Online game developer Quick Hit, Inc. has acquired a license from the National Football League to incorporate the league's 32 professional teams into the studio's free-to-play title Quickhit Football.
That makes Quickhit Football, which does not include current players licensed from the NFL Players Association, the first official NFL-licensed video game outside of Electronic Arts since EA locked down league exclusivity in 2004.
EA's deal covers console and PC games, including those with online multiplayer, but does not include solely internet-based games. That allows Quick Hit, which has raised at least $13 million in venture capital, to operate its license outside the jurisdiction of the EA agreement.
Quick Hit design director Brandon Justice is particularly aware of that achievement: he worked on Visual Concepts' NFL 2K5, the last NFL game made by Visual Concepts -- or any other non-EA developer -- since the deal was struck.
"The NFL loves working with exclusivity, but for gamers, competition breeds quality," Justice told Gamasutra in advance of today's announcement. "For gamers, having the 2K and EA products at the same time pushed each of those teams. We [and EA] each wanted the higher Metactritic. EA's made strides since they made the deal, but I think a lot of gamers feel they haven't had to push themselves as much."
Still, Justice stresses that Quickhit Football isn't directly competing for the attention of Madden NFL's millions of players. Rather, he hopes to attract a slightly different section of the NFL's 40 million-strong audience that doesn't play console games or is unlikely to connect with Madden's complex interface.
"Madden is a skill-based game. The more you play it, the more adept you get with the controls, but some people can never cross those barriers," he said. "When I was working on 2K, I'd bring it home to my dad, a lifelong football fan, but after trying to mash the buttons for a while, he would eventually put the controller down. It's like trying to fly a fighter jet after making paper airplanes."
That's why Quickhit aims to be "more of a sports RPG than a sports action game," as Justice puts it. The game combines the management and high-level strategic elements of fantasy football with match systems based on calling plays.
A recent ESPN estimate pegs the fantasy football audience at 27 million worldwide, providing a more specific potential demographic for Quick Hit to target.
"The cerebral side of football, which is what the coaches and fans interact with the most, is what we want to push," said Justice. "Rather than focusing on skill with the sticks, and knowing how to do a juke then a hurdle to get a first down, we're focusing on ease of use, and knowing the strategy of the game."
So why have games based on American football management and strategy traditionally been less well-represented in the market than their soccer counterparts? Justice believes it goes all the way back to the classic Tecmo Bowl.
"Tecmo Bowl was a two-button game with six plays, and it was all about getting out on the field with Bo Jackson and running around until you scored," Justice said. "And because that game resonated so well, every year as technology gets better and console quadruple their power every generation, people just started iterating on that Tecmo mold. They went down that path, and in that time, the other side of football languished."
Justice, whose 25-member development team has been working on Quickhit Football for two years, says he hopes to apply the accessibility of games like Tecmo Bowl to the higher-level aspects of football that have taken a back seat in the console game lineage.
"We try to really focus on the core of the football experience," he said. "We start with something simple to get the player into it, and then we layer more on."