15 February 2011

Sport design

[This article follows an email discussion with Ian Schreiber.]

Sports and video games share a lot. Although video games have implemented new sports, they are usually copies of real-life sports (Madden NFL, FIFA) or variants with more violent creatures or rules (Mutant League Football, Blood Bowl). Even fighting games come from fighting sports - Street Fighter is nothing more than mixed martial arts with fireballs and teleportation. However, video games such as DDR or exergaming (Wii Fit) get really close to actual sports. Several new sports make use of computers (ARGs), some use the geography (Big Urban Games) and some use both (geocaching, Four Square.

Yet there are currently many more board game and video game designers than sport designers. Possible reasons:

  • New sports take time to spread and be widely adopted. Rugby was presumably invented by Web Ellis in 1823 (as a variant from normal football), but it took around a century to become popular.
  • Sport rules get modified over time to fit people's needs and likes, or to improve players' safety or game balance. Hence, a sport might have been designed and redesigned by many people, and not a single designer.
  • There are more constraints in sport design than game design. To spread, a sport has to be fun to play AND fun to watch (that's why ball games have only one ball: it's easier for the audience to focus on it). It also has to be easily played at home or on the street in the neighborhood (like soccer but unlike ice hockey) and it has to be safe for people.
  • There might not be a strong demand for new sports.

Video games do not suffer from the problems mentioned above (they are at home, they have marketing backup, and people want ot play computer games). Yet game designers do not try to incorporate new sports in their games. Do they simply not think about it? I think there is a lot for video games to gain from sports, especially since many games have very competitive player segments (WoW world firsts, Korean Starcraft league, Street Fighter IV world tournaments, ...).

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