NHL 23 was released on Oct. 14 to a tepid critical reception and negligible fanfare from an increasingly discontented player base that can't help but feel as though they’re being played for fools. The audience scored NHL 23 relatively low compared to other games in the franchise, with these disparate voices painting a portrait of a series condemned to failure through the stagnation of its every individual component.

Mind you, there were a plethora of incremental improvements, particularly on the graphical front. The new implementation of cross-platform support, allowing users with different consoles to play with and against one another, was an oft-requested feature the fanbase had spent the better part of a decade clamoring for. However, NHL 23 still took a sad turn.

The answer as to why is simple and lies as much in what has been changed as what has been left untouched. It’s not as though there is a fresh suite of glaring faults to be found in this year's product compared to prior installments. It runs well, plays nicely and looks even better, owing to the aforementioned technical adjustments, but the same could be said for NHL 22 when compared to its predecessor. One would be hard pressed to pinpoint an overhaul so substantial as to truly differentiate NHL 22 and 23 beyond an updated roster and an infinitesimally more responsive control scheme.

So, Electronic Arts charges $70 for what could have effectively been implemented via an update. But then they wouldn’t have been able to gouge you for the privilege of seeing a guy play on a team he wasn't on last year.

Of course, such dissatisfaction is not unique to NHL 23; it’s merely a byproduct of the greater issue at hand. EA might assume that because of the deals they have with the major North American sports leagues — lending them the exclusive rights to both team and player likenesses — they’re deserving of a player's hard-earned cash.

However, a shift in the public's perception emerged recently after 2K Games resurrected their series of widely acclaimed golf simulations to complement their massively popular NBA games. One can imagine the worry this must be causing EA. The company knows that products of such middling quality will only do well when no alternative exists.

There is a large enough group of gamers willing to blindly funnel cash into the Scrooge McDuck-sized money pit that is EA’s yearly revenue for what is effectively a fresh coat of paint on the same frame they’ve spent a half decade running into the ground.

It’s a self fulfilling cycle: The masses demand change in their sports sims year in and year out, yet without the possibility of competition to incentivize advancement — owing to those exclusivity agreements — those same masses are left with the illusion of a choice. It’s EA’s way or the highway.

EA doesn't innovate for the same reason Michael Bay hasn't produced a rom-com or AC/DC a prog rock opus. Their audience has become so conditioned to the indistinguishable gruel they peddle that their audience would feel almost rude to ask for anything more.