If you’re a regular Kickstarter user, you might have forgotten that sports video games are a thing. You know, those athletic events that usually involve balls and sticks? Big, sweaty, burly men and women smashing into each other and pretending like it’s not homo-erotic? Those are called sports, and occasionally, video games are made about them.
You might have forgotten about these games because Kickstarter and Indiegogo are a barren wasteland when it comes to the genre. I talked about this lack of sporting games in our latest video which you can see below, but I only focused on realistic sports games. For this article, let’s instead look at the more over-the-top, crazy games like Mutant League Football and Ninja Baseball.
Speaking of which, we’ll start with the most well-known of these sports games, Mutant League Football. Nostalgia Alert! This is a sequel/remake to the classic Sega Genesis game of the same name. A cult classic to this day, Mutant League Football is an American Football game all about hideous monsters, and I’m not talking about the New England Patriots. Let’s be honest, most of the people who wouldn’t get that joke quit reading long ago.
Developer Michael Mendheim isn’t afraid to let you know this is a remake of the original. Every screenshot and gameplay video is of the original Genesis classic. There are ads, toys, clips from a TV show and reviews of the original game on offer. What’s not on the Kickstarter page though is any gameplay of the current version of MLF. What an unfortunate acronym.
Despite being advertised on major gaming sites, the Kickstarter failed spectacularly. It reached only $141,821 of its $750,000 goal. The reason for this failure is obvious. It relied far too much on nostalgia and the developers obviously had nothing of the new game ready to show. It wouldn’t be surprising if they hadn’t even start development beyond concept art and a few vague ideas.
To the developers credit, they’ve continued development and have recently shown off gameplay. Back in February they released footage that purports to predict who would win Super Bowl 50 (which, being a Panthers fan, I’m not happy with having to relive that again.) If it were to return to Kickstarter – which it might – it would stand a much better chance.
Not far down the metaphorical street is Galactic Gridiron, another American Football game about aliens. It’s hard to tell this is a football game since the pitch video is all story and background. Eventually developer Robert Lamm realized his mistake and released gameplay footage, but a sports game that saw players passing the pigskin in the middle of major cities didn’t capture backers attentions.
American Football isn’t the only sport Kickstarter developers have tried their hand at, but it’s by far the most popular. Surprising, consider the sport is almost non-exist outside the US. In contrast to baseball which has a much wider audience, there are only nine campaigns, and most of those are management simulators.
The only “crazy” baseball game on Kickstarter is Ninja Baseball. It follows the same vein as Galactic Football with a pitch video not showing any gameplay and an incredibly awkward man playing with action figures. If that didn’t inflate your balls, then why not watch the even more awkward cooking video? Why is there a cooking video on a videogame campaign about ninja’s and baseball? Because it’s c-c-c-c-c-razy! that’s why.
It’s a cute concept and would probably make a decent game. Unfortunately you need more than an idea to find success on Kickstarter. In the meantime, try tracking down Ninja Baseball Batman, you’ll thank me later.
If you think there aren’t many baseball games, wait until you see how poorly our friends in the Great White North favorite past-time is being treated. There are a measly five hockey related games. One is a field hockey game, three are management sim games, and one is a puzzle game using hockey more as decoration than anything else.
That would be Ice Bomber by Elena Bradbury. Your goal is to score a… goal by hitting switches scattered throughout the rink to remove fences around the nets. You’ll have to deal with other players as well as a zamboni constantly trying to clean the ice in the middle of a game. Unlike Galactic Football and Ninja Baseball, Bradbury bothered to show gameplay in his pitch video, even if it was early prototype footage. It didn’t do any good however, earning only $116 towards his $2,000 goal.
One of only two successful basketball games is BasketWars, which has as much to do with basketball as a geriatric white guy who thinks golf is the gentleman’s game.
There’s a war going on, and the only way to win is by throwing a basketball with a face into a hoop in the middle of the battlefield. Shoot the ball, standing as far away from the hoop as possible for some reason, and hope it dodges missiles and machine gun fire on its way to glory. Credit where credit’s due, JABB Interactive put a lot of effort into trying to explain all this.
“In our alternate (and crazy) history, the Axis forces have set up power stations at each major battle site that look oddly like basketball hoops.
“The Allies have found that disabling these stations render the enemy forces’ defenses useless and allow the Allied forces to inch closer and closer to victory. The catch is they can only be disabled by interrupting the power flow of the station’s net, which causes a power surge and blows up anything nearby. Thus, the Allies came together to create fearless fighting basketballs that will brave certain death and launch themselves (literally) into the war effort in order to take down these key strategic outposts.”
Party Golf is the only golf game to succeed on Kickstarter, and one of only six in total. As far as the sport of golf goes, Party Golf isn’t interested in keeping things authentic. A quick glance will sooner conjure up images of Worms than the world’s most boring sport.
Much like BasketWars, Party Golf uses its chosen sport more as a mask to present its gameplay mechanics than as something to emulate. Playing against one to three people, you have to hit your ball into the hole. The catch is everyone hits their ball at the same time, and you can move your ball after you hit it to collect power ups and score extra points.
These kinds of silly games that use sports as a starting point instead of the final destination have so much more room to work with. They can attract most gamers because they can do whatever they want. It comes down to creativity, and filling a desire people may or may not have. Madden, MLB The Show, Tiger Woods PGA Tour and the like have the realistic sports market covered. But games like Ice Bomber and Ninja Baseball – for better or worse – can only be found on the indie scene.
This level of creative freedom also overcomes two big obstacles when it comes to make a realistic sports game. Making a realistic sports game means making it realistic. It has to have decent physics for the ball and the player movements, it has to have big arenas full of thousands of people, and it has to compete with the mainstream AAA games. Those are no easy tasks for indie developers, especially ones working with a limited Kickstarter budget.
A developer making a more light-hearted, non-traditional sports game can do something as simple as colorful shapes and blocks representing players, or throw aliens with laser weapons into the stadium. Graphics can be as ugly as a PS1 game, and weird physics can be accredit to low gravity, or by using a square shaped ball.
While a skilled developer might be able to deliver on those fronts, or find clever alternatives, the one thing they can’t get around is the use of professional licenses. Professional sports leagues won’t allow someone on Kickstarter or Indiegogo to use their teams, it’s just not going to happen, especially the NFL which has an exclusive contract with EA. It might not sound like a big deal, but as a sports fan, I can tell you that means everything. We want to play as real athletes on real teams, not some made up phonies.
That’s something the creators of Galactic Gridiron don’t have to worry about. In a game like that, it’s not about the realism or the players – it’s about seeing aliens playing American football in the streets. In that regard, they have as much freedom as they can possibly want.
Chaining your campaign to a simulation on Kickstarter is practically a death sentence before you even begin. There are other factors that we go over in our video so I won’t go over all of them here. This is only a brief look at a genre that doesn’t seem to get much respect on Kickstarter, which is a real shame. Anyone hoping for a competitor to Madden shouldn’t expect crowdfunding to produce their savior, not anytime soon at least.