Social Space: Sports game makers try mobile, social to capture players

Madden NFL Social
Madden NFL Social

Some of the best-selling video games on consoles have always been the sports games. Led by the Madden series, they're an annual tradition in the gaming industry. Publishers like EA and 2K Games can always rely on hits that inch closer to capturing the rush of the first down attempt at third and nine on the 20 or that final slam dunk for a healthy shot to yearly revenue.

But between other blockbuster game franchises taking a similarly annual approach--say, Call of Duty--and the rise of mobile and social, there's more out there to distract players from the latest baseball or football (both American and European) simulator than ever. (Not to mention the sports themselves.) So, what do these pressured publishers do? Well, if you can't beat them ... join them.

Just in the past few months, we've seen more developers and publishers turn to social and mobile platforms in attempts to enrapture sports fans worldwide. EA and its Tiburon studio have opted to rebuild its mobile and social presence for Madden from the ground up with Madden NFL Social, a comprehensive social game for iOS and Facebook. Linking Facebook and iOS, the game will allow players to always be connected to Madden. In related news, EA even teamed up with budding social network cyPOP to connect fans of its sports games through the network.

The current genre leader for basketball video games, 2K Games, also seems to feel the pressure to be on social and mobile, with a full-blown mobile version of NBA 2K13 on iOS and Android and a Facebook game known as NBA 2K: MyLIFE. The latter has ways of incorporating content from and linking with NBA 2K13 for consoles to keep players connected to the franchise.

MLB Full Deck
MLB Full Deck

Even developers and publishers that aren't necessarily invested in core sports games for consoles want in on the action. GREE recently came out with MLB Full Deck, a mobile social card game that seems to marry concepts from the world of Japanese trading card games with the grit and serious statistics obsession of Major League Baseball. The same goes for a leading trading card company, Topps, with NFL HUDDLE, another game that allows players to train, trade and compete with card representations of NFL players. (It also doubles as an NFL news tracker.)

Given what mobile and social games are capable of--ahem, Words With Friends--publishers and developers would be remiss not to capitalize on the hours sports fans might spend on their 4-inch screens every day. Will any of these approaches work, and with something as ubiquitous as sports, why haven't we seen a Draw Something-like breakout hit yet? Have none of these attempts at mobile and social sports dominance captured the rush of a full count at the bottom of the ninth, or at least the buzz surrounding it? That's for you to decide, sports lover.

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Joe Osborne is associate editor at News. Weekly in Social Space, Joe shares opinions and observations on the intersection of social gaming and traditional games. Follow him on Twitter here.

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