Feature: How after a decade do we still not have a decent Rugby game?

I love the weird and silly culture that you’ll find in Japanese games that most general gamers would never understand or care for, where Platinum Games and Nintendo can do no wrong, but on the other end of the stick I have this huge love for Rugby video games – one of my most beloved sports in the world. So, what on earth is going on in the video games scene? Why do we still not have a rugby game to play that’s worthy of our hard-earned cash for over a decade now? I did some searching and found some answers. Unfortunately, I walked away with a high tackle to the face and, just like Owen Farrell, they’ll walk away without as much as a penalty.

There was a golden era in the mid-2000s that saw EA using their FIFA engine to produce some of the most amazing games. The first game, simply titled ‘Rugby’, was a good entry point to start with and had the camera (in typical American style) situated behind the players. As the years went by they improved the series with 2004 (possibly a step back in this particular case), 2005, 2006 and, most importantly, Rugby 08 being the stand-out moments in the series at the time. They even fixed the camera to the sidelines, as it should be in a game of Rugby. Before that, we also saw Rugby World Cup 95 launching on the SEGA Mega Drive and Jonah Lomu Rugby becoming a revelation for many players on the PS1 and SEGA Saturn. There have been highlights for the sports in the video game market, but that’s not been the trend of late. So, what went wrong?

The developers lost the FIFA engine.

Licencing woes

Unbeknown to many who played Rugby 2011, which I still consider the best of the rest in modern times, featured the logo of the original Rugby 08 developers, HB Studios. The game was still rooted in the style that made Rugby 08 so beloved, but it just couldn’t keep up with standards set in earlier years. They, unfortunately, lost serious ground with the release of Rugby World Cup 2015 in this generation for various reasons. There are two, in particular, that stand out. Firstly it’s obviously apparent that their engine was nowhere near up to scratch to handle the intricacies of Rugby, without the FIFA engine at their fingertips. It’s not an easy sport to convert into a video game without the right tools. Secondly, they had none of the licenses that mattered. No Springboks, no All Blacks, no Wallabies and no England – it was in shambles because the various licences were up for grabs. The guys who developed Rugby Challenge 3, Tru Blu Entertainment, had snapped up those important licences and was being developed in Australia by a bunch of Rugby-crazy developers. Rugby Challenge 3 was by far the better of the two, but the split licences, and the fact that neither had an engine to remotely meet what HB Studios always had with FIFA meant that we had to deal with so-so games and half of the licences missing. Licensing has been a huge megaton mess in the world of Rugby video games post-Rugby ‘08. Imagine for a moment that Rugby World Cup 15 was the perfect Rugby 08 clone, but with Moernaai Spreyn as our Flyhalf in 2015? It’s a case of glass half full or empty.

HB Studios has since departed and started up their own Golf series, which you might now know as The Golf Club 2019 featuring the PGA Tour for 2K Sports and have left Rugby games altogether, sadly. In other words – you’re not ever getting a Rugby 08 game again, as those original developers have moved on to greener putting pastures. Remember the dreadful Rugby 18 last year? Big Ben Interactive moved their Rugby game into the hands of Eko Software. This time it thankfully came with all the various licences, but the engine, as we all know by now, was an insult to rugby lovers. A quick look at their history and it doesn’t bode well for rugby in the video game world. There’s not a single game that leaps out to redeem any sort of quality.

Wipe Rugby ‘08 from your mind. As it stands we are never going to get another rugby game with such deep and impressive production values, unless EA (or Codemasters?) decide to get into the game again. It all comes down to money at the end and Rugby doesn’t even scratch the surface when compared to money-making behemoths like FIFA or Madden. EA has absolutely no reason to show interest in a sport that won’t return good bang for their buck. Unless Eko Software receives a massive injection of funds to get the engine it deserves, we’ll see these sup-par games launching on current generation consoles and PC for eternity or until fans decide they’ve had enough and vote with their wallets by not buying it. Unfortunately, the general player, who doesn’t follow or grasp the scenario, will keep buying their games in the hope that ‘this year it could be the one’. Sorry, my dear Rugby friend, but the heyday of fun and exciting rugby games are over. The red cards are not about to end either.

A ref without a whistle

Unfortunately, at this stage, the folks who worked on Rugby 18 seems to be working on another rugby game, which we assume will tie in with the Rugby World Cup next year. The only bit of evidence we have at this stage that it even exists comes from a Tweet that the Game and Production Director, Jean-Georges Levieux, uploaded in March earlier this year, which you can see below. Whether their engine has seen a significant upgrade remains to be seen. I’m assuming they have held on to the licenses so that we can have a World Cup Rugby game with all the official licensed teams for a change. Rugby World Cup 2015 was just an embarrassment on all fronts.

It seems that Rugby 08 was the perfect storm of fantastic talent meeting the perfect game engine. Once the two separated our sport suffered as result in the digital world. It’s something several developers have tackled since, with Rugby Challenge 3 perhaps being on the right track, but never quite scoring that winning try. Tru Blu has continued working on Don Bradman Cricket and their Rugby League games, so I don’t think they’ll enter the realm of union Rugby games again. If they do they’ll just return to another licensing headache again and I’m not sure they’re in the mood for that uncontested scrum.

In my research, to discover where this rugby game problem lies, I did stumble into an interesting little fact. The best rugby games ever released – Rugby World Cup 95, Jonah Lomu Rugby and Rugby 08 – were all based off world cups that the Springboks won (1995 / 2007). So, the next rugby game best be good, otherwise I’ll ‘Owen Farrell’ Eko Software.

Please Eko Software, prove my findings wrong and surprise us with a great video game and the Boks with the Webb Ellis Trophy. K Thx Bye.

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.

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