A while back I mentioned I had been playing a Golf MMORPG called Shot-Online. Since then, I’ve been back for a round here and there and my overall impression of S-O is that it’s an ambitious game that is fun to play and actually has players that are fun to be around. It got me thinking about Sports games as MMORPGs. Or at least MMOGs. Call them what you will, but I’ve seen them mostly referred to as MMOSG (Massively Multiplayer Online Sports Games). I wondered if there were other games out there trying the Massively Multiplayer genre of gaming. I also thought about where this “genre” of games could go. We already have online sports gaming that’s been relatively sucessful but I think there could be more. I don’t think role-players and sports fans are that far removed. They both pore over their players “stats” and play to their strengths while shoring up their weaknesses. The MMO “sphere” is ripe with possibilities.
This is a two-part article. The first part will be what I’ve found while I’ve looked for games that fit the MMOG mold. Part two will be some thoughts I’ve had and where I think this could go.
A Massively Multiplayer Online Sports Game? Why not? Any sport is a competition. Every competition needs at least two people to compete. Then there’s team sports, where many people are competing. Multiplayer, baby!
First, a couple of assumptions. The number of “sports gamers” probably wouldn’t equal the rest of the “gamers” if you were to divide them into two groups but there are a lot of them. There are A LOT of kids out there who own a PS2 for the sole purpose of playing Madden. Sure, those guys play other games like the occasional NBA Live, Tiger Woods, or NCAA game. But these guys can’t be bothered with Ico and Katamari Damacy. There’s Super Bowls to be won! They love their sports teams and they love their sports games.
You could probably break sports gamers into two groups, as well. You’d have the “casual” sports gamer who’s played thousands of Madden games but barely touched the “Superstar Mode” or the Dynasty Mode. The same could be said for the other sports. They like to play the game and can’t be sidetracked with things like drafts and trading. These guys would also be more inclined to play psuedo-sports games like NFL/NBA Street, Hot Shots Golf, etc. The other group of sports gamers are hard core. These are the players that have spreadsheets of statistics plotting the stats of the last ten simulated seasons to see if the video game stats are tracking actual real-life stats. These guys play rotisserie baseball, holding drafts in hotel conference rooms. I’m not saying either side is better than the other. But both expect certain things from their sports games. Some expect fluid animations and knock-out graphics. Others want reasonable simulation results and bases on balls. MMOSGs can accomodate both groups of players. I’ve looked at what’s out there right now and offerings that are on-deck (it’s gonna be hard to resist the sports cliches. There’s so many of them!) and then offer some thoughts about where things can go in Part II.
I start with baseball because there is actually a MMO game in beta. Netamin (partnered with ESPN) are working on Ultimate Baseball Online. I have a copy of the beta on my computer but I just haven’t had a chance to install it. UBO offers everything you’d expect from a baseball game, only with other real players. You can read more about UBO here
There is also another baseball offering called “Small Ball” which is a little more “Fantasy Baseball” oriented, but it allows you to create and train your team and then play other teams. From their website:
SmallBall gives you your own team. You train your players and decide what positions they play. Then, when you’re ready, you challenge other teams. You are the coach, manager, and owner…
The strategy of SmallBall is deep. Your players grow and evolve. Over time you get to know each of them, their strengths and weaknesses. As you observe their abilities you will determine how to train them.
This is another game I haven’t tried yet but hope to soon. This type of game has more of a “Fantasy Sports” tilt to it than an actual video game.
Let’s get this out of the way first. I lived in Spain for two years. I know what fútbol is. Barça was my team until Figo left for the enemy. But I play football. Not American football, just football. We might not put our foot to the ball as often as they do in fútbol but this is our sport. Soccer will fall under a different category. Unfortunately, there isn’t much going on out there in the way of a MMO football game. There’s Unreal Football, which “is an online multiplayer browser-based turn-based football strategy game where users assume the role of head coach and compete against each other in virtual football leagues.” Not really what our casual gamers would look for.
I think football has the most potential. Call it the Madden effect. People love to play video game football. Hopefully we’ll see some MMO football in the future.
Of course Shot-Online is currently the reigning champion of the MMOSG world. Based in Korea, the game is a basic golf game with MMOG options like forming groups to golf, buying and trading new equipment, chatting, and tournaments. The game is pleasing on the eyes and ears (the soundtrack is smooth). Since it is a Korean game, it comes complete with absolutely atrocious English translations. I would offer my translation services free to simply translate their abuse of the golfing vernacular.
The community I’ve interacted within S-O has been pleasant. That’s something I’ve noticed about non-FPS online games – most gamers are actually cool, not 14 year-old potty mouths. This is important because playing with others is important. Why? S-O is an RPG-style golf game, so sinking birdie putts earn you experience points. One interesting thing S-O has done with the community is to reward grouping – the more golfers you play with the more XP you earn. And level differences don’t matter. If you’re a level 10 golfer with a +20 handicap you can still group with a level 45 ringer who sports a -5 handicap. When he birdies a hole you also get XP. You are getting rewarded for his good play. I think that is a great way to not only foster a healthy community but weed out the morons. Shot-Online may not be Tiger Woods Online but it does online golf (an online golf RPG) very well.
I consider football, golf, and baseball to be the heavies (in that order) for sports video gaming. For completeness, however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other sports that have large followings as well.
Soccer, of course, is much bigger across the globe than it is here in the States. We play it and enjoy it but not with the passion they do across the pond. I was surprised that there isn’t a lot of MMO soccer gaming going on. There is a “fantasy” soccer offering called Hattrick but I just don’t think these will cut it for the majority of sports gamers. It looks like it has promise but it’s appeal has to be pretty limited.
I see a lot of possibilities for basketball. Right now all I could find is a game called Charazy Basketball Manager which again falls into the “fantasy” management genre. Basketball is untapped. Think virtual dunk competitions, a la NBA Jams. “Is it the shoes?”
There is actually a hockey offering at kiekko.tk, a Finnish website offering online Hockey action. I’ve read that it’s actually not all that bad. Hockey’s never been my thing. I haven’t played a hockey game since Blades of Steel.
While I argue that racing is, in fact, not a sport, others would vehemently argue to the contrary. Who am I to argue with hundreds of thousands of NASCAR Fans? In the MMO realm, Auto Assault has been heralded as the first MMOG that features automobiles as the focal point. While the game includes racing, I don’t think AA would fall under the sport category.
However, if we turn our attention to our Korean gaming brethren again, we’d see that racing fits very nicely into the MMOSG realm. Kart Rider (use IE for this link, it is hosed in Opera) is a simple kart racing game on the surface but is actually becoming quite a cultural phenomenon in Korea. It also appears to be an unabashed Mario Kart rip-off, but whatever. What is amazing about this free MMOG is that people are actually being sponsored by companies to plaster logos all over their Karts. Sorta like that racing thing we were talking about, our friend NASCAR. Sponsoring a gamer to ride his virtual go kart around a virtual track with your virtual logo displayed prominently? Amazing. (That reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg quote: “Man, you must really like Tide”)
So that wraps up my review of the current state of MMO Sports Games. I titled this post “MMORPG Sports” because I envision most MMO games have RPG elements, but that’s not necessarily always going to be the case. I think we’ll see a little bit RPG and a lot of action and fun. If they can make standing in the outfield fun. And that’s what we’ll talk about in Part II, if it’s actually possible to make this fun. I think it is, but we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m going to give UBO some playtime and go play another round of golf in S-O.
Stay tuned for Part II!