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Last year (around this same time, in fact), we football video game fans were given the bombshell news that EA's exclusive contract with the NFL wasn't quite as exclusive as we thought. That contract apparently only covered "simulation" football games (which makes me wonder how or why EA has the license to begin with, since they sure as heck haven't been making a simulation football game since at least 2011). Other companies were apparently free to purchase an NFL license for "non-simulation" football games, and last year 2K announced that they would, in fact, begin production on one (or more) NFL-licensed arcade games. It wasn't the triumphant return of ESPN NFL 2k that we had been waiting 17 years for, but we'll take it!

EA is [finally] returning to
college football games!

Well yesterday, we got another bombshell announcement. EA will be producing a college football video game. Currently, EA does not have the NCAA license or the rights to player likenesses, so the game is to be titled "EA Sports College Football", instead of continuing with the NCAA Football moniker of past. However, EA does have the rights to "over one hundred" schools. There's 130 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, so a team count of over 100 implies that most, if not all, D-I FBS schools will be present, with their respective logos, uniforms, stadiums, and so forth. My understanding is that EA also does not have the rights to the conference names, so in addition to making up randomized rosters, they will also have to make fake conferences for the schools. I haven't seen anything yet that clarifies whether EA will have rights to bowl games or the College Football Playoffs and Championship. But this game is still 2 or 3 years out from releasing, so a lot can change in the meantime!

EA could bypass the NCAA and secure the rights to player likenesses, but they've opted not to do so. It's a shame, but I do understand that without a single players' union (like the NFL Player's Association for the pros), securing the rights to hundreds or thousands of player names and likenesses individually would be a huge logistical and legal nightmare. I would also have to assume that if EA is not pursuing player likeness rights, then they probably won't include the easy roster customization and sharing features of NCAA 13 and 14, as that would likely land them in the same exact legal troubles that caused the series to get canceled in the first place. I would prefer if EA could use player likenesses and pay the athletes royalties from game sales, especially since that would stick it to the NCAA, which for so long denied college athletes the ability to get paid while simultaneously cashing in on those same athlete's names and performances. Since it didn't license its brand, the NCAA will not be getting any money from this game (as of the time of this writing).

Team and player customization is what caused the cancelation of NCAA Football to begin with,
so I doubt that such features would return in EA Sports College Football.

EA Sports College Football will not be releasing in 2021. A 2022 release is possible, but unlikely. So we'll probably have to wait until the fall of 2023 to see what EA will be offering up for this game, and if it will live up to the standard set by NCAA Football 13 and NCAA Football 14. The fact that the game will not have the NCAA license, conferences, or team names will likely put the new game at an immediate disadvantage, since it won't have those real-world images and names to lean on.

The lack of player likenesses also means that it's considerably trickier for EA to implement any sort of Ultimate Team for this college football game. They won't be able to sell packs of cards with real player names and likenesses. Unless they go to historic college players, or the collegiate versions of current NFL players (who's names and likenesses they already own the rights to through the Madden contracts), I just don't see how they incorporate an Ultimate Team mode into this new game.

Oh, I have no doubt that they'll find a way to fill the game with obnoxious micro-transactions and un-ethical gambling features. Perhaps they'll go a route similar to the NBA 2k games with some kind of Career mode in which you buy cosmetic items for a character avatar, or buy ratings upgrades. This is, after all, similar to what EA is already doing in Madden 21's The Yard game mode. Don't worry, even without Ultimate Team, EA will find ways to squeeze extra money out of the consumers. We just have to hope that whatever method they come up with does not end up kicking the legs out from under the College Football game in the same way that Ultimate Team has stunted the growth of Madden.

Ultimate Team may not be viable without player likeness rights,
but I'm sure EA will find another [unethical] way to milk money out of us.

If we're really lucky, EA might look at EA Sports College Football as a "middle-budget" companion piece to its Madden series. We already saw EA have success with a mid-budget game with Star Wars: Squadrons in 2020. That game was developed on a relatively small budget (especially for a licensed Star Wars game), but that small budget freed the developers from the burden of expectations of higher-budget tent-pole titles like Star Wars: Battlefront II. Squadrons was thus spared the plight of being built around a micro-transaction economy, despite being largely built around an online multiplayer paradigm, and the game benefited tremendously from it. Squadrons enjoys a strong focus on a good single-player campaign, and the multiplayer mode favors strong competitive balance instead of pressuring the player to buy gear and upgrades through micro-transactions in order to stay competitive.

Perhaps, if EA Sports College Football is viewed by EA through a similar lense, it will be built around solid, simulation gameplay and a deep and robust Dynasty mode, instead of being built for casual online multiplayer matches fueled by a loot box micro-transaction economy. Given the high profile of college football, I doubt this will be the case. But if it worked for a Star Wars game, maybe it can work for a college football game too!

I, personally, have a number of features and design philosophies that I'd like to see in a licensed college football game. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Return of in-season recruiting,
  • A player experience system similar to Madden,
  • A Skill Trainer feature (also similar to Madden) with a focus on college concepts such as the option,
  • An emphasis on "teaching" the game to the players and coaching them up, such as training camp, spring ball, and installing certain plays and concepts into the playbook over the course of the season, and then practicing those plays as part of weekly preparation. I want the game to really play up the fact that these are "amateur" kids who are still learning the game, and not seasoned pros who know the game inside and out, and that the frequent turnover of players means that you're constantly rebuilding your playbooks and play-calling strategies based on new personnel each year.
  • Include female players
Maybe EA will finally let women be in the game?

With a licensed college football game now added to the mix, it looks like 2022 / 2023 is going to have a rather full slate of football games to chose from. We won't be stuck with Madden or bust. In addition to the indie football games Axis Football and Maximum Football (which will need to show dramatic improvement over the next couple of years in order to remain viable and competitive), we'll now also have one (or more) 2k NFL arcade games, and EA Sports College Football. I also remember reading that EA Sports College Football would be exclusive to the next gen consoles, but I couldn't find the source for that when drafting this post, so don't take my word for it. If it is a next gen exclusive, then I guess I'll finally have a reason to go out and buy a PS5 -- though I still have at least a year or two to find one.

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