Game developer and publisher 2K Games, along with the National Football League, have announced a partnership that will see 2K return to creating football-themed video games with the NFL license for the first time since 2004.
"As more people play more games than ever before, we have been increasing our efforts and looking to expand our footprint in the space," explained Rachel Hoagland, Vice President and Head of Gaming and Esports at the NFL. "It just seemed to make sense as a natural step in that direction to revive our partnership with 2K."
The terms were described as a "multiyear partnership encompassing multiple future video games." Several types of games and platforms have been discussed (but not officially confirmed), including consoles and mobile offerings. The number of games that will be created and at what schedule is still to be determined.
Under the agreement, 2K will create non-simulation football game experiences. Jason Argent, Senior Vice President of Sports Strategy and Licensing at 2K, describes it as "a deep, fun and very authentic product offering. They're not (a) very traditional simulation product".
The simulation rights are currently exclusively owned by Electronic Arts, who have been creating the Madden NFL game franchise since 1988. According to a source, those rights are up at the end of the 2021 NFL season. 2K, along with other companies, has expressed interest in acquiring those rights.
"EA SPORTS is the exclusive publisher of NFL simulation games, and our partnership with the NFL and NFLPA remains unchanged," said a statement on behalf of EA. "Our agreements have always allowed for non-exclusive development of non-simulation games on various platforms. Our commitment to NFL fans, which spans almost 30 years, has never been stronger, and we're having our biggest year yet. Madden NFL 20 is the most successful game ever in the franchise, and new modes like Superstar KO and our Madden NFL esports broadcasts are growing the fan base. We'll be building on that momentum with more new and different experiences, on more platforms and with new ways to play, in the years to come."
The NFL 2K franchise spanned from 1999 to 2004. The final 2K offering before EA and the NFL signed an exclusive agreement in 2005 was entitled "ESPN NFL 2K5." Both Argent and Hoagland noted that both entities had kept in touch throughout the years, and now was the right time to restart that business relationship.
The demand for a 2K NFL offering has been "extremely consistent" even in those off years, Argent said.
"I mean, in all fairness, probably that year that we left the market was one of (our) biggest years,"he said. "But we've had ongoing, consistent requests from a large fan base to get back in the business."
ESPN Daily: Sign up here!
The partnership is also a matter of demand. Given the wide success of the Madden franchise and the seemingly ever-growing crossover between gamers and NFL fans, there's plenty of space for another platform now, especially in the non-simulation space.
"We have focused on expanding our presence," Hoagland said. "In the world of gaming, we want to make sure that we find ways to build and grow our next generation of fans and push to reach younger fans where possible."
2K, whose parent company is Take-Two Interactive, currently produces sports and entertainment games involving the NBA and WWE.
"We intend to implement a lot of what we've learned over the last 16 to 20 years," said Argent.
Both Hoagland and Argent said it was too early to tell if any of the titles to be released under this agreement would either have esports in mind or be considered for an official competitive gaming presence, but didn't rule out the possibility. The priority, however, is the gameplay experience.
"NFL fans should be really excited," Hoagland said. "We are really excited to bring to them a portfolio of games that touch on fun, approachable, fast, socially connected football experiences. And we've got one of the best publishers in the space (2K) to do that."