Sports video games present programmers with a unique task in that they have to create a compelling game engine to simulate an environment where the rules are already established. Shooters, action titles, and fighters allow programmers limitless options but the developers of sports games have the obstacle of working within the constraints of an established rule system. Developing great video game sports franchises can be even more cumbersome since the development team and programmers are tasked with creating bells and whistles that add to the gameplay experience while also working toward developing more realistic approximations of the sport each and every year. The very best video game sports franchises are those that not only update rosters and rules, but become an event in themselves, an event that is nearly as ubiquitous as the sport itself. The greatest sports gaming franchises are those that became more than the sum of their installments.
5) Cool Boarders
While Cool Boarders doesn’t have as long of a lineage as the rest of the titles on this list of the best video game sports franchises, the significance of the franchise to snowboarding games and to the PlayStation console cannot be overstated. At the time of the original Cool Boarders release in 1996, snowboarding games were largely just a novelty. The great game engine and multiple gameplay modes established Cool Boarders as the best snowboarding video game on the home market and helped Sony capture the Gen-X market it so wanted for its PlayStation console. With each subsequent Cool Boarders release, Sony further ingratiated itself into the “alt” image that it relied on to sell its PlayStation system as the “cool” console.
4) Tiger Woods PGA Tour
Electronic Arts released a version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour every year from 1998 through 2013. While other golfers have given their name to golf video games, no franchise endured as long as this partnership between the world’s best golfer and the top developer of sports video games. Tiger Woods PGA Tour excelled at capturing the nuances of the golf game while also still offering compelling console gaming, a delicate balance to strike. The game was consistently a top-seller, showing Electronic Arts’ commitment to excellence in the golf video game market.
3) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
When Activision unleashed the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for the Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 in 1999, they revolutionized the world of skateboarding video games. While football, baseball, and basketball games have somewhat established control blueprints, skateboarding perplexed most video game programmers until this game’s release. The complex interplay between boarder and board and the difficulties of making an intuitive control scheme and game engine had meant, that for years, any attempt at a skate boarding video game was generally laughable. Activision’s successful skateboarding formula led to over a dozen different Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game releases for nearly every console available, creating one of the best video game sports franchises of all-time.
2) FIFA Soccer
Electronic Arts’ FIFA Soccer started off as a capable but not compelling soccer video game on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles in the early ’90s. The 3DO release was a game changer that utilized the system’s processing power to show off intriguing camera angles, but once FIFA Soccer graced the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, it became clear that EA was holding yet another one of the best video game sports franchises of all-time. With the release of the Sony PS2 and Xbox consoles, Electronic Arts’ soccer game grew into a full movement. The franchise has been noted for its brilliant year-to-year improvements and innovation. Soccer inherently makes for addicting gaming due to its fast-paced gameplay and the constant action, but EA built upon the game of soccer, creating a franchise that has sold over 100 million copies.
1) Madden NFL Football
John Madden Football was originally launched for DOS in 1988. Think about that for a minute. Not long after, Electronic Arts brought the game over to the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Madden has become far more than just a football video game, and even more than the best video game sports franchise ever. Madden has become an institution and a cultural icon. Every year, the release of Madden is anxiously awaited by hardcore sports fans and casual gamers. Madden is the best video game sports franchise of all-time because it has become as ubiquitous as football itself. Electronic Arts has sold over 100 million copies of Madden NFL Football, generating over $4 billion in revenue for the video game company.
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