NFL, 2K Announce Partnership to Produce 'Non-Simulation' Football Games

2K will be publishing NFL games again, but it doesn't seem to be the return of a Madden competitor like many have been hoping for.

2K is back to making NFL games again.

The publisher and the National Football League announced Tuesday morning that they have agreed to a multi-year partnership, which will see the production of multiple “non-simulation” football games.

Theses games’ specific developers, official titles, and release dates will be revealed at a later date, but they are all in early development, with the first game at least expected to be out in the 2021 calendar year and parent company Take-Two’s 2022 fiscal year (so most likely right around the start of the 2021 NFL season).

“We’re thrilled to be back in business with the NFL in a partnership that will span multiple video games centered on fun, approachable and social experiences,” 2K President David Ismailer said in a press release. “It’s exciting to bring together 2K’s expertise in creating award-winning sports games with the NFL’s renowned status as a world-class entertainment and sports organization.”

It’s been quite a long time since 2K last produced a football game, and an NFL-licensed one at that.

Way back in the summer of 2004, after years of steadily competing with EA’s flagship Madden franchise, 2K (then under the the name Sega Sports) released ESPN NFL 2K5, which to this day has been regarded by many as the greatest football game ever made.

Unfortunately, developer Visual Concepts never got a proper chance to follow that up. Soon after the releases of both 2K5 and Madden NFL 2005, EA announced an exclusivity deal with the NFL to make itself the sole publisher of the league’s licensed video games going forward.

That deal was in effect ever since up until Tuesday’s news, though EA released a statement maintaining that it will continue to be the exclusive publisher for the league’s simulation-based games with the Madden franchise.

“EA SPORTS is the exclusive publisher of NFL simulation games, and our partnership with the NFL and NFLPA remains unchanged. Our agreements have always allowed for non-exclusive development of non-simulation games on various platforms. Our commitment to NFL fans, which spans almost 30 years, has never been stronger, and we’re having our biggest year yet. Madden NFL 20 is the most successful game ever in the franchise, and new modes like Superstar KO and our Madden NFL esports broadcasts are growing the fan base. We’ll be building on that momentum with more new and different experiences, on more platforms and with new ways to play, in the years to come.”

At least for right now, and to the disappointment of a lot of fans who have long hoped for the return of a Madden competitor, 2K’s partnership doesn’t look like the return of the NFL 2K franchise based on the projects described in the press release. Something more in the arcade style of the NBA 2K Playgrounds series is probably the more realistic type of game to expect.

It’s also important to note that the NFL Players Association is nowhere to be found in 2K’s press release, and an agreement with it is needed, otherwise NFL players can’t be featured in any of these future games. (This is just speculation, but the NFLPA’s absence might be because of ongoing negotiations with the league on the next collective bargaining agreement.)

Still, that 2K is working with the NFL again — coupled with MLB The Show going multi-platform starting next year — is an encouraging sign that the sports gaming landscape is in for some major shifts.

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Nick Tricome

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