA offering as the reviews for the games were rather favorable especially in its last offering which gained at the very least an 8 out or 10 by many major out lets. There is no doubt that the NBA series by 2K is much more important to the health of the company as they have been the king of the virtual hardwood for many years, but why a company can not have two successful offerings, especially when they could go hand-in-hand doesn’t make much sense. While the game wasn’t quite what we have as of now, it was still a solid basketball simulation that offered the chance to play something different with the college passion and pageantry that separates the college game from the pros. If anyone can reinvigorate the college game it is 2K, and with the expertise they have gained in making the NBA series, translating it to the college game could make for something special.
Maybe more than anything it is simply the game itself. March Madness is one of the most popular times of year in all of sports, but the regular season is really built for the true fans. The regular season has very little in terms of stake as a team can even win the conference title and jump 2-3 seeds in the big tournament, and a team can also be horrid all season long and make a run, and poof their in the Big Dance. There is nothing better than a Cinderella story but aside from playing for a higher seed in your conference tournament, what is truly the point of the regular season itself? In college football, the bowl games and post season play are all predicated on how you do in the regular season, and while the better you do in basketball can cement yourself into the tournament; even if you don’t the door isn’t simply slammed in your face. You always have a way in with a conference tournament, which every conference has. The sad truth is translating that to a video game can be challenging as making people care about it is tough enough in the real world, let along the virtual one.
So how can people enjoy a college basketball game if no one buys it? The best approach seems that a company could choose to do a downloadable title at the start of March Madness to celebrate the season and allow people to play through the best part of the year. Why couldn’t 2K rebrand their current NBA game, changing the venues, uniforms and such to give us an NCAA game that allowed us to play through the field as any of the teams that have made the big dance and charge $10 for it? I know as a college basketball fan in general, I want a full fledged game, but if I can’t get that, something is better than nothing. To just waste a time of year that sports peaks at one of it’s highest points, just doesn’t make sense. Someone needs to offer something; it’s there for the taking if one of the developers wants it, and we all know basketball fans/gamers are the ones that want it the most, but without the latter everyone loses in the end.