Why AFL Video Games Are Constantly Dropping The Ball

When you think of sports games, the immediate titles that likely spring to mind are FIFA, NBA 2K, and to a lesser extent, Madden and NHL. In the modern gaming landscape these are a given; mainstay titles for sports played globally that make a lot of money each year. But when we take away the ‘video games’ aspect, comparisons appear – cricket, rugby league and AFL come into the fold; and while the former two have had decent success, Australia’s  While these titles are totally understandable in the modern gaming landscape, you can’t help but wonder where a particular sport sits; one that is a cornerstone of Australian culture, and has been a part of our nation for at least a hundred years.

That’s right, folks. Australian Rules football, or AFL as it is now blanketed under, has had ups and downs within gaming throughout the years, but has never managed to produce a solid title or experience. In twenty-five years of gaming history, there have been approximately 18 (give or take titles due to branding and actual content) AFL titles playable over various mediums – console, PC, handheld, and even mobile. But unlike the mainstays in FIFA and NBA, AFL has never truly hit the mark with gaming – earlier titles captured the spirit of the game, but as consoles and technology advanced, the games tried to do too much, resulting in chaotic gameplay and intense development that ultimately left a disappointing taste in consumers’ mouths.afl1

So considering the size of the sport and the passion of fans all across Australia, why do AFL games continue to flounder in gaming markets? There are multiple answers to this, with each one not providing any sense of hope for the future of our great game in a digital medium.

The first, and most relevant issue, is the idea of globalisation. Look at games such as FIFA and NBA, and the sports they represent. Loved by people across the globe, these sports are easy to market, and their related games are easily distributed and guaranteed sales in the same places. AFL, while being a massive sport in Australia, just does not have the same kind of pull internationally – which unfortunately hurts the chances of a large developer or publisher picking up the rights for distribution. Where FIFA and NBA draw scores of sports fanatics into game stores, AFL becomes a niche sport, known only by ex-pats or very diverse sports fans, both of which are in short supply internationally. A lack of education about AFL in this case is what hinders sales, and ultimately loses money on an investment into AFL game development.afl2

The second issue is the sport itself. Soccer and basketball are relatively easy to translate into video games because they have remained relatively unchanged sports for a long time. Rule tweaks are few and far between for these sports; and even if they do occur, tweaking the source engine for a game wouldn’t be too difficult to incorporate changes. Team plans and player movements are also relatively easy to code – presses and loose players are part of the sports and easy to develop. AFL on the other hand has a lot of complexities about it – rule tweaks are consistently being introduced, meaning that if a game were to be released every year, it would likely be drastically different to the previous year. Tactics, team AI and even umpiring would be time-consuming to code for, and remaining faithful to the game would lead to omission or changes that would have to benefit the way the game plays. Unlike AFL itself 20 years ago, modern AFL does not see players staying in the one position – something very difficult to impose in a video game.afl3

This wouldn’t be a game able to be developed by an indie studio; massive amounts of effort would be required, and return on profit would be minimal around the world compared to the Australian market. Long story short, a modern and visually attractive AFL game is unlikely to happen unless a company like EA Sports or even 2K Games would be willing to take the IP and take a risk.

So where does that leave us, the gamers? The ones who desperately want a game true to our nation’s great sport? I put it to you if you get the chance, to go back and play the NES game Aussie Rules Footy; It’s archaic and ridiculously simplistic, but after a while the game becomes fun. With the love for 8-bit and retro styling in indie games, I would like to see an updated version of this game hit consoles and supported by the AFL – not only as a revamp of a classic game, but an expression of interest – use it as a launching pad to get people across the world interested, and then look at bringing a full-scale AFL game to consoles. The more interest in a game, the higher the profitability, and the closer we get to seeing AFL take its place back on Australian consoles.