AFL video games and why they’ve always sucked
It’s been a long wait, but footy fans finally have a decent AFL video game. It’s not great, but it’s a massive step in the right direction for a sport that has struggled in the transition to gaming.
But why have developers failed to make a good AFL game over the years? There is no shortage of talented developers in Australia, particularly in the country’s development homeland of Victoria. So then why is AFL so poorly misrepresented in the industry?
Footy is an inaccessible sport - It’s easy for someone from Australia (or Victoria) to say that Australian Rules Football is an easy sport to understand and play, but the fact is that many of the sport’s rules are far too open to interpretation for an outsider to quickly grasp what’s happening. This has led to the AFL tweaking rules over the past couple of years (the hands-in-the-back rule, for example). When it comes to the development of a footy game, implementing a consistent free-kick system would have to factor in relevant interpretations, which is easier said than done.
Unique skill level - Once you factor in the rules of footy, you also have to consider each rule and skill that a player implements. How do they mark the ball? How do they kick the ball? How do they handpass? Who do they handpass to? Games like soccer and basketball can be approached differently in the development cycle, as they are sports that rely on very direct ball distribution, alas with a round ball. The rules and methods of ball distribution in footy are really like no other sport in the world, and coming up with a physics engine that accurately represents the progression of a match is no easy task.
Lack of scope - You might think the Collingwood Magpies are the Manchester United of Australian sport, but the bigger picture is that they appeal to a minority of gamers. Yes, any AFL game would appeal only to footy fans, but in order to make a great game you need a great engine, and great engines cost money. If the scope is small, the investment is small and therefore, the game is small. Until footy is a global sport, or until Australian games development becomes a major and respected industry in the country, we won’t see anything special in terms of AFL games.
Limited publisher support - AFL games have in the past been developed and published by EA Sports. However, the development teams were incredibly small and the budget was terribly insufficient. There are plenty of major publishers that have a presence in Australia, but only smaller Australian publishers are prepared to finance and manage the development of a game that only appeals to gamers in a few states. Factor in the fact that any AFL game would probably only sell well in the southern and western states, meaning publishers probably wouldn’t be keen to support and distribute a game that, let’s be honest, not that many people care about.
Limited league support - The way in which the AFL deals with media and other third-party interests is quite poor. Journalists are only allowed to question one player from every team post-match (and the team must select this player), whilst licensing for any prospective AFL products is expensive, despite the fact the league fails to acknowledge interest in a particular market (Tasmania says hello!). In comparison, the NBA in America provided 2K Sports with a number of well-known athletes for marketing purposes, whilst an Australian publisher like Tru Blu would have limited to no access to AFL players. The only time player access would be granted would be for face and body scanning. Beyond that, publishers and developers are on their own.
The main issue with development of an AFL game is the transition from real-life to a virtual reality, where outcomes are determined by a complex string of coding. We love this great game so much because of the unpredictability of a bouncing ball and the progression of match. It's just a shame that it's these very elements that compromise the development process.
By Gaetano Prestia
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