Press "Enter" to skip to content

Tennis Gaming in 2020

Why is there a lack of tennis video games? Which are the problems, which are the solutions?

If I ask to think at tennis games, what pops up to the average gamer and tennis enthusiast will probably be Virtua Tennis or Top Spin, which are known to be incredible video games as well as the best reproduction of the tennis feelings you can get in the gaming world.

Those games are balanced, complete, and by simulating the sport or by just being fun to play they perfectly express the feeling of playing tennis on consoles.


Fact is no one will ever mention the game that came out the last three years. Nacon and MagicPocket’s disaster, Tennis World Tour, is in fact considered by the people just as an incredible scam, and unfinished game, but also a gold mine for the software house behind the game, that could get all the possible profit by selling the first tennis video game in the last 7 years to fans that waited for that moment with incredible trepidation.

The game came out in may 2018, without a demo and with lies such as “from the former top spin team” or “built with the help of tennis gamers”, and what we will always remember about it is the huge lesson it taught people about not buying games blind, but waiting reviews or gameplay at least.

The game was graphically old, it presented all sorts of bugs and its gameplay couldn’t even get close to the “tennis” simulation Breakpoint (this is how MagicPockets tried to hide their identity) promised to all fans.

But it didn’t end here, the devs made a lot of promises, such as the doubles mode, that didn’t even make it to the game, and on top of that, the online mode came out after a couple of months the release of the game, with massive problems given by an unfinished net code.

What’s the fun part of this story? The game’s premise was to be a competitive game, and imagine how much competition there could’ve been with that amount of bugs and missing features.

Beside Tennis World Tour, earlier that year we found AO Tennis, a game published and developed by Big Ant studios, an Australian tennis studio that is strongly linked with Tennis Australia and so made the Australian Open its selling point.

The game has surely got pros: a good roster, an extensive character and arena creator, and sliders to modify gameplay to get it to what you want from the game.

The game, anyway, is full of flaws, and it barely represents tennis, it isn’t balanced and it surely isn’t suited for the average tennis fan looking for a decent experience.

I won’t say much about AO Tennis, what’s clear is that this game was developed by people that don’t even know what tennis is, the game features inexistent shots and it’s mostly driven by awful animations, that in some cases don’t even resemble tennis shots.

The gameplay is as deep as a pond, the game features a decent career mode (being the main selling point of its sequel, AO Tennis 2), but that feature alone can’t even remotely fix the frustration you get from its pointless gameplay, that could be defined “sluggish” at best.

And here we are in 2020, with Tennis World Tour 2 and AO Tennis 2.

AO2 is basically AO1 with more licensing and a deeper career mode, the game benefits from being published by Nacon, meaning it gets more tennis stars in game.

TWT2 was taken over by Big Ant (yes, the same producers and developers of AO) that developed it and sent it back to Nacon, the publisher.

What is fun about this game is that the devs aren’t even allowed to talk about it, on twitter, if you tried getting info on the game, they would just redirect you to Nacon or Tennis World Tour official page. This seems a bit weird for a game they developed, but seeing it in the optic of a game that’s property of Nacon, which Big Ant took on just to fix it actually makes more sense (it also explains why it sucks so much).

Oh yes, Nacon, I am sure we have something to say about them as well.

Nacon is an AA publisher, what I learned from following them since the release of TWT is that they are not caring at all of what they do, they are extremely oppressive on developers and few of their works are actually well made products.

What’s more about this company is that they are often linked with bad news in the gaming industry, simply look at what they did to Sinking City, you can find the whole story on the web, since it was a big piece of news this summer.

Nacon has a track record in the industry for questionable business tactics and unfinished products. They have proven that they will not be the ones to take over the Tennis video game mantle.

Let’s also spend a couple of words on why you shouldn’t let your competitors develop your game: you shouldn’t let your competitors develop your game since they are your competitors, so they won’t be engaged in the project and they won’t be imprinting their ideas in the game, since the best of it will always be implemented in their main installation.

One thing that has been shown in the recent years is how good indie games can represent this sport: passion, patience and hard work made it possible to play possibly the two best tennis simulators ever made.

Tennis Elbow and Full Ace Tennis are two beautiful works, expressions of what is achievable with hard work and passion.

The games are completely coherent to tennis and present elements that current console games are lacking, such as: a gameplay that follows logic (with in game statistics and characteristics meaning actually something in game, and being balanced to make the experience the most fun for everybody), an actual physic engine, modding support, well done online mode, and moreover, both developers actually listen to what the people think about their game.

This last point shouldn’t be underrated, in fact creating and maintaining a community is what makes the games fun to play online, seeing that your opinion matters (because it does) makes you feel good and makes you always learn new things. This is why Full Ace Tennis and Tennis Elbow are such good games and managed to sell well enough and for a very long period of time, despite their lacks in the graphical and technical side, due to the obviously small budget

Now the big question: if two guys alone could make such good games, why can’t they help bigger companies do the same?

The answer is easily found: Manutoo and Kschoice (Tennis Elbow and FAT creators) know what working in a gaming company is, and there’s no way they’d come down to compromises such as leaving the art direction, modifying the gameplay, and all what’s needed to make their game lose personality and become something that isn’t theirs anymore just because some other guy, maybe not even caring about tennis and not knowing how the sport works, tells them it has to be more appealing for the average gamer in order to sell much; moreover, they haven’t got deadlines by working as indie developers.

All these reasons make it easy to comprehend why their talent will always shine more as indie developers rather than dev company members.

We now seem to be at a dead point: since 2K stopped investing in Tennis, EA stopped its grand slam franchise, and SEGA stopped with Virtua Tennis, we have only seen AA anonymous game companies try to take their slice in the market, with bad games made just because there’s a space to occupy in the gaming market.

These games are just showing us how much the word “simulation” can be put anywhere out of context, in fact both AO and TWT aim is to “simulate” the game, or at least it’s said so, but in reality it works only as a clickbait, since what people saw in Top Spin series was a tennis simulation (not even true, the last game was surely challenging but was also arcady, and this shows once again you don’t need perfect simulation to get a beautiful game on the shelves).

What would probably help in this moment is getting help from the tennis organisations and federations, showing that they are eager to invest in a good, big, modern strong tennis game that could be an incredible opportunity to relaunch one of the most, if not the most beautiful sport we play on this planet.

Passing my time in the online forums, seeing people eager to play tennis in video games as they did with Top Spin and Virtua Tennis but unable to do so makes me think about this singular situation we have got with this sport.

Seeing the PS5 spot with Naomi Osaka not even mentioning tennis video games, seeing young tennis players that would rather watch TV than play the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro, seeing Sinner and Kyrgios, possibly two of the biggest personalities in tennis, saying they don’t play tennis in Playstation because there are no good tennis games, really makes me think the gaming industry is missing a massive chance to reach out for an audience that has been way too much underrated and left out.

What we witnessed in the last couple of years is the boom of esport, thanks to titles such as League of Legends, Counter Strike and Fortnite, and what’s curious is that we’ve seen that real tennis tournaments want to start their own etennis counterparts, this to match a few political decisions, the most important being that this sport needs a younger audience, and video games are a perfect way to engage young fans.

Tournaments such as Munich ATP 250, Madrid Masters, French Open, Barcelona ATP 500 and Saint Petersburg Open all followed closely the release of TWT, creating tournaments with prize money to be played on that game. Despite the complete failure of Tennis World Tour, the tournaments went on and are still going on, meaning there’s still this need of attracting newer and younger fans.

There are also other examples: Australian Open gave their branding to an important Fortnite tournament taking place in Melbourne, while US Open hosted last year’s Fortnite World Cup. Fortnite is used since it’s way more popular (and fun, and playable) than the tennis games we’ve got right now, and with one big game I’m sure a lot of real tennis tournaments would take part and create their virtual counterparts.

On a deeper level it’s useful to say that Console games such as TWT and AO Tennis don’t even have a big enough community to make any tournament competitive or worth watching, as those games are made just to get an early sale, without even bothering to make the player play and love the game after the first 30 minutes (this due to a lack of content, gameplay depth, and more in general of soul).

The few etennis competitions we can find right now are on the PC games mentioned before, with Tennis Elbow hosting multiple tours despite being more than 7 years old, showing that making a quality game can pay over the long run.

A special mention goes to the guys running Mario Tennis Aces competitions, that game is surely more deep and engaging than what we got in the main consoles (it’s an only switch title), and that made it easy for tours and tournaments to flourish in the last years, even with Nintendo’s problems in dealing with online competitions (the game is played on a console that hasn’t even got an ethernet port, meaning connection will always be wifi, therefore not the best).

This setting makes me think this is the perfect time to create a triple A tennis game, as there is no competition in the market and an incredible need to play virtual tennis. It doesn’t necessarily mean it should be a perfect tennis simulator, it should just be fun and engaging, as well as a showcase for a sport that is missing daily its chances to evolve and modernise.

To go back to the question about why there is no good tennis game at the moment, let’s try to explain it: the environment we had at the end of 2012, year of the last Grand Slam Tennis, was quite peculiar.

Tennis was at its peak: Federer was winning Wimbledon, Nadal and Djokovic were acting the best rivalry that any fan could ask for, and the top 20 was full of stars at their peak.

The games developed by Triple A companies such as 2K, EA and SEGA were strongly relying on having the best licenses, but there is no way in tennis to get all the best players, you can’t simply “buy” the ATP rights, you have to discuss with every manager about the image rights of the players.

In a period in which the last guy inside the Top 10 was Del Potro or Tsonga, there was no way of getting a good roster without paying a fortune, and that fortune had to return in terms of money.

This and the fact that there were multiple companies competing for the creation of THE tennis game lead to a market war, that ultimately resulted in the withdrawal of all the three companies from the tennis gaming market, this simply because they saw no profit in investing in that sector, a sectors in which everything was getting more and more expensive because of the competitors.

Years passed, without any game coming out, and with 8 years of the complete void in the tennis gaming market, we saw a phenomenon that wasn’t even thinkable in 2012: small devs could put together incredible rosters of characters and tournaments without spending much (Tennis World Tour 2 features 14 players out of the ATP top 20).

Not only this, but the competition is null if not even negative, since the best titles are remaining on PC, the console market sees only half baked games that are so bad they could be shown in a guide on how not to make a video game.

With the frenzy coming from the esport sector, all these are the perfect premises for a Triple A to come in and create a well done simulation, with a particular focus on the online, and why not with microtransactions (Fifa Ultimate Team in this sense showed how big the earnings from lootboxes can be) if that’s needed to bear the costs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *