What’s Even The Point Of Sports Game Reviews?

I’ve spent the past few days immersed in Madden NFL 24, just like millions of other players. With early access and trial versions available, it’s safe to say that a large number of people have already experienced the game. Unfortunately, as I’m currently reviewing Madden NFL 24 for GameSpot, I’m under embargo and can’t share my thoughts just yet.

This situation may seem strange, but in the world of sports gaming, it’s quite common. Sports games have a unique position in the industry – they consistently dominate sales charts, even though their reviews are often mixed or negative. These games have become review-proof, as fans of football, soccer, baseball, and basketball eagerly purchase the latest installment in their favorite series, regardless of critical opinions.

Madden NFL, in particular, has faced declining review scores for over a decade. Critics frequently agree that the series fails to deliver enough significant changes each year. But none of this seems to matter. Madden NFL 24 will undoubtedly be one of the year’s best-selling games, alongside Call of Duty and EA FC (formerly known as FIFA), thanks to its exclusive NFL simulation.

So, what’s the point of my review, or any other review that will be published in the coming weeks? By the time these reviews are available to the public, countless players have already invested hours into the game. The publisher understands this reality, which is why reviews have become less relevant for sports games. The season is already underway, fans want to simulate the action they see on TV, and any changes or improvements in the game are seen as a bonus.

Madden NFL is a sales juggernaut, regardless of whether it receives good, no, or even bad reviews. The unique position of sports games is further highlighted by the inclusion of pay-to-win modes in major franchises like EA’s Ultimate Team, NBA 2K’s MyTeam, and MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty. These modes generate significant revenue through microtransactions, and they have become an integral part of sports games.

The video game industry saw a significant shift after the controversy surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2, which featured pay-to-win mechanics. This led to changes in the game’s economy and progression systems before its official release, as well as similar adjustments in other games. However, the sports gaming community, despite its popularity, is often detached from the wider gaming community. Without strong demands for change from fans, there is little pressure on publishers to address pay-to-win problems.

Sports games never experienced the economic revolution seen in other genres, and as a result, they still resemble the mobile gaming world. These games rely heavily on purchase screens and artificial progress blockers, aiming to entice players to spend money to bypass waiting times.

As I prepare to review Madden NFL 24, I find myself questioning the audience I’m writing for. In a modern sports gaming world, who really cares about a review? However, reviews extend beyond mere buying recommendations. They provide insight into the direction of the genre and industry, helping us understand the sport and its broader cultural impact. A sports game review should not only assess its value for consumers but also evaluate its achievements and aspirations.