In a development that should generate considerable interest in the growing uniform design community, the video game company EA Sports is inviting gamers to submit uniform and logo designs for inclusion in its hugely popular Madden NFL game. As many as 25 winners may have their designs included in the game and their names included in the game's credits.
"There are so many talented people out there creating amazing logos and color schemes," says Josh Looman, a senior designer on Madden and the man behind the game's popular Franchise Mode. "You see that stuff on these websites and you go, 'Wow, that is amazing!' We think a lot of those people are Madden fans, so getting them involved in the design process seemed like a natural step."
The move is the latest step in the growing democratization of uniform design, which had once been the exclusive province of graphic designers and sportswear companies. In the past two and half years, the NHL's Ottawa Senators adopted a fan's design as their alternate uniform, MLB's Milwaukee Brewers wore a fan-designed uniform for a spring training game and the NBA's Dallas Mavericks asked fans to submit designs for an alternate uniform. Here at ESPN.com, we frequently run "Let's Redesign This Team!" contests, and there are lots of websites and forums where uni enthusiasts post their latest design concepts.
Until now, however, fans had not had an opportunity to see their designs in a video format. EA Sports' new Madden initiative will change that.
Here's how it will work: Madden recently introduced a feature called Relocation Mode, which allows a gamer to "move" his or her NFL team to a new city and give it a new identity, complete with new uniforms. For last year's edition of the game, all of the Relocation Mode team identities were designed by EA Sports. But now the company is inviting fans to submit their own team concepts for inclusion in the next edition of the game, which will be released this August. The rules and guidelines are spelled out on this page.
"We're not sure how many winners we'll choose," Looman says. "Basically, if we see three designs that we think are good enough to include in the game, we'll choose three. If we see 20 that we think are good enough, we'll choose 20. I'd say the upper limit is about 25, because that's about as many as I'll have time to program into the game."
It's a great opportunity for gamers and a great way of expanding the world of uniform design. Contestants will have to move quickly, though -- the deadline for submissions is March 7. (Full disclosure: I am one of the many sports "celebrities" featured in Madden's faux Twitter feed. But I have no connection to the uniform design contest and no stake in its outcome.)
For Looman, getting fans involved isn't just a way of interacting with the gaming community -- it's a way of improving Madden. "The uniforms in our Relocation Mode looked good last year, but I thought we could take them to the next level," he says. "I wanted to make them feel a little more modern, a little more cutting-edge."
Hmmm, "cutting-edge" -- does that mean fans who create modern-looking designs will have an advantage over fans who come up with old-school looks? "Not necessarily," says Jake Stein, an assistant producer who works on Madden. "We don't have any preconceived notions about this. We're not looking specifically for this or that -- but we'll know it when we see it."
Looman says a big thing for fans to keep in mind is that the designs have to look NFL-appropriate. "Our whole goal in Madden is to create a product that looks like the NFL, that feels like the NFL," he says. "So we want something eye-catching, but not so crazy that it would look completely out of place in the NFL, or like something a high school team would wear."
The only downer is that the winning designers won't receive any financial compensation. They'll get a free copy of the game in the platform of their choice, and their names will be listed in the game's credits, but that's it.
Aside from that, though, this initiative feels like a big win for all involved, and Looman thinks most contestants will be happy just to see their designs used in the game. "Lots of people out there are coming up with new concepts and ideas, but they're usually limited to a template," he says. "To actually see the players running down the field in that uniform you designed, that's a different feeling. If I could have done that when I was younger and just starting out playing video games, that would have blown my mind."
Paul Lukas isn't much of a video gamer but is in favor of anything that gets people excited about uniforms. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.