All expectations and rumors regarding EA Sports planning to resuscitate the cricket series were put to rest when their vice-president categorically mentioned that cricket was no longer their focus.
Speaking four years back in an interview to Gameplanet, Mr. Andrew Wilson said: “Well, this year we re-launched SSX, we re-launched FIFA Street – two products that we haven’t done for a long time that both came back to critical acclaim with great sales, both featured innovative gameplay on both fronts.
"There’s authentic street football with FIFA Street, and over-the-top arcade-driven gameplay of SSX with unbelievable online innovation in terms of how you play, so right now cricket is not a focus for us, we’re focused on other things, but we’re always evaluating the market and looking for opportunities to bring new experiences to consumers.”
Fans, however, can derive an iota of optimism from the fact that Mr. Wilson while emphasizing on his love for the game also pointed out that they would like to re-visit EA Sports Cricket in a different context depending on the shifting pattern of the market forces.
A brief history of the game
Cricket 96 was the first game in the series having been developed by Melbourne House and published by the EA Sports. The version was however merely an update on the game Super International Cricket released by Super Nintendo in 1994. Cricket 96 was released as Ian Botham's International Cricket 96 in Europe.
Cricket 97 was a marked improvement with better graphics, three-dimensional stadiums and commentary by Richie Benaud and Ian Botham. But there was no great change in the representation of the players and like in the previous versions, the two-dimensional sprites continued to be used.
Cricket Ashes Tour was released with the updated statistics and players just after the 1998-99 Ashes tour and it was by then one of the most realistic cricket games on the market. By 2004, the EA Sports cricket series had been hugely worked upon to improve the gameplay and the graphics.
Designed by HB Studios and published by EA Sports, Cricket 2004 included all the international teams and the domestic teams from Australia and England. The game was released simultaneously for Windows and PlayStation 2. However, IGN adjudged that the game had the worst PlayStation 2 graphics.
Notwithstanding the debate over the quality of the graphics, Cricket 2004 proved to be popular inspiring EA Sports to come out with an improved version the very next year. Cricket 2005 had three different region-based covers and was released for the Windows, PlayStation 2 and Xbox platforms.
Cricket 2007 was the last game released in the EA Sports cricket series. Though some notable additions like new venues, weather conditions and five-day Test matches were introduced, the improvement in the gameplay and the graphics was far from satisfactory. EA Sports also lost the licensing rights for quite a few teams and went with generic player names.
Why the cricket series died a natural death in the end
Cricket 2007 was the last version of the game to be published by EA Sports. With the massive upgradation in graphics, controls, gameplay and simulations that have been introduced in sports-based electronic video games, the EA Sports cricket series now lies defunct, played and cherished by very few people.
A quick comparison between FIFA 08 and FIFA 16, developed by EA Sports, gives us a fair idea of how much sports-based games have improved in the last few years in terms of slick controls and accurate simulations of real-life situations in the game. Compared to that, the Cricket 2007 version now lives on as an unattractive reminder of a bygone past in our gaming history.
One of the main reasons why the cricket series was shelved was because cricket seriously lacks the global reach of a sport like football. The EA Sports cricket series was popular only in England, Australia, and New Zealand but its main market was understandably in South Asia. Rampant piracy from these regions however seriously marred their profit margins and the series never produced the estimated revenues.
As EA Sports ran into a legal deadlock with the BCCI and lost the licensing rights to the Indian players, their problems only got compounded. With a shrinking market and very few people interested in the sport, the cricket series was condemned to die out soon.
It eventually began to cut both ways. Gamers were no longer interested in a game with poor gameplay, unimpressive graphics and silly generic names for the players. EA Sports eventually did not feel it was necessary to develop a series which was already running at a loss.
This interestingly proved to be the fate of most of the cricket-based video games. As football-based video games like EA Sports FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) began to grow by leaps and bounds, the Brian Lara Cricket Series published by Codemasters also suffered a similar fate like the EA Sports cricket series.
Mr. Wilson in his interview hinted at the market forces and the logistical problems that had thrown up insurmountable difficulties in developing the cricket series. “A cricket game really needs the sub-continent to make it viable,” he said. “And there is a series of barriers with respect to the economics, infrastructure, the disparity of mobile devices and services there. At the point that comes together, absolutely we’ll do a cricket game.”
The problems are all too obvious for us to understand. As long as the ICC governed by the Big Three treat cricket like a closed, elite club with no serious policy of expanding the sport, it is unlikely that the interest in cricket will spread to other parts of the globe.
And with no immediate probability of such a global expansion, cricket-based electronic video games do not seem to have much of a future as of now.Published 27 Feb 2016, 11:24 IST