The NFL and EA have had an exclusive deal to make Madden football video games for over a decade now, but that exclusivity just came to an end now that 2K announced a new deal to create football games. 2K's new football games will give EA's wildly popular but ever-stagnating Madden series a run for its money over the next couple of years.
On Tuesday, 2K announced a new partnership with the NFL to publish "non-simulation football game experiences" with the official NFL license starting in 2021. While 2K isn't ready to share specific games or developers as of yet, it was emphasized that this is a "multi-year partnership encompassing multiple future video games."
2K used to work on the ESPN NFL 2K series of football games from 1999 to 2004 alongside NBA 2K and WWE 2K, but lost the license to EA in after ESPN NFL 2K5 when the company undercut Madden by pricing its football game at only $20.
"We’re thrilled to be back in business with the NFL in a partnership that will span multiple video games centered on fun, approachable and social experiences," President of 2K David Ismailer said. "It’s exciting to bring together 2K’s expertise in creating award-winning sports games with the NFL’s renowned status as a world-class entertainment and sports organization."
Senior Vice President of Consumer Products at the NFL Joe Ruggiero also gave some insight into why the NFL was open to this new deal. "Expanding the NFL’s presence in the world of gaming has become a focus for the League as we look to grow the next generation of our fanbase and reviving our partnership with 2K was a natural step in that effort," he said.
What exactly is 2K working on with the NFL?
2K hasn't specified just yet, but as it can't be simulation game it will likely follow in the footsteps of NBA Playgrounds, a series which 2K is now publishing. Ismailer described 2K's game as "centered on fun, approachable, and social experiences." 2K Sports VP of Operations Jason Argent told GamesIndustry.biz that 2K is working on "more than one game thematic" and claims that its titles are "broader, more accessible, easier, [and with] more consumers able to get into" than Madden.
"EA Sports is the exclusive publisher of NFL simulation games, and our partnership with the NFL and NFLPA remains unchanged," EA said in a Tuesday morning statement responding to the news. "Our agreements have always allowed for non-exclusive development of non-simulation games on various platforms." The jargon here is a bit confusing, but the "simulation" versus "non-simulation" distinction seemingly means that EA has the rights to direct simulations of NFL games in terms of teams, logos, and stadiums. "Non-simulation" seemingly refers to more dramatic experiences akin to NFL Blitz or a football version of NBA Street.
2K has a tall task ahead of them as Madden has been one of the best-selling games every year for an extended period of time. Madden NFL 20, the latest in the series, was the third best selling game of 2019 behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and NBA 2K20. 2K referred to it as the most successful entry in franchise history.
The Inverse Analysis
This 2K and NFL deal should give EA some much-needed competition. Yearly players of Madden know that the overall package has been stagnating in recent years as more and more focus has been put on just the heavily monetizable Ultimate Team mode. While 2K may not be competing with them within the simulation genre, a really good NFL Blitz or NBA Playgrounds style game with official football teams and players should still inspire EA Tiburon to up their game so it doesn't lose players.
2K should release its first NFL game in 2021.