The Greatest Sports Video Game Franchises
Just a few generations ago, sports were a way to blow off some steam and celebrate pride in your home town. The only money you could spend was on the ticket that would get you entry to a stadium and perhaps a snack or two while inside.
Things have changed in the last few decades though. The commercialization of the biggest sports in the world has seen huge investment from sponsors and television networks, with companies looking to get their brands in front of millions.
Today, you can buy merchandise to show your support for your favorite team, pay for streaming subscriptions, enter fantasy leagues, and go online to find the best NFL betting odds before making a wager.
Another way you can spend money is on video games relating to your favorite sport, team, or athlete. Official and unofficial games have been released pretty much since consoles and PCs have been sold, with early titles including Atari Soccer and NBA All-Star Challenge.
Over time, some of these games have become huge franchises, receiving annual releases and selling millions of copies each time. Some have even helped to promote their respective sports outside of their home markets in addition to being a huge source of revenue.
Here are some of the greatest sports video game franchises of all time.
FIFA Football / Soccer
Depending on where you are in the world, the game will either be known as FIFA Football or FIFA Soccer, though it’s almost always just referred to as “FIFA”.
It is the officially licensed association football video game, released each year by EA Sports with updates to the team rosters and other details. The first release in the series: FIFA International Soccer went on sale in December 1993 for nine different consoles and computer systems, including the Sega Genesis, SNES, Commodore Amiga, Nintendo Game Boy, and MS-DOS.
Unlike most versions of the game today, which focus mostly on club football, FIFA International Soccer used national football teams. Besides being officially licensed, the game set itself apart from others like Sensible Soccer or Kick Off by using an “isometric” viewpoint, which is similar to what you will find in the most recent releases.
After its success, the FIFA series has enjoyed uninterrupted annual releases ever since, with a number of spin-off titles like FIFA Street, FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, and FIFA Manager.
Over its 27-year history, FIFA Football has been released on 41 different platforms, including big-name consoles like the PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch and mobile platforms like Android and iOS.
Madden is an even older franchise, having seen its first release as John Madden Football back in June 1988. Like FIFA Football, the Madden NFL series is published by EA Sports on an annual basis.
These releases have taken place since John Madden Football ‘92, which went on sale for the Sega Genesis back in 1991. However, before that, John Madden Football and John Madden Football II were released for MS-DOS in 1988 and 1991 respectively.
These Madden games were ahead of their time in many respects, featuring customizable elements like weather conditions, injuries, and player fatigue. It didn’t feature actual NFL teams or players as EA didn’t have licensing deals at the time. However, players could easily create their own teams and enter real player and team names.
John Madden himself appeared on the box art for the game until the 2003 release of Madden NFL 2004. His name continues to be associated with the best-selling American football game though, despite retiring from commentating in 2008.
Besides helping to create interest in the mostly-American sport around the world, the Madden franchise has helped to teach many to better understand how the technical elements of the game work.
The F1 video game series has been released by the British video game publishing company Codemasters since 2009. It took over after a two-year hiatus when Sony Computer Entertainment Europe lost its license to create officially-licensed games in 2007. Sony had been producing F1 games since 1996 when it released “Formula 1” for PlayStation and Microsoft Windows.
While Sony had made advancements over its decade of creating F1 games, Codemasters took it to a whole new level.
Its games focus much more on simulation, offering far more customizations to the cars and providing a more realistic approach to a Grand Prix weekend. In each annual release, the games have been updated to include new features like press interviews, career mode, and voice chat with the driver’s engineer.
More recent releases have also featured classic Formula 1 cars, such as those driven by Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, and Ayrton Senna. Since 2019, the game’s career mode has also featured the Formula 2 Championship, adding a new element that makes progression more realistic.
The franchise is such a success because it focuses on realism. Most Formula 1 fans love the technical detail that makes the cars fast, so a simple arcade game would not appeal to most. Codemasters has recognized this and delivered something that fans are excited to play.
With Codemasters having been recently purchased by EA, NBA 2K is the only sports video game franchise on this list that isn’t connected to the company.
The NBA 2K series also sees annual releases, but unlike FIFA and Madden, it only began back in 1999 when Sega Sports launched NBA 2K. Since 2005, the games have been published by 2K Sports, a division of Take-Two Interactive.
Since the first release, NBA 2K has featured the teams and players in the National Basketball Association. Since NBA 2K20, which went on sale in 2019, the franchise has also featured teams from the WNBA and EuroLeague, making it a truly international and inclusive game.
NBA 2K also pioneered “career mode”, something that is now commonplace in almost all sports simulation games. It has also featured a management mode for most of its history, something that is typically sold as a separate game in other sports.
For example, FIFA Manager and F1 Manager are both management games created by EA Sports, both of which received separate releases.
These are not the only pioneering features the NBA 2K franchise has included. For instance, in 2010, NBA 2K11 saw the Jordan Challenge mode. The following year, NBA 2K12 included NBA’s Greatest mode which included historic players like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Julius Erving. Both of these added connections to the league’s past, something that many fans enjoy and other franchises have replicated.