What Does It Mean When A Sports Game Is ‘Realistic’?

What Does It Mean When A Sports Game Is ‘Realistic’?

I was just thinking last night about sports video games and their actual purpose, what is the end goal? EA had just announced that Eden Hazard would be on the cover of FIFA 15 in the UK. “[I]t’s the most realistic football game I have seen,” he had said via a press release. But what does that mean for a sports game, to be ‘realistic’?

I used to think it meant simulating the experience of being a talented athlete, being able to replicate what the best players in the world do every time they step out on the pitch/field/rink/ring/whatever. I think I was mistaken. More and more I’m starting to realise that sports games are really about mimicking sport as a spectator experience made interactive. In short: sports games are more about mimicking the act of watching sport on television than mimicking the sport itself.

Think about it: the camera angles, the instant replays — controlling a player from a bird’s eye view (or a camera-style view) bears very little resemblance to the act of playing sports in real life. It looks, feels and plays more like a television broadcast made interactive. Certain details of the sport are replicated accurately — the movement of the ball, the way the sport is played — but that’s done in the name of accurately representing a sport being represented in a televisual sense, it’s not about making the game feel ‘real’, it’s about making us feel like we’re watching and impacting a game in progress.

Nowhere is this represented more accurately than in the new NBA 2K15 trailer.

This is a trailer that actually begins in a television studio. I mean how obvious does the connection have to be? It just hammered home to me how intertwined the two are: sports games and their representation on TV. As technology improves we’re seeing more of the sport, from different angles. As an experience watching sport is more interactive than ever. Sports games have borrowed from this, they’ve borrowed presentation aspects, but TV has also borrowed from games in return. It’s a weird back and forth process that continues to this day.

NBA 2K15’s trailer, like a live, televised sporting event, begins and ends in the studio. Sort of like sports games themselves I suppose.


  • Im waiting for the UFC game in the light of undisputed 3 with all the training simulators and doing press conferences and just doing what you do inside the ring as well as outside the ring, if they nail that then to me its realistic

    • The interesting thing about all of those kind of external elements is that people want them in the game, but they’re generally not really interested in playing them.

      I remember years ago when I was working at THQ hearing about all of the modes they had to put in the WWE games. They game’s telemetry systems reported back how often different modes were actually played, and for the vast majority of the time people just wanted to quickly get into a ring and punch each other.

      People expected the extra modes, though, and the fans would explode all over the Internet if something was removed between iterations, or if it lacked polish. So you end up with a team spread thin, working on features that they know will almost never be used, all to maintain the fan’s expectations of a sim experience.

      • I remember the GM mode in one of the Smackdown V Raw games, I loved it but sucked at it, I miss those choose your own adventure storylines as well instead of the current follow a superstars road to wrestlemania they currently do

  • I think you nailed it Marky mark, totally agreed.

    I like minor touches like camera angles and replays but when it gets to interviews uggggggh BORING… I’m always a big fan of core core core gameplay, if you nail that then your game is solid imo. So all this fluff… meh (but I see why they do it).

    Also, according to this ideology the latest UFC game sucks because apparently punching someone 500 times only takes out 15% of their health 🙂

    *Yes I’m being a jerk
    ** Yes I want the next UFC game to be better

  • well, it’s a game that’s primarily about the NBA, so the closer to the experience of that it can get, the better. Whatever you think of basketball, you can’t deny that’s one slick lookin’ trailer.

    As an aside: why use that song if you’re going to then censor the shit out of it?

    • Other than for the swearing, drug or violence stuff…the biggest reason to censor is because of the rating the game will go for (which in the USA will be E and here in AUS will be G)…if they left it all in then the rating will have to change (I can remember in NBA 2K13 the Puff Daddy and the Family song Victory sound so crap because it was censored to all hell)

      At least the PC version will be the next-gen version – can’t wait for the mods to come out

      • no no, that’s not what i mean – what i’m getting at, is what is the point of using that song at all if you’re only going to censor the hell out of it, surely there’s plenty of other “psych-up” songs with G-rated lyrics, rather than grab a song that’s about 20 years old

        • I get what you’re saying. There is plenty of songs that are G-rated or have a slight censor to it

          But then again this year the soundtrack was selected Pharrell Williams…so you can’t blame 2K for this one

  • I’m not fussed about the presentation. I usually skip the replays and intros of matches. For me though, realism in sports these days means a reduction in the amount of fun to be had. Sure you can plug in hours and hours trying to get every trick down and then call yourself a master, but when it comes down to wanting to just have a bit of fun with your mates and matches end up crap because you passed the ball too hard in the wrong direction because you didn’t press the right stick in the right direction for long enough…call me old fashioned but I had much more fun playing FIFA/Pro Evo when it was more of an arcade game

  • The way i have looked at the term realistic is that the game looks realistic and it doesn’t have dodgy looking crowds or player and ball movement. The look to me in game is what matters most all the other stuff is just added and more often than not i skip through it.

  • I managed to catch some tool live streaming Fifa 15 last night. It wasn’t the best quality on my connection, but the graphics alone are looking more realistic than ever (as to be expected.)

  • Remembered reading something about the commentary on sports games a while back and found what it was. Owen Good at Polygon wrote about how playing games without commentary makes it better, one par related to your point:

    “Broadcast features in sports titles indulge a childhood fantasy much older than video games: imagining yourself as a superstar in a key moment, and how the broadcaster would enshrine your performance. Is that realistic, though? In the 1988 World Series, When Kirk Gibson hammered a backdoor slider from Dennis Eckersley into the glow of the brakelights beyond Dodger Stadium’s right field stands, he didn’t hear Vin Scully on NBC expounding upon the feat.”

    Couldn’t tell you what the hell he’s talking about with the MLB reference but for people who watch sport at home apart from maybe a dozen home games of AFL/NRL/A-League a year, realism is watching a broadcast more than watching just the game itself. We remember things like Huddo’s THIRTEEN, THIRTEEEEEEN more than Buddy’s actual 13 goals, and if the new FIFA is genuinely realistic, the commentators will make a big deal about your 40-yard volley or hat-trick to win a 3-2 thriller.

    Edit: Oh, and for the NBA – it makes sense that it’s like a TV show. The majority of fans don’t watch as many games as they’d like, because they can only watch what’s on TV. So when they see Blake Griffin dunk over someone, you know they’re going to replay it for the rest of the night and then it’ll be on SportsCenter. What’s the point of 2K allowing you to posterise somebody if you’re forced to go into the instant replay yourself? Show me how awesome that move was, and show me again at half-time and again at the end of the game.

  • Can you leap the fence and punch the ref because your son was tripped and nobody else saw it but you?


      Granted, the latter title doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but most hardcore gamers just know it for the shorted acronym, OYFPWTFDYTYATTMSLTDYKTODHWBAPFFIFA15

      • The best part of this comment is that FIFA 15 was the goal for the child, not “playing soccer professionally”

        It’s almost like Homer writing to movies instead of movie stars (“Dear Die Hard, You rock. Especially when that guy was on the roof. PS: Do you know Mad Max?”) which is an instant upvote in my books.

  • Well, this has always been the end goal of sports games I thought. Replicating what fans love to watch while adding in control of the action.

    Even back with the original NHL games they had an emphasis on Ron Barr introducing you to the game and the main menu was set around the broadcast booth and announcers.

    It’s getting to the next level now and I love it! I’ve always loved that aspect of sports games.

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