Monopoly in sports video games causes unease in the player base

October 31, 2020 — by Atrey Desai

As sophomore Anirudh Iyer sat on his bed watching the official reveal trailer for FIFA 21 this summer, he felt the same emotions that rose every year: disappointment and frustration. The developers at  EA only added minor gameplay changes and adjusted team rosters to reflect changes made in the last year, yet priced the standard edition at $60.

The staleness of video games based on popular professional sports has led to similar disappointment among fans for the last few years. 

Sports leagues have partnered with select gaming publishers like EA and Take-Two Interactive to produce an electronic version of their respective sports, such as FIFA and 2K for soccer and basketball respectively, reducing competition in the industry to the point where almost all developers only refresh rosters and add minor changes.

In the past, there were many soccer games that fans could choose from. The two most popular at the time were EA’s FIFA franchise and Konami’s eFootball PES. As fans looked to which had the latest and greatest features, the publishers were forced to innovate and introduce better features.

When the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) gave an exclusive deal to EA to develop games under their name in 1993, competition shriveled up, leaving fans with only one option as other development of other games was severely limited since they couldn’t use player or team names.

“I buy FIFA because my team, Manchester United, is licensed there, not because the gameplay is great nor because the online modes are fun,” Iyer said.

He has been frustrated with the lackluster gameplay options that have largely remained the same since he started playing the FIFA franchise in 2010. This season, Iyer stopped playing the game, although he has received certain games through a partnership between his parent’s work and EA.

Iyer also said he dislikes the introduction of microtransactions, which are small amounts of money that users pay, often only $1 to $5, that give advantages to level up existing characters or buy new ones. Developers often code hurdles into the game itself, hoping that frustrated gamers buy microtransactions, rather than spending hours playing the game to obtain something. Publishers earn billions via microtransactions, with EA making $2.835 billion from microtransactions in 2019 alone.

These cash grabs have not gone unnoticed in the gaming community. Many are angry at developers, with one petition to boycott the game’s microtransactions garnering 40,000 signatures, and hope to pressure developers into investing time and resources into newer games. 

Iyer said that he wished the developers of FIFA would focus on fixing the “increasing game-breaking glitches and bugs,” rather than finding new ways to monetize the game.

Sophomore Vinay Gollamundi has been a long-time fan of the 2K series, which is plagued by similar issues, and increasingly feels that the games are no longer worth their price.

Instead, Gollamudi has found a new way to enjoy the game while not paying for it. 

“Libraries are a great alternative to play games for free for a couple of weeks,” he said. Once the library purchases the game, Gollamudi can check out the disc for a few weeks, allowing him to play the game without paying for it.

While this provides a temporary solution to the problem both Iyer and Gollamundi said they hope that the larger problem of monopolies destroying innovation will be addressed in the future. 

“Nobody should be expected to pay $60 for a few changes in the code and some flashy new marketing posters,” Gollamundi said.