Mature-rated games are not a big deal in the industry. It seems like at least three M-rated games come out every half hour (two more will probably be out by the time you read this). However, if a high profile, best-selling sports franchise was suddenly going M-rated - that would probably stand out a bit.
Even though the game's rating is technically still pending by the ESRB, Fight Night Champion is already being touted as the first of its kind to get the mature sticker - as a recent EA press release stated:
"As the first-ever ‘M’ rated EA SPORTS title, Fight Night Champion showcases the truest graphical representation of the sport, lifestyle, and culture of boxing with authentic and dynamic blood, realistic body damage and deformation, and mature content throughout. Experience the violence and brutality that is true to the trade."
There are certainly a couple interesting facets to examine here: Where will the mature content be coming from? Obviously designers can get more graphic and detailed with the physical damage done to the fighters, but even though boxing can certainly get bloody, it’s hard to imagine them going far enough to warrant an M-rating - without it looking ridiculous and over the top.
However, the ambiguous inclusion of boxing “lifestyle and culture” is worth a second look. What exactly does that mean?
Could this mean players will get an expanded story-career mode? Snippets of the game's trailer seem to indicate this. If so, does this potentially imply that something within the boxing lifestyle isn’t suited for players under the age of seventeen? It is in the same paragraph that promotes the M-rating, after all. It would be a shame to see the focus shift away from quality boxing so that a Def Jam, another EA property, meets Fight Night storyline can be shoehorned in - to give the game more mainstream appeal.
The other main question to ask is simply: Why? It’s odd that the rating is still pending, yet EA already knows that it’s getting the mature stamp, or is at least intentionally going for one. Was this indeed a conscious decision on the part of the developers? If so, again, why? Is this just a marketing gimmick to try and breathe new life into the series by jumping on the “grittier and more realistic” bandwagon that developers are so in love with these days? How does the new rating make Fight Night Champion a better boxing game? Why intentionally limit the sales potential in an already niche genre?
As a fan of the franchise, any additional realism is of course welcome. Let’s just hope that the spotlight for Fight Night Champion remains on being a great boxing simulator that honors “the sweet science” and not on going out of its way to deliver an M-rated experience. That said, if the game manages to tell a compelling story in the career mode, one that doesn’t rely on clichÃ© or negative stereotypes, that would be a great as well.
Do the pugilist Ranters out there think this is a good or bad move for the franchise? What do you think EA’s intentions are by making sure we’re all well aware that the game is going mature?
We'll have the answers to these questions when Fight Night Champion knocks out the PS3 and Xbox 360 on March 1, 2011.