Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The sad story of Ashes Cricket 2013

Opinion by Matt S.

Our American readers might want to tune out right now, but for our UK and Australian readers, perk up because here's a tale of woe for you, and it's all about a little cricket game and a delay that probably killed any real chance it had to rate on the charts.

As many of you would be aware the biggest event on the cricket calendar is well under way. The Ashes cricket contest has been an ongoing competition between two of the world's biggest cricketing nations - Australia and the UK - since 1882. It's an event that involves five matches, with each match lasting five days.

(That's right, Americans, over here we play sports for days, not a measly few hours).

It's an event that people from around the world keep ridiculous hours to watch. For instance, to watch the Ashes from Sydney this year requires a midnight and later marathon for five days straight because the competition is taking place in England. The English do the same when the competition has its turn down in Australia. Why am I writing all this? To create the picture for the non-fans of the sport and those Americans that are still reading past my little light ribbing above that The Ashes is like Wimbledon, the Tour De France or the Olympics - people care about this competition. Even people that don't typically follow the sport day in and day out.

With that in mind it's time to point out the second little fact before we get on to the story of woe; cricket is not a global sport. In fact, in the video game industry, the two major markets for games both couldn't care less about cricket. The Americans and Japanese are both terrible at cricket (though believe it or not it is a growing sport in Japan), and this creates some problems when it comes to making a cricket game. A developer that is making a game about cricket will be hoping that the more marginal game markets like Australia, India, the UK and South Africa buy enough copies to justify a modest budget. Cricket games are therefore hamstrung by small budgets. They will never look or play as well as a FIFA or PES game, because they're made for a market about a tenth as large.

That's not to say that there aren't fun cricket games; in fact since Aussie developer, Trickstar, picked up the rights to make some cricket games they've been a lot of fun. What I am saying here is that the odds are stacked against a cricket game being a runaway success, and so the release of a cricket game needs to be timed well to take advantage of its limited appeal.


Now, the upcoming Ashes Cricket 2013 was all set to be a minor hit. The stars had aligned. The game was due for release right in time for the first Ashes match, and that just happened to be at a time where the games industry is in a rare lull for AAA-grade releases, so there was a chance for it to get some prominence on the retailer's shelf. That time was a couple of days ago.

If the game had have released then it would have released at literally the perfect time. The first Ashes match was a media darling in both Australia and the UK. It was an intense match that was won by England with the thinnest of margins. It was a match in which a young 19-year old Australian cricketer (Ashton Agar) became a hero in both Australia and England by, in his first-ever international match, scoring 98 runs when it was his turn to bat. 98 runs is nearly what is called a "century" in cricket talk - a 100-run score that, for our American readers, is like hitting multiple home run with loaded bases in a single baseball match, or scoring a 40-point game in basketball, or getting a hat-trick in Ice Hockey. What made this feat even more impressive was that it was a world record because Agar is a bowler. So to again compare to baseball, it's like the pitcher hitting multiple home runs with loaded bases.

So for a brief moment cricket was a front-page sport on newspapers in both Australia and the UK. What better time to have a sparkling-new cricket game on the shelves in games shops?

Except Ashes Cricket 2013 wasn't on the shelves. It's still not on the shelves. If this report form MCV India is to be believed, it won't be on the shelves for a couple of weeks yet. So, instead of releasing when it was meant to to capitalise on a lull in big game releases and the attention of the entire cricket-playing world on the sport, Ashes Cricket 2013 is going to release in a month where big releases will start rolling in again, and fatigue from the real sport starts to set in and people are less interested in rushing out and buying a video game version of the sport.

This is like releasing an Olympics game a month after the Olympics are finished, or a Ice Hockey game in the middle of summer. Much like a movie licensed game, a sports game needs to be timed for release to coincide with the peak of interest in the event (a new season of the sport, the release of the movie), otherwise it kinda misses the point. Look at the cycling games; those games are also of marginal interest to gamers, but the best chance that those games have of being successful is to release at the same time as the Tour De France.

I don't know what happened with the development process that led to the extended delay for the game's release. Surely it had to be pretty major, because frankly this delay is a hair's breadth away from commercial suicide. What was an opportunity to make enough of a return from the games investment to justify a bigger production for a future cricket game is going to instead be a game release that will only appeal to the hardcore cricket fans in the marginal game markets. Ashes Cricket 2013 is going to be much less of a success than it should have been, and that's a real pity because I would have loved nothing more than to see a Cricket game punch above its weight in the market.

- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
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