On Facebook, anyone can virtually raise pets, run theme parks, own restaurants, plow farms, head up a gang, and, well, if you think of it -- there's probably a game for it. However, there is one huge game genre that Facebook game developers seem to have difficulty tackling -- sports.
We've seen merely a handful of sports game pop up on the social network, and they've mostly shown us the vast potential for games on Facebook. The three biggest sports games currently on the platform haven't exactly enthralled the masses, leaving the playing field wide open for EA/Playfish and ESPN/Playdom, which have both announced they're planning to fill in the gap with FIFA Superstars and a other brand-name sports games.
We take a closer look at a few of the bigger sports games on Facebook: Gridiron Life, Bola and MMA Pro Fighter. See how they stack up after the jump >
Soccer game, Bola (which means 'ball' in Spanish), seems to have put in a great deal of effort into creating a legitimate sports game. It is one of the few games that lets players actually play, rather than the simply clicking and watching.
Despite Bola's flaws, the Facebook soccer game is still relatively popular with roughly 2.5 million players, according to AppData, though it doesn't seem to be attracting many new players. Bola's so-so gameplay and sizeable audience is a testimony to the untapped potential of sports games.
Play Bola on Facebook now >
GridIron Live Football
After Zynga killed its pigskin game, Football, GridIron Live Football remins the sole American football game on Facebook. The game shines in many of the places Bola comes up short, but also has its own problems.
Like Bola, GridIron Live Football features a team-management system. Players can buy coaches, plays, playbooks, players and more in the marketplace, to prep their team for victory. There is a fair mix of paid and free content, which would satisfy those reluctant to dish out real-life cash for virtual items. However, while Bola relied a great deal on buying upgrades, GridIron incorporates a Mafia Wars-style energy system to train players.
GridIron Live Football matches are the most interesting part of this game. Every play, whether on offense or defense, players must open their playbooks and select a formation to run. This in-game mechanic prevents the game from becoming a predictable battle of numbers and statistics. There is an element of careful playmaking and luck makes for a much more interesting coaching experience.
Play Gridiron Life on Facebook
MMA Pro Fighter
Some might debate whether mixed martial arts is even a sport, we've included it because unless we count poker, there are no other promising Facebook sports games currently on our radar.
This fighting game is essentially a retooled version of Mafia Wars. Players drain energy to improve stats, invest in upgrades, and battle against passive players. We've seen countless iterations of this formula: Vampire Wars, Sorority Life, Hero World, Mobsters 2: Vendetta, among other. Quite frankly, we're tired of this formula and judging by the roughly 1.2 million monthly users, everyone other than the niche fan base seem to be as well.
Like other games that use the same basic framework, MMA Pro Fighter doesn't allow any active interaction during a fight. Players can go head to head against friends and strangers, but never in real time. All player interactions are through clumsy Facebook posts. Essentially the entire game boils down to what we call a 'click and watch' experience. The only option during a fight is to skip the fight entirely, an option we're happy to take.
Click here to play
Will sports games ever come to Facebook?
Yes, but 'when' is the question. Playfish COO Sebastien de Halleux says translating sports games to Facebook is a logical challenge. Which explains why social events like the FIFA World Cup, which attracts 2 billion viewers, or the Superbowl, haven't been translated into enjoyable player experiences. Between the upcoming ESPN games and FIFA Superstars, we can only hope they begin to fill the massive hole in Facebook's sports game lineup.
What do you think? Is there a dearth of good sports games on Facebook?