When most people review sports games, much of the focus seems to be on controls, graphics, value, sound, etc. (and rightfully so). There is one aspect – which can be included under “sound”- that deserves more attention than it gets: in-game soundtracks.
Sure, the soundtrack to any game is important. In sports games, the in-game soundtrack plays an especially pivotal role in creating that ideal fan “environment” that us armchair quarterbacks desire. For the most part, today’s sport games do a fantastic job in aligning certain genres of music with different sport franchises. Madden typically features “hip-hop” and “alternative rock” artists. Fifa has a more eclectic, techno-fueled collection of artists. The NBA Live and 2K series each respectively feature a more urban collection of artists from the rap genre. All of these games match the in-game soundtrack with the energy of the sport, which in-turn helps enhance the fan experience of and interaction with the game itself
EA Trax really got the ball rolling in 2001, when EA recognized the potential in featuring up-and-coming artists in games. By being featured in such games, music artists have the opportunity to get exposure in a medium outside of traditional music promotional vehicles (radio, concert circuits, television). While radio and television might be crowded with competition, artists featured in the EA Trax program and other in-game soundtracks can reach millions of listeners and further extend their own brands by aligning with those in the sports video game industry. Cross-promotion FTW!
Today, consumers also have the opportunity to include their own music selections through custom in-game soundtracks. While I am extremely excited to have the entire Boston Red Sox lineup come up to bat to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in MLB 09: The Show, I still prefer having the publisher of a game provide a collection of artists for me to listen to while playing. I guess as a marketing guy, I enjoy seeing what artists are chosen to help represent each franchise’s brand. As a music fan, I am also interested in being exposed to artists I might not be otherwise.
So to wrap things up, here is a list of my top 3 in-game soundtracks in sports video games:
3. Madden 2004
Notable standouts: Bubba Sparxxx -“Back in the Mud”, Outkast – “Church”, Yellowcard – “Way Away”
Okay, so I’m no music critic. And Bubba Sparxxx is not one of my favorite artists. But this song just worked on what was an excellent overall mix of hip-hop, alternative, and do i dare say, “emo”artists. Yea, I love me some hip-hop, but I am also sensitive.
2. NBA 2K9
Notable Standouts: The Cool Kids – “2K Pennies”, Beastie Boys – “Root Down”, N.E.R.D. – “Spaz”
Yeah it’s very contemporary and perhaps I should have gone “old school” and cite the awesome NBA JAM TE midi-inspired soundtrack. 2K9 features a collection of artists new and old here, a soundtrack I now use when warming up for my own pick-up basketball games. And you got to love The Cool Kids title track.
1. SSX 3
Notable Standouts: Thrice – “Stare at The Sun”, N.E.R.D. – “Rock Star (Nevins Club Blaster Edit)”, Fatboy Slim – “Don’t Let The Man Get You Down”
What??? As a huge Fifa fan, you might wonder how I could put together a top 3 without including any Fifa soundtrack. The fact is, I have never enjoyed listening to a licensed song in a game as much as I have since playing SSX3 a few years back. Shredding down a hill listening to Thrice’s “Stare at the Sun” made me actually feel like I was an awesome snowboarder. I’m not. But thanks to EA Big (R.I.P), I was able to pretend!
Honorable Mentions: Every Fifa Soundtrack. Honestly, overall Fifa is probably the most consistent in putting together a great range of artists to match the sport of soccer (or “football” as us footies like to call it). Even before EA Trax was started up, I loved opening the ’98 World Cup Edition to Blur’s “Song 2”. Wooooo-hoooo!
That’s all for now folks. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this article, spread the word.