Fans will soon have another football offering to choose from as 2K Games once again partners with the National Football League. The game publisher’s newly announced deal with the NFL is to produce multiple titles. The first of these games will be released in 2021, so players won’t have to wait long. However, this won’t be a return of where the company left off in 2005 with NFL 2K5. As the official announcement points out, the multi-year deal is specifically for “non-simulation” titles, which means that 2K won’t directly compete with Electronic Arts‘ Madden series for now.
To clear up any confusion, EA issued a statement stating that its licensing deal is still in effect. The company confirmed that it is still the “exclusive publisher of NFL simulation games,” as it has for the past 15 years. It also states that the partnership has always allowed for the development of non-simulation titles by other studios.
While few details are available about 2K’s new football game, there are many exciting routes the company could explore that will please gamers looking for a new pro football option. These are our picks for what Digital Trends would like to see.
The most exciting move would be releasing an arcade-type NFL title in the vein of the now-defunct NFL Street and Blitz franchises. Both series featured relaxed rules and prioritized high-scoring games over realistic gridiron action. There hasn’t been a licensed arcade football title since EA’s one-off reboot of NFL Blitz in 2012, so the field is open for a new game with plenty of innovation. With a fresh take on this formula and online play, it could become one of the best multiplayer games of 2021. An arcade football title is long overdue, and Visual Concepts has all the skills necessary to make it great.
2K also publishes the NBA Playgrounds series. This NBA Jam-inspired title should serve as the basis of what it does with the NFL license. Featuring iconic stars from the past and present, NBA 2K: Playgrounds 2 delivered an over-the-top two-on-two hoops experience with an exaggerated art style. A five-on-five fast-moving arcade football game featuring the best players to hold a pigskin would not only be vastly different from what EA currently puts out but would be a blast to play for both current and lapsed fans.
Another football project we want to see is 2K double down on what attracts so many players to the franchise mode of their own NBA 2K series: A management sim. While on-field action would not be visible, the game would still offer plenty of thrills as players negotiate trades, try to gain traction during the offseason, and watch as their team either gels or falls apart due to their chemistry. 2K could even alternate yearly between a management sim and an arcade title, giving each series a chance to breathe while keeping the NFL 2K name relevant.
Since it doesn’t traditionally have the widespread appeal of other sports titles, the majority of management games are rather small in scale and lack polish. Considering top-notch presentation is one of Visual Concepts’ greatest abilities, this is where it would differentiate itself from others in the market. The genre has never had much of a chance to hit the mainstream, but the backing of 2K could take it to new heights.
Trying something fresh within the field and creating a lengthy narrative-driven cinematic title that tells a story about football would be an exciting move. We’ve seen EA dabble with this idea recently with its Longshot mode, which shows that it can be successful. Visual Concepts has had success with similar styles, NBA 2K20‘s MyCareer mode produced by LeBron James being a particular highlight. Since it’s a supplementary mode, most of these stories are only a few hours long, so we’d love to see what the team could do without any restraints.
Sports games have only recently started to tell stories, and most focused around winning a championship or making a squad. There are plenty of thrilling stories that aren’t as clichéd. From a choice-filled title featuring a star player needing to change how he plays after a career-altering injury to a rookie struggling to adapt to the temptations that are present while living life on the road, there’s no shortage of intriguing angles for 2K to take. It’s proved it can handle these topics with care, and as long as it consults with actual football players, 2K could create something that accurately reflects the current NFL landscape and gives players an interesting look into the locker room.
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