Thursday, August 6, 2009

Penalty Shot: ...It's In The Game (Unless It Plays In Anaheim)

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Daniel's been rather forgetful with our posting schedule (to the point that I'm thinking of making amends with my old editors, Step 9 style). But rather than be his Deadline Den Mother, I thought I'd ease the pressure on the boy and alternate between a full post and a Penalty Shot post for the rest of the offseason. Here we go:

In May, Anaheim's Corey Perry visited the EA Sports studios to record some motion capture for NHL 10 (ensuring this year's game will feature a toe-drag mode). At the time, Perry seemed a likely candidate for the game's cover, as this year's iteration of EA's hockey series will feature more physical play and after-the-whistle-play, and Perry was the only player to score 72 points, serve a four-game suspension and get speared in the delicates by Rob Blake in his 2008-09 campaign.

However, a month later, Electronic Arts named Patrick Kane the NHL 10 cover athlete. The young Chicago superstar is not a bad choice by any stretch of the imagination, but it makes you wonder if Anaheim fans missed their chance to see a Duck on the US/Canada cover-- Selanne graced the cover of the Finnish editions of NHL 07 and 08 --of a hockey game.

Now, you may think that this as a minor issue, unrelated to actual hockey, but need I remind you that your own beloved Earl Sleek was drawn to the game of hockey by a video game? Oh, yes, it's true. Imagine the next Earl Sleek perusing the aisle of his local Orange County video game vendor. He sees Corey Perry on the cover of NHL 10, and he thinks, "Hmm, a Duck. Maybe I'll buy that game. After all, last year's game won 10 Sports Game of The Year Awards according to EA's yellow journalistic marketing department." The boy takes the game home, and through the first-person fighting, physical intimidation and chippy after-the-whistle play, he finds a brand of hockey eerily similar to the one played down the street on Katella. He becomes a lifelong fan whose razor sharp wit and lucky green shirt benefit the Ducks organization for years to come.

Only . . . Corey Perry won't be on the cover. Patrick Kane will. We just lost the next Earl Sleek. Take a moment to wipe the tears away before you continue reading.

From a marketing standpoint, Patrick Kane is a great choice. The young 'Hawk draws American interest in an Olympic year, something the video game series has recently ignored. In fact, he will be the first American born player to grace the EA NHL cover since John Vanbiesbrouck in 1997. Kane the cover athlete also capitalizes on the success of the 2009 Winter Classic, which drew an 11.8 rating in Chicago, the nation's 3rd largest television market. Then you consider the fact that he's an exciting young player who had a good year and a great playoff run, and you've got this year's "face of the game."

I would have no complaints if EA chose its cover athletes with that sort of sound and measured reasoning. But they don't. They use players from expansion teams, from the sunbelt and from the lower 15 of the First Round Draft Picks (not to mention goalies). But never Ducks. The last two choices, Eric Staal and Dion Phaneuf, seemed to violate conventional cover athlete reasoning, the former a seemingly conscious decision to avoid putting a Duck on the cover after Anaheim won the Cup.

But, maybe, if Kane works out, we can get Bobby Ryan onto the cover of NHL 11. High draft pick? Check. Large television market? Check. American born? Check. Exciting young player? Check. Great second season in the NHL with a deep playoff run? . . .


CLS said...

I remember being particularly shocked by Staal being on the cover ... after his point total dropped from the 100s to the 70s. And his team missed the playoffs. That was really odd.

At least Phaneuf was riding a huge wave of hype. (Remember when he was the next great defenseman in that long ago time of ... last year?)

Corey Perry is nowhere near famous enough to be on the cover of a hockey game, IMO. I'd put Niedermayer or Getzlaf on the cover first.

BTW: where does EA's get the (I think it was actually 12, they say) sports game of the year awards number from? Seems like kind of a nebulous thing, but not in a bad way.

Really, it's the SGofY for just about every hockey fan who plays video games ...

Anaheim Calling said...

You know, I don't think of Perry as not being famous. He's a rather unpopular agitator. Sean Avery didn't get into the cast of The Rocket for nothing, ya know? Plus, Perry can score. I don't think he would normally be cover athlete material, but this is supposed to be a hockey game that emphasizes chippiness.

Generally, though, the Ducks have offered up great candidates over the years: Kariya, Selanne, Giguere, Getzlaf and now maybe Ryan. Any of those could have made the cover when you consider cover boys like Heatley (ATL), Nolan (SJ), Vanbiesbrouck (FLA), Phaneuf and now Kane.

And the next Earl is right about EA's yellow marketing. Tallying Sports Game of the Year awards is specious, especially if you're porting the game over and taking home an award for each platform. That next Earl. So perceptive.

Joe said...

I'm with James, I don't see Perry as being famous enough or good enough to be on the cover. Getzlaf would be a good choice, especially for a game that wants to emphasize chipiness, goal scoring, and taking stupid unnecessary penalties. But not so much Perry.

Well, unless you use one of Rudy's old pics of him...

Earl Sleek said...

Heh, I totally missed this, guys, but valid points.

Though I must confess, I have no idea who was on the cover of NHL 94 -- I was always a rat on somebody else's machine. :) But if I had spending money, I'd totally have looked at the game cover.

And maybe it's all for the best. Who knows? I might have had to kill the next Earl. There can be only one.

Anaheim Calling said...

@Earl. I couldn't think of another way to get people to care about video games. Though there is some serious Ducks hate on EA's part. On NHL 09, I can never get a Duck splash screen to show up on the Load/Save menu.

I think, in '94, Sandstrom had the puck in a Kings/Bruins cover, which makes you wonder how many post-Cup-run Kings fans were drawn to a truly awesome hockey game by the back of Sandstrom's sweater.

And I have to admit that part of my early fascination with hockey stems from Nintendo's Ice Hockey, which itself was just an attempt to capitalize on excitement over Olympic hockey. Video games matter.