After witnessing yet another incredible NCAA tournament, one in which my alma mater, the Louisville Cardinals, took home the trophy, I've realized the resurrection of an NCAA basketball video game is long overdue. There are a number of quality articles and blogs discussing the history of these games and why we no longer have them.
To summarize, EA released NCAA Basketball '10 in 2009, which is the most recent collegiate basketball title you'll find (Baltimore Sun). Unfortunately, the games never sold all that well and both EA and 2K eventually decided to cancel them altogether. Just last year, 2K Sports even shut down the servers for College Hoops 2K8, which still had a significant number of users and an online community that constantly tweaked rosters to match their real-life counterparts (Kotaku). Publishers were also forced into strict NCAA licensing agreements, which are not only expensive, but also limit what can go into the game.
|Yep...I'm a proud alum.|
So why should companies bring back a genre where they struggle to make money? First off, I fully believe the flaw is in the product, not the consumer. The 2013 NCAA Tournament scored its highest ratings in 19 years. The title game between Louisville and Michigan was up 2.5 million compared to 2012 (nydailynews).
Maybe college fans just aren't into video games? Wrong. EA's NCAA Football '12 set a franchise record with 700,000 copies sold during its first two weeks on store shelves (USA Today). From these numbers, we can conclude America has a significant interest college basketball and that college games have no problem selling when marketed properly and designed with quality. Therefore, the question isn't why. The question is how to make the games better.
1.) Gameplay- As with any video game, gameplay should be right at the top of the list. To be honest, none of the past NCAA basketball games were all that great. I would argue 2K came closest with their final entry. The game ran well, but paled in comparison to the vastly superior NBA 2K series.
2.) Atmosphere- Aside from a solid game that runs well, atmosphere is the single most important thing for a college basketball game. Since 1998, EA Tiburon has frequently strived to improve this in their football games. A college basketball game would do the same. When you watch a basketball game, there are certain moments when fans known to cheer. A made basket when you're down 30 shouldn't really warrant the same type of crowd reaction as when you hit a 3-ball to take 1 point lead. The home crowd needs to let the ref know when there's a bad call. Rupp Arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Allen Fieldhouse need to be absolutely deafening. Fans need to jeer at opposing players attempting game tying free throws.
|Has any college basketball game even come close?|
3.) March Madness- This could almost be included alongside atmosphere, but any NCAA basketball game must have an incredible March Madness experience. Most of the games are competitive with a number being decided on last second shots (see Trey Burke against Kansas). There's heartbreak and defeat. Cinderella stories go on incredible runs (George Mason). Players (Luke Hancock) and coaches (Brad Stevens) become household names during March Madness. Oh and One Shining Moment MUST play at the conclusion of every NCAA tournament.
4.) Robust Online Features- Unfortunately due to a number of NCAA regulations, it's illegal for video games to use a student athlete's name, and understandably so. Let's face the truth; it really isn't all that fun to play as "Guard #23" instead of your team's favorite player. In recent years, that's all changed thanks to the internet and the ability to customize players. Users can upload roster files after naming all the players on their favorite team. Those files can then be downloaded for use during an offline season. Any quality NCAA basketball game would need to support a number of these features.
This list could certainly be longer than what I've listed here; however, nailing these four items would lay the groundwork for an incredible college basketball experience. It's a shame that one of our nation's greatest sports isn't captured in a video game. Nearly 3 1/2 years have passed without an NCAA basketball title; it's time to pull a Michael Jordan and come out of retirement.