With the NHL season down to just one game left, hockey in North America is done until the fall, leaving fans with a void in their life to get their fix of their favorite sport. Over the summer months, many fans will likely turn to video games, or more specifically, a video game, to get their summer hockey.
Hockey video games have been something that a lot of hockey fans grew up playing, or are a way for non-hockey fans to get into the sport by learning about it hands-on, and seeing who the sport’s most famous players are.
This dates back into the 80s with games like Ice Hockey for the Atari 2600, Blades of Steel, Ice Hockey on the original NES, or arguably the greatest hockey video game ever, NHL ’94. Along the way were other classics like the Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey series on N64, and the NHL Hitz series on PS2 and the original XBox.
But over the past 10 years or so, the video game market has been pretty well cornered by one company, EA Sports, who has exclusively made the NHL-branded games for the current systems dating back to 2011.
They’ve only had one serious competitor when it comes to the NHL video game market and that was 2K Sports. To give you an idea of how long it’s been since EA had any real competition in the NHL video game front, 2K Sports last released NHL game came in 2010 via NHL 2K11.
Since then there has been a smattering of other independent games like Franchise Hockey Manager 14 or 2017’s small time game Bush League Hockey.
While having the market to themselves EA has been steadily spreading their popularity across the globe by adding European leagues to the game, I believe NHL 2004 was when they introduced playable seasons for the DEL, Elitserien & SM-Liiga and more recently they added playable ECHL seasons.
There has been rumblings in recent years that fans are becoming frustrated with the staleness of the current product as EA has consistently added and removed so many features over the years with seemingly no regard for their fans because they have no direct competition for people to jump to anymore.
Would hockey video game fans sponsor having 2K Sports come back into the market, but instead of going the NHL route they provide a KHL game, or a more league neutral video game that is more under a global umbrella with a lot of the “smaller” leagues available to play?
Or is there an independent game maker out there who could do something similar to the recent Bush Hockey League game, but maybe make it based around SPHL and FPHL teams? And would there be enough interest from fans outside those leagues for it to sell?
With next years NHL game likely being a cookie cutter replica of NHL 19 that came out to little or no fanfare is it time buyers stop buying until we get the game we deserve?
I for one will not be buying their next game. I think I’ll stick to my Nintendo and Blades of Steel.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are an XBox One owner and have a Gold membership, NHL 19 is currently FREE to download and own throughout the month of June. So even if you don’t think the game is that great or don’t want to pay for it, there’s a way to get you hockey video game fix at the best possible price.