You can almost taste the anticipation as your impeccably well-designed frog lure skirts tantalizingly across the surface of the lake. As it dances in between lillypads, you start to imagine that no self-respecting bass could possibly turn down such an enticing meal. And then it happens. That initial smack of adrenaline, that surge of emotion, that special ‘je ne sais quoi’— that is the reason we all love to call ourselves anglers. But instead of a well-timed strike pointing your rod skywards, you set the hook with the controller of your PlayStation. The scene I’m describing is not happening on a boat at the lake, but in my living room on a video game, and an excellent one at that – Fishing Sim World Pro Tour by U.K. developer Dovetail Games. But its release this summer got me thinking… is there any need for a fishing video game?
Are fishing video games distracting people from actually going fishing? Or is it a stroke of genius, a way to scratch the angling itch when you can’t go? Is it a way to reach out to more tech-savvy generations or, perhaps, even a way of bringing new people into the sport?
The first thing you need to know about this game, is that its creator – Dovetail Games – is a company full of hobbyists and many of them are anglers, which is how the game made it from idea to fruition. After working on major titles including Train Simulator and Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, a fishing sim seemed an obvious new avenue for staff with a genuine love of the sport, according to Mark Greenway, Business Director at Dovetail.
“We pride ourselves on the ability to deliver highly realistic simulation games and a fishing title lends itself to this game genre very well,” he explains.
“The game is for everyone – anglers that game and gamers who may or may not have fished before. Within the sim we have multiple tutorials that explain the basics of casting, fish finding, different baits, lure retrieval techniques, float fishing and more. We also have a species database for the 29 fish we currently have in-game, that offers factual information about the fish, locations it can be found and what size it can grow to.”
Fishing games have progressed dramatically from examples likes The Black Bass, from 1986:
This double-edged sword of trying to bring fishing and its nuances to new audiences while also making this an enjoyable experience for keen and knowledgeable anglers is at the core of good simulator video games. Something Mark echoes: “We are anglers and we would much rather be fishing at a lake in real life than playing a fishing video game, but life is not that simple and for the times when we cannot go fishing, we can stay at home and fish in career mode, connect with friends in multiplayer and play online tournaments with other players from around the world.”
The industry reaction
But what does the industry make of this virtual fishing phenomenon? Well, you only have to play the game for a few minutes to see that it has been well supported in terms of licensing. More than 50 fishing companies from around the world have licensed their brands to appear – including not just tackle, bait and clothing, but also real life venues. You can fish Lake Guntersville or Lake Travis for bass going up against some of the top guys like Scott Martin, or you can tackle famous carp waters in Europe like Gigantica and go head-to-head with angling legends such as Ali Hamidi. The tackle you can use comes from brands instantly recognisable, one of which is 13 Fishing.
“I believe promoting or bringing fishing into different arenas is a positive thing for our sport,” explains the company’s President and Founder James Coble.
“There are quite a few unwarranted stigmas in the outdoor world and I personally believe exposing a potentially new market to what we are is a plus. On the other side, I believe it provides an additional outlet for the tech savvy segment of our industry to connect (provided the game develops a quality online format for competition). That is one thing that is lacking for numerous reasons in our industry, so anything to potentially bring anglers together is a positive in my book.
“At first I believe you get the existing angler, the one most comfortable with fishing and what challenges the game may present. As it progresses (and again, with exposure and an online community) I think you find yourself a new stable of potential gamers looking to compete in their off the water moments. After all, when most of us aren’t on the water we are talking about it… It would be nice to develop a little off the water/on the computer water competition with friends during down times.
“As for the brand being in there, I think it’s an excellent way for 13 to connect with the younger crowd we constantly seek to tap into.”
As someone who has grown up on video games and fishing side-by-side, I can appreciate the niche of this game. But the wider potential of it to help fishing companies find another way of combining the sport with new technologies and with more tech-savvy generations seems wide open. No doubt new versions of this game will evolve and no doubt the fishing industry will get more and more involved. Dismissing something like Fishing Sim World Pro Tour could well end up being as foolish as those early doubters of platforms like Facebook or Twitter. The world changes, and we must change with it.