I’m trying to decide how I feel about EA’s announcement of a “Family Play” feature in their upcoming sports games. Wii versions of these games will include an alternative control scheme that only uses the Wii Remote and automates most of the actual movements, leaving the player time to decide when and where to pass or shoot.

On the one hand, it’s good to see EA doing something to counteract the trend towards sports games with unwieldy, complex controls, and maybe make a play experience that isn’t more complicated than the actual sport it’s simulating. Call it the Wii Sports effect. On the other hand, the way that the feature is described makes it sound less like training wheels and more like a completely different game.

It makes me particularly nervous in light of the player postures that I’ve been mulling over lately. The simplified control scheme might be good for people who are playing defensively, and just want to throw the ball to the receiver without having to worry about calling a play action or whatever. The problem is that it cuts off opportunities for the player to discover more advanced tactics and strategies, and prevents them from gaining any greater understanding of the game, so players end up stuck in a defensive posture, with no path that leads to opportunistic or strategic play.

Basically, I’m just dubious when EA says that players will be able to “ease in to Advanced play”; even if they’re able to suddenly grasp all the gameplay concepts that have been hidden from them, they’ll still have a bunch of motor memory from the other control scheme to unlearn. A setup like this isn’t going to smooth out the learning curve so much as cut it off.

Of course, I haven’t actually seen the feature at all yet, so I shouldn’t talk smack about things I know nothing about. Besides, I just spent an hour playing Miniclip Baseball, so clearly I’m at least somewhat receptive to the idea of a radically simplified sports game.

[Update: Another article, with screenshots.]