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I was inspired a few weeks ago by a Twitter post from Ryan Moody (@ShutdownSafety), who asked why people are being so negative about football video gaming, and why people aren't making content. Well, I decided that I'd make some content sharing some of my optimism about the future of football video gaming in the next few years. I posted a video to my YouTube channel, but loyal blog readers can read the full transcription here.

YouTube: Will 2020 be a good year for football video games?

Football video games have been in a rut for a while now. The exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA didn't only kill NFL 2k series, it also may have killed the NFL Gameday, NFL Fever, NFL Blitz, and other series as well, some of which had game releases as late as 2004. All Pro Football 2k8 is now eleven years old. Backbreaker came and went nine years ago, leaving EA as the only major publisher still making football video games. EA's own NCAA Football series is now in the fifth year of its hiatus (the optimist in me still prefers to use the term "hiatus" instead of "cancellation"). This has all left football video gamers with nothing but mediocre Madden releases for years.

EA's NFL exclusivity may have put the final nail in the coffin for other games besides just NFL 2k.

All that being said, I am actually very optimistic about football video gaming come 2020 or 2021.

New indie games on the market

First and foremost, Madden's 5-year complete monopoly on consoles was broken this year with the releases of Canuck Play's Maximum Football 2018 and Axis Games' Axis Football 18. For the first time since 2013, there are football games on consoles not called Madden, and for the first time since 2009, there are football games on consoles that are not published by EA.

So why do I still consider football gaming to be in a rut?

Well, because neither Maximum Football nor Axis Football are really all that good. Neither one comes remotely close to Madden in terms of providing a complete football experience, let alone at providing production value comparable to Madden. I don't expect either to compete with Madden out of the gate, but with more money to hire more developers ... In two or three years, one or both of these games could potentially come close to competing with the big dog. That is why, despite neither game really being there yet, I highly recommend that you check at least one of them out. Even though they aren't competing with Madden, they will certainly be competing with each other, and I'm hoping that next year's games will cross the threshold of "good" in my opinion.

EA's monopoly on console football gaming was broken by the release of 2 indie football games in 2018.

For my money, I currently prefer Axis 18 over Maximum 18. Suffice it to say: Maximum has better on-field gameplay. It has better physics and locomotion, and has a wider suite of animations (including more tackling, blocking, catching, and head-tracking animations). What it doesn't have, however, is a franchise / dynasty / career mode. Its season mode is a rudimentary list of games followed by a playoff and championship. One year. You don't even pick a specific team, as the game will let you play any game on the schedule, as any team. There's no team-building or management of any kind.

Axis has more rudimentary on-field gameplay with animations that more closely resemble PS1-era gameplay, but it does have a Franchise Mode that allows you to build a team over multiple seasons and move up the tiers of the league. The inclusion of this Franchise mode gives Axis a sense of progression and purpose that just isn't present in Maximum, and that, in my opinion, makes Axis 18 the better game.

... for now...

Canuck Play is expecting to implement a college dynasty mode for Maximum Football 19.

Axis can't get too comfortable on its laurels, because Canuck Play appears to be expanding its development team and is planning on adding a full college dynasty mode for Maximum Football 2019. If this dynasty mode turns out to be any good at all, it will give Maximum the gameplay edge both on the field, and off the field. Axis will have to step up its on-field gameplay if it will want to compete with Maximum in 2019. And 2020 should see both of these games offering complete and robust products. They probably won't be competing directly with Madden, but they could make for some very good mid-budget games that will be well worth $30 or $40.

Canuck Play is expecting to implement a college dynasty mode for Maximum Football 19.

New indie games on the horizon

Axis and Canuck might not be the only indie games on the market in 2020 either. IMV is expecting to release its Gridiron Champions college football game in 2020 as well. If that game makes its scheduled release, it will mean that 2020 will see a professional US football game (Axis), a Canadian football game (Maximum), and a US college football game (Gridiron Champs). I'm skeptical of Gridiron Champions because it's a crowd-funded project, but I'm hoping that the game's quality will surprise and impress me when it eventually comes out.

New football leagues in real life!

But that might not be all. 2020 is also supposed to see the launch of not one -- but two -- new professional football leagues in real life!

Almost a year ago (in January 2018), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) executive Vince McMahon announced that he would be personally financing and managing a new XFL, which is scheduled to launch in 2020. This new XFL is supposedly going to ditch the over-blown, wrestling-influenced presentation of the original XFL, and is expected to take itself more seriously. The original league was a bit of a joke and folded after only 2 seasons, but this time, McMahon thinks he has a formula for long-term success. This new league is supposed to be faster, with games clocking in at 2 hours (instead of 3 hours for NFL games), will have fewer stoppages and interruptions, and is expected to simplify some rules and penalties in an attempt to alleviate some of the confusion that many casual viewers have when watching NFL games.

The XFL will be reviving in 2020.

The league is also strictly prohibiting political expression of any kind from its players, apparently in an effort to prevent players like Colin Kaepernick from "disrespecting the flag" in silent protest. The irony is, of course, that prohibiting political expression is, in itself, a political expression, as is performing the national anthem to begin with. The NFL (and apparently the XFL) want to treat their games as if they are civic events, even though the teams are actually private companies with no stake or interest in their community outside of what makes them money. Fans in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland recently found this out the hard way, when their teams up and moved to new cities. The truth is that NFL teams (in particular) are not community-owned, and in fact, the NFL rules expressly prohibit a team from being community-owned. The Green Bay Packers are the only exception, as they were grandfathered-in when the rule was enacted.

To me, this decision by McMahon wreaks of bully politics. He's silencing all political speech (except that which is built into the game and league) in an attempt to silence political speech that he disagrees with.

This is one of the many gross hypocracies of the NFL and other sports leagues:

  • They want their games to be community events, but the teams and stadiums are not community-owned.
  • They want billions of dollars in tax-payer subsidies to build stadiums, but don't share those profits from ticket and concession sales with the cities that fund them.
  • They want their athletes to be role models and celebrities and to engage with their communities, but they don't want them expressing political ideas or standing up against social or economic injustices within those communities.
Despite what they want their public image to convey, NFL teams are not community-owned!

And here's another irony for you: McMahon's desire to make his league non-political has sparked discussion about the politics of professional sports!

Well, if the hypocracy is disgusting to you, you may have an alternative. A group of former NFL players are also planning on starting up their own professional football league, called the Freedom Football League (or FFL). This league will explicitly encourage its players to express themselves politically and every team is supposed to have some model of community-ownership. The FFL will also not be competing with the NFL or XFL directly, since it is planning on holding its games in the spring and summer. This could, potentially, allow players to split time between the FFL and the XFL or NFL in order to see more playing time and improve their skills, similar to how the old NFL Europe used to work.

Anyway, enough with politics (at least, outside of the comments section!), let's get back to talking about what we're here to talk about: football video gaming!

New professional football league licenses

The XFL is floating the idea of a video game tie-in.

While the idea of having two new [serious] leagues to watch (including one that will be played in spring and summer) is exciting, I'm most excited about the potential for these leagues to license out their brand to game developers. The XFL's official Twitter account even tweeted a question of whether gamers would be interested in an XFL-licensed video game, and if so, what would we want to see in it? Vince McMahon's XFL could even be high-profile enough to warrant selling a license to a major publisher like 2k. I'm not aware (as of yet) of the XFL being in any talks with game publishers about a deal to license its league for video games, but I am crossing my fingers for XFL 2K20!

The FFL might also eventually look to license its name out to video game developers or publishers, but I suspect they probably won't have the capitol or clout to warrant interest from major publishers. They might end up being relegated to selling their license to smaller studios for another mid-budget football game. But who knows, maybe the league will take off and spark interest from companies like 2K, Sony, Microsoft, or Natural Motion?

The return of NCAA Football?

The optimism doesn't end there. With the lawsuits regarding college athletes' compensation and likenesses being resolved, it's still possible that we could see EA get back into college football. An NCAA Football 2020 release from EA seems like a bit of a longshot in 2019, but NCAA Football 2021 is definitely plausible for 2020. EA definitely wants to make college football games. So once these lawsuits are fully resolved, I would expect EA to hop right back into the game.

Even if they don't, the release of Madden 19 on PC means that game is now open to modders. There is already an NCAA conversion mod in progress. So far, it's just reskins of existing NFL teams to have college uniforms, logos, and rosters. The mod only supports 32 teams, and it's stuck with Madden's NFL rules and Franchise mode. But, as of the time of this recording, the modders have already started cracking Madden 19's rulesets. I believe they have one-foot-inbounds-catches implemented, and so other collegiate rules (such as overtime, play clock, clock stoppages, and so forth) might not be far behind.

An NCAA conversion mod is in the works for Madden 19.

If this mod takes off, EA might even expand the moddability of future Madden games. Maybe these same modders will be able to port their work into Madden 20, and maybe that game will more easily support the addition of more than 32 teams or changes to the game's rulesets. Only time will tell. If EA doesn't release an official NCAA Football by 2020, it's very possible that there might be a full NCAA mod for Madden that will include all 100+ division I schools, full collegiate rulesets, dynasty recruiting, coaching carousels, and so forth! Hey, a guy can hope!

And there's still more!

And more on the horizon!

There's also more fringe football products avialable or in the pipeline. Indie games such as Pure Football, Front Page Sports Football, and Project Gridiron are already available (or in "early access") on Steam and other PC platforms. In a few years, these products could evolve into interesting and competitive products in their own rights, and might compete with Canuck, Axis, and IMV.

There was also an announcement from Joe Montana about a potential Joe Montana VR game.

Football video game fans, our dark days might be coming to an end. There is light at the end of this dark, depressing tunnel of EA and Madden exclusivity.

2020 could be a very good year for football video game enthusiasts!

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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