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Big news in football video gaming earlier today, which was that 2K and the NFL announced a multi-year deal that allows 2K to publish NFL-licensed football video games. The first such game is expected to release in 2021.

2K Games NFL

The catch: the license only allows 2K to produce "non-simulation" games, so as not to compete directly with Madden. So don't expect to see NFL 2K22 next August. Instead, we're more likely to see something along the lines of NFL Blitz or NFL Street.

Now, if you ask me, EA already makes a "non-simulation" football game. The main driver of EA's game is the loot-box-fueled Ultimate Team, which is about as "non-simulation" as you can get. And while EA focuses attention on new arcade modes like Draft Champions and Superstar KO, while continuing to neglect Franchise mode, the quality of Madden as a simulation experience has only continued to slip.

XFL logo

In any case, this news was a shock to me. I had no idea a deal between 2K and the NFL was even in the works. In fact, if 2K was going to get back into producing and/or developing licensed football video games, I thought for sure that it would be via an XFL license! 2K already publishes WWE Wrestling games (which have been terrible of late, by the way), so 2K and Vince McMahon already have a working relationship. The XFL has shown an interest since its inception to license its rights out to a video game, but so far, no such deal has surfaced.

If we're lucky, maybe 2K will do both an arcade NFL game and a simulation XFL game, so that when the NFL eventually wises up and gives them the rights to do a simulation game, they'll already have an engine ready to go. In fact (according to Polygon), the NFL's current licensing arrangement with EA expires at the end of the 2021 / 2022 NFL season. So it is entirely possible that the NFL plans on granting simulation rights to 2K after that. This "non-simulation" license deal might just be the NFL's way of allowing 2K to get a headstart so that they can hit the ground rolling with a full, commercially-viable NFL 2K23 releasing in fall of 2022. Fingers crossed...

Temper your expectations, football fans

2K has yet to announce which studio(s) will develop this "non-simulation" title, or whether anybody who was involved in the former NFL 2k series or All Pro Football 2k8 will be returning to work on the game. 2K is probably still in the very early stages of planning the games, so it will be a long while before we, the audience, actually get any concrete details about what this potential football game might look like.

2K is even more blunt with its in-game gambling than EA is.

In the meantime, I recommend that all football video game fans temper your excitement. NFL 2k is not returning! At least not in the way you want it to. Given that 2K will be developing a "non-simulation" game, I also consider it highly likely that the game will be similar to MUT or NBA 2k "My Career" mode , in that it will be primarily a vehicle for selling micro-transactions. 2K is currently just as bad (if not worse) than EA when it comes to micro-transactions. I mean, NBA 2k20 has a literal real-money casino with slot, roulette, and pachinko machines that award the game's equivalents of loot boxes.

Now, a game being inundated with micro-transactions and literal casinos does not necessarily negate the possibility of us still getting a good "non-simulation" game out of 2K. It just means the game will have to work that much harder to win over gamers like me and not degrade to a time-wasting grind designed to encourage players to shell out a credit card number. There's also no guarantee that such micro-transactions or virtual gambling will even be included to begin with. It's all just conjecture on my part.

What we can do is make our voices heard so that 2K knows what we want (and don't want) in an NFL game. So Tweet to @2KGames, post on Facebook, and hop on the forums and start telling them that you want a rich, compelling, sports experience that is free from a grindy, pay-to-win economy! Just because it's a "non-simulation" game doesn't mean that it can't still feature a compelling and innovative career mode, organic, physics-based gameplay, intelligent A.I., deep strategy, or many of the other features that we've been demanding from Madden (and have yet to receive) over the past decade.

Bottom line is that it looks like years of mediocre reviews and criticism from simulation fans (not to mention the legal attention associated with the Battlefront 2 loot box fiasco) has finally shaken the NFL's trust in EA. If so, the NFL may be putting pressure on EA to up its game with regard to delivering simulation football. EA even has the potential ultimatum of having 2 years to get its ducks in a row before the NFL can potentially hand the license over to 2K and give Madden its first real competition in almost 20 years.

UPDATE 25 April 2020:
I posted a video to YouTube discussing the state of football video games going into summer of 2020.

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