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We Still Need the NCAA to Change How It Works to Get Licensed College Sports Games

NCAA Football

We Still Need the NCAA to Change How It Works to Get Licensed College Sports Games

This week’s news of a college football game definitely, maybe releasing in 2020 really spurred on a lot of interest not only here on OS, but across the internet at large.

Everyone wrote about Gridiron Champions, from Sports Illustrated to SB Nation.

There’s a real, clear hunger for a college football title (and I’d assume a college basketball title as well).

Most of the discussion around Gridiron Champions thus far has revolved around the game’s customization options, and what will and will not be doable within the game’s customization suite. Of course, what is and isn’t legally viable there is mostly for lawyers to decide. The risk a company takes on within the overall greater environment of litigation and activism from athletes is something that certainly seems to be a potential pitfall for any publisher of even a customizable generic college game these days.

History has taught us one thing, and it’s that officially licensed titles sell way better than unlicensed ones. Even if the gameplay is great in the latter, it just won’t sell the same way or have the same mass-market appeal. It is already a stretch to think a major publisher will willingly go into a development process with limited mass-market appeal for an unlicensed game. Thus, to get a college game again from someone like EA — the licenses have to be available.

For a company like EA to return to the college sports game development and publishing landscape, a lot has to change within the NCAA itself before we’ll ever see college sports games again.

The Model Has Changed

The old model of licensing schools and using “generic” names (aka modeled on real players) was struck down by the courts.

A new model of just licensing schools and using actual generic players was attempted by EA but schools began pulling out one by one  — and a title with just a few real schools and a bunch of generic ones wasn’t going to work well.

Thus, EA voluntarily pulled away from developing college sports titles and no other company has attempted to jump in. Thus far, schools have only signaled limited willingness to partner alongside titles on a small basis. Modes like Longshot in Madden have featured real schools and stadiums, but those are just small, painful reminders of what we don’t have.

Even more notable, no other company has even attempted to fill the void. Nothing is stopping someone like 2K, for example, from going the new route of using completely generic rosters with real licensed schools (or as many as they can get). Truth be told, this would be an even more profitable venture at this point than All-Pro Football 2K8 was. But thus far, 2K hasn’t given it a shot.

The absence of another serious big-box competitor trying to jump in likely signals a lack of willingness to develop a AAA football game in 2018 from the ground up without full licensure. It also is a tacit admission that making AAA sports games is a really costly venture and even though college football is very popular domestically, companies aren’t jumping at the chance to compete even indirectly with Madden.

Game publishers have no interest in publishing titles that could land them in legal hot water. Thus, be it 2K, EA, or any other big game company, the risk of litigation for a college title has to be zero for them to proceed forward with development at this point. This means that schools and players both must be fully licensed at a bare minimum to meet that requirement.

Paying Players? Not So Simple

The only way to get to the final point where we can actually have a college sports game is to eliminate all risk of litigation for a publishing company.

And that’s where the problem lies.

You can eliminate the risk of litigation from players by having college players sign agreements to be licensed within your game. But this is the NCAA where players can’t be paid.

So the roadblock between fully licensed college sports games and the customer at this point isn’t EA or 2K, but rather the NCAA themselves. This isn’t an easy issue to unpack either. There are rigid, archaic belief systems running up against the reality that is the modern day economy of sports.

To put it simply, to get NCAA football games will require the NCAA to just do away with the concept of amateurism across the board. Basically, imagine a wild west scenario where players can pursue endorsements, get monetary offers to come to a specific school from boosters, have a shoe deal, and appear in video games.

Such a new scenario would have to affect all sports across the board, and would also likely require some sort of collective bargaining so a company like EA could pay players a set rate for their likeness within a game versus trying to negotiate with thousands of players individually.

But can you collectively bargain as a college athlete who isn’t technically a employee of a university? Just as importantly, as a player do you bargain with universities, the NCAA, or some other entity entirely?

And to make the issue even more complex, do you bargain as college football players or college athletes as a whole subgroup?

I make this complicated and get into the weeds to demonstrate one thing: not that this is impossible but it is a very difficult issue that, when actually undertaken is going to really take awhile to unpack and set up.

So What Happens Next?

I wish this were a simple issue with a simple solution, but there isn’t. I’ve written a version of the following paragraph for a few years now, but the gist of the future of college games comes down to action within the NCAA.

Such an action would likely take a year or more to unpack from the day it starts. Power brokers would have to get various proposals, have a debate on each, and actually ratify something that will work. Assuming there is no litigation and delays in the NCAA rules change process, a company like EA could realistically plan to begin development of a game they knew they could finish sometime within 4-24 months from the point of real action being taken. At that point, you are likely looking at an 18-24 month development cycle just to get something that’s going to be quality to market. Spinning up development teams and getting a game created isn’t an easy process today, and in many ways is much more complex than it was even a few years ago.

So, realistically, a college football game in a best case scenario is still years away. In other words, the most likely scenario is we will go this entire generation of consoles and games without a licensed college sports title on them.

And that is the most depressing thing of all to say to college sports gamers hoping for a brighter future.

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  1. High Impact, TV Sports Football, Front Page Football, Joe Montana Football, Walter Payton Football- were all great games that didn't have official licenses. I think a college game that has the proper atmosphere and collegiate pride will still have a great success rate minus real schools. in 2015, this may have been a true statement. Now, after all these years without one, we just want good gameplay, good atmosphere, and a focus on fun in a football game.
    question I always have is, could a developer patch or add features to an existing college game without facing any litigation.
    for example: could EA patch or add a playoff mode, update stadiums, conferences and game-play fixes into an NCAA14 without facing any lawsuits etc.
    Im sure there people that would pay for such an update...
    Nothing is stopping someone like 2K, for example, from going the new route of using completely generic rosters with real licensed schools (or as many as they can get).

    1. Update 2K football engine from APF 2K8.
    2. Work out deals with the teams from the Power 5 conferences.
    3. Create generic rosters from those teams, but have the same overall strength/weaknesses and offensive/defensive strategies for those teams so they each play "similar" to their real-life counterparts.
    3. Literally call it "Power 5 Football" or "Power 5 College Football"
    4. Once you make enough money, work on getting the rest of the NCAA.
    5. Profit.
    I don't see why these companies aren't jumping right now at the opportunity to pursue a college football game. I understand they are hesitant because of the risk of litigation, but once it is crystal clear on what you can and cannot do in a game, what else is the problem? The amount of media attention that an unlicensed game is getting right now should be enough to signal to EA, 2K, and other big-name developers that this could be a potential gold rush. The demand for a college football game has never been higher! All someone has to do is deliver!
    ElectricAggie
    1. Update 2K football engine from APF 2K8.
    2. Work out deals with the teams from the Power 5 conferences.
    3. Create generic rosters from those teams, but have the same overall strength/weaknesses and offensive/defensive strategies for those teams so they each play "similar" to their real-life counterparts.
    3. Literally call it "Power 5 Football" or "Power 5 College Football"
    4. Once you make enough money, work on getting the rest of the NCAA.
    5. Profit.
    I don't see why these companies aren't jumping right now at the opportunity to pursue a college football game. I understand they are hesitant because of the risk of litigation, but once it is crystal clear on what you can and cannot do in a game, what else is the problem? The amount of media attention that an unlicensed game is getting right now should be enough to signal to EA, 2K, and other big-name developers that this could be a potential gold rush. The demand for a college football game has never been higher! All someone has to do is deliver!

    As stated in the article, EA cancelled their game because big schools and conferences were starting to pull out from their licensing deals to be in the game so they could no longer have a game with all the big schools. Unless the schools change their stance on this, your scenario fails at step 2.
    ElectricAggie
    1. Update 2K football engine from APF 2K8.
    2. Work out deals with the teams from the Power 5 conferences.
    3. Create generic rosters from those teams, but have the same overall strength/weaknesses and offensive/defensive strategies for those teams so they each play "similar" to their real-life counterparts.
    3. Literally call it "Power 5 Football" or "Power 5 College Football"
    4. Once you make enough money, work on getting the rest of the NCAA.
    5. Profit.
    I don't see why these companies aren't jumping right now at the opportunity to pursue a college football game. I understand they are hesitant because of the risk of litigation, but once it is crystal clear on what you can and cannot do in a game, what else is the problem? The amount of media attention that an unlicensed game is getting right now should be enough to signal to EA, 2K, and other big-name developers that this could be a potential gold rush. The demand for a college football game has never been higher! All someone has to do is deliver!

    I'm sure time and $ play into the factor. And what I mean by time and money is the amount of time to sift through all the legal documentation plus having your legal beagles looking it over for a price.
    "Potential" is the key word and I'm all for a college football game. Some companies will take calculated risks and jump in, some companies want a guarantee it will make a profit before jumping in feet first.
    One thing they need to do to make the generic rosters work is add a way to know who the top players are from other teams easily.  The reason a lot of people clamor for the real players (or their likness) is that we know them by name and know their history.
    We can glance at the roster, recognize a name, (basketball and football) and say, "Ooooo, that guy is trouble, he is good.  We need to account for that.  He ran for 200 yards two weeks ago against Clemson."  We need a reason to love generic rosters.  Having player likenesses in a college game is the shortcut to add history,  but there are other more exciting ways to do it.
    There are a combination of things to do that all have been touched on but we need a little more than having to open a roster and look at ratings next to generic player.  The more hard core of us build these stories ourselves in our heads but there should be actual history in the game.  It has been touched on with twitter feeds, weekly highlights, rankings, etc but we want a living world with these teams and generic players. 
    Some kind of weekly buzz page about the upcoming game.  Could be highlights, weekly show about the previous game and touching on the upcoming game, or maybe a brief article about how the team coming in is on a role behind their star running back, or how the team is struggling to get on track.  Also a buzz about your team for fun.   Hell, all of us get these fake news articles in our fantasy football leagues right now.  Get announcers really talking about the upcoming game.  When the players are generic the presentation cannot be!!!!!
    Weekly conference or national news to follow.  I would prefer both and since I am only dreaming here, local, conference, and national feeds of some sort. There are many ways this could be done, it doesn't have to be the 2k5 weekly sports center. It could be like a twitter feed, internal memos to the coaches, local sports stories, etc.
    The point is make the NCAA (or completely generic) world alive, build a world and a history we can follow outside of menus and roster stats.  That is the best bet to get a generic game to work.  You have to go overboard on the presentation once the game mechanics are solid.  Generic has a hard time against licensed competition . . . but there now is no licensed competition.

    (Haven't posted on here for years and just started playing College Hoops 2k8 again.  Love that game and want to see an update some day.)
    The problem is that EA got way too greedy. They could have produced the game with, say, University of Florida and just used generic names. Jason Smith, Black QB #2 from Miami and there would have been no issues.
    But no... EA wanted UFs starting QB to wear #15, lefthanded, white QB who runs well whose hometown is Jacksonville, FL then try to look at us with a straight face and say "no... that's not Tim Tebow... that's QB#15"
    I totally get that it's on the NCAA to change their model. It looks like they are SLOWLY coming around. We still have this huge grey area though with likeness. The precedent has been set as to what constitutes a likeness in a videogame. We still don't yet know just how much different the avatar has to be to avoid litigation. It may be impossible. Still, I wish EA or 2K could scrounge up as many schools and conferences as they can and go for it. Through 2K and Madden we know that close to two dozen schools at least are open to being in videogames. This was done with car being taken to not infringe on anyone's likeness. Just do it on a larger scale. Then again, how marketable would a college game be without rosters that mimic the real ones?
    roadman
    I'm sure time and $ play into the factor. And what I mean by time and money is the amount of time to sift through all the legal documentation plus having your legal beagles looking it over for a price.
    "Potential" is the key word and I'm all for a college football game. Some companies will take calculated risks and jump in, some companies want a guarantee it will make a profit before jumping in feet first.

    Nevermind the time and money spent going through all of the legal mumbo jumbo, how about the time and money that would be needed to develop the game itself? Even if 2K could update the APF engine, do they have the staff that worked on the game to update it, also what exactly needs to be updated, etc? Or do you just build a brand new game because you don't feel like spending the time and resources working on updating decade old code.
    Would it work if EA Sports agreed to pay for players likeness but the money would go into a trust and once they graduate or leave school they would have access to the money.
    The risk a company takes on within the overall greater environment of litigation and activism from athletes is something that certainly seems to be a potential pitfall for any publisher of even a customizable generic college game these days.
    The author asserted that but never explained how it is the case. If the company took care to avoid school colors, locations, logos and uniforms with generic players I don't see how any lawsuit would go anywhere.
    A college game would be easiest for EA to produce because they could port gameplay from Madden to save a major chunk of developer cost. The problem is EA has no incentive because they don't stand to profit from a game which would take players away from Madden.
    It would take a company other than EA to do it and they would have to weigh developer cost vs profit but I don't see how a generic customizable game would generate lawsuits.
    Regarding getting schools to sign on I could envision this happening. The company agrees to set up a fund for athlete health care/research or agree to send money to each school with the condition the school will spend money on health care for the athletes. There are probably more long term health problems from football than anything else. I could see the schools and athletes signing on for something like this but even without the real schools and athletes a generic game would sell if developed at a high level.
    tessl

    A college game would be easiest for EA to produce because they could port gameplay from Madden to save a major chunk of developer cost. The problem is EA has no incentive because they don't stand to profit from a game which would take players away from Madden.

    I don't think NCAA cost Madden much in sales. I think a good segment of the population viewed NCAA as an appetizer until Madden came out a month later.
    Kodos
    I don't think NCAA cost Madden much in sales. I think a good segment of the population viewed NCAA as an appetizer until Madden came out a month later.

    Do you think EA would be willing to sell the gameplay code to another developer for use in an NCAA game?
    I dont think the NCAA has to change it's amateurism model entirely, they just have to change the model to where players are allowed to profit off of their own likeness. I.e., allow them to make money signing autographed pictures. You can still bar them from major endorsements, having an agent, etc while still letting them make money on their own likeness off the field. That way, the school still owns the rights to the distribution of the games, players don't have to be paid any time a replay is shown and the school gets 10k, but they can still sell autographs or their likeness to video games. Maybe that wades into some muddy water where their likeness is akin to getting endorsements, but I think lawyers could hash that out and set clear objective guidelines.
    Like what was mentioned, generic players with names and “stories” like they did with generic rookies on Madden 25 (may still do) is the way to go. I always liked the “news” approach on the PS2 Madden games as well.
    tessl
    Do you think EA would be willing to sell the gameplay code to another developer for use in an NCAA game?

    Nope. But I think EA would love to make another NCAA football game, if the legal issues were all addressed.
    i watch a video on YT and he said the dev talked with a lawer and he said as long as they dont ship with any real Logos real stadiums real playes they are in the clear
    dzballs
    I dont think the NCAA has to change it's amateurism model entirely, they just have to change the model to where players are allowed to profit off of their own likeness. I.e., allow them to make money signing autographed pictures. You can still bar them from major endorsements, having an agent, etc while still letting them make money on their own likeness off the field. That way, the school still owns the rights to the distribution of the games, players don't have to be paid any time a replay is shown and the school gets 10k, but they can still sell autographs or their likeness to video games. Maybe that wades into some muddy water where their likeness is akin to getting endorsements, but I think lawyers could hash that out and set clear objective guidelines.

    What I don't understand about he lawsuit is this - those athletes are pictured on television, magazines, newspapers, websites every day and I don't see any lawsuits for using their likeness. Why was the video game the only one which was sued when the real name and likeness wasn't used while all those other entities profit from using the actual picture of the athletes and none of them are getting sued?
    tessl
    What I don't understand about he lawsuit is this - those athletes are pictured on television, magazines, newspapers, websites every day and I don't see any lawsuits for using their likeness. Why was the video game the only one which was sued when the real name and likeness wasn't used while all those other entities profit from using the actual picture of the athletes and none of them are getting sued?

    Actually, there have been athletes who have attempted to sue not just the athletic conferences, but ESPN and other broadcasters. A case was thrown out in Tennessee not long ago. From what I can tell from my own research, it always comes down to First Amendment Rights vs right of publicity. It seems in most cases (not just sports/athletes) that First Amendment Rights trump the right of publicity, but not always. There seems to not really be a clear-cut right answer in our legal system (go figure), but in my own opinion, it seems as though they are treating television broadcasts (etc.) like news coverage, and treating other things, like video games, as products for sale. I know, I know, ESPN and sports broadcasts are a product as well, but that just seems to be the general opinion when looking at the results of court cases. Again, it's all very convoluted and confusing, with no straight answer to the right of publicity thing.
    Does anyone know if the Legalizing of sports betting helps the case to get the game back sooner. Now that college kids can bet on games, I wonder if this helps the case to bring the game back.
    cingelsby
    Does anyone know if the Legalizing of sports betting helps the case to get the game back sooner. Now that college kids can bet on games, I wonder if this helps the case to bring the game back.

    Doesn't impact the video game one bit. And student athletes still can't place wagers of any kind.
    Tuscaloosa
    Actually, there have been athletes who have attempted to sue not just the athletic conferences, but ESPN and other broadcasters. A case was thrown out in Tennessee not long ago. From what I can tell from my own research, it always comes down to First Amendment Rights vs right of publicity. It seems in most cases (not just sports/athletes) that First Amendment Rights trump the right of publicity, but not always. There seems to not really be a clear-cut right answer in our legal system (go figure), but in my own opinion, it seems as though they are treating television broadcasts (etc.) like news coverage, and treating other things, like video games, as products for sale. I know, I know, ESPN and sports broadcasts are a product as well, but that just seems to be the general opinion when looking at the results of court cases. Again, it's all very convoluted and confusing, with no straight answer to the right of publicity thing.

    Exactly - no straight answer. The video games got shut down with a judge ruling against the company making the game despite the fact the actual likeness and name of the athletes wasn't used. Meanwhile magazines, television, internet websites all use the exact likeness of these same athletes and the courts dismiss the lawsuits.
    The lawsuit appears to have been the equivalent of legislating from the bench.
    jerwoods
    i watch a video on YT and he said the dev talked with a lawer and he said as long as they dont ship with any real Logos real stadiums real playes they are in the clear

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