On December 13th, 2004, the NFL announced they had signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Electronic Arts. For the next five years, EA would pay the NFL for the video game rights to the NFL’s teams, stadiums, and players and would encompass action, simulation, arcade-style, and manager games made for PCs, consoles, and handhelds. This was the fatal blow to NFL 2K as we knew it…
Soon after, EA announced it had signed a 15 year contract with ESPN to feature their brand of presentation in all EA Sports titles. Madden saw very little ESPN implementation, but games like NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball had their fair share.
In January of 2005, a deal was struck between SEGA and Take Two Interactive. For $24m cash, Take Two bought Visual Concepts and KUSH Games from SEGA. The deal included rights to intellectual properties associated with all the SEGA Sports titles, as well as the “2K” brand name. NFL 2K would never be published under the 2K label; ironic seeing as how the NFL 2K series was the main reason for the 2K brand’s success.
Take Two would green-light a unlicensed football game called All Pro Football 2K8, featuring legendary former NFL players, but it would not go well. However, that’s a story for another time.
For now, we look at NFL 2K5, and I’ll ask the same questions I did at the beginning:
Released over a decade ago, NFL 2K5 is one of the most beloved sports games of all time, and still seems to be the standard by which every football game is compared to. But why? What exactly makes NFL 2K5 stand above the rest? Why are people so attached to it?
2K5 was not built in one year. It was built on a great foundation, starting in 1999. It adapted. NFL 2K kept it’s vision and meddled in the details. Visual Concepts knew they’d probably never overtake Madden, but that didn’t stop them from putting the love and careful detail into each and every one of their games.
One of 2K5’s best features is their weekly SportsCenter wrap-up in Franchise Mode, but NFL 2K3 had one as well. As did 2K4. The graphics largely stayed the same the whole time on PS2 and XBOX. The announcers were as delightful in NFL 2K as they are in 2K5. So why is 2K5 held up as the benchmark?
It was everything outside the game that helped 2K5 earn reverence with gamers. It was the low price point. It was the early release. It was staying true to the foundation Visual Concepts created. It’s the theory that NFL 2K5 was so good in everything it did, that it nearly knocked over the giant that was Madden NFL. It was the heartbreak of monopoly. NFL 2K5 is so much more than just another football game. It’s a reflection of both the good and the ugly side of corporate America and the video game industry. It’s the beauty of one last goodbye.
Will we ever see it return? I hope so. I don’t expect it to ever come back. And I’ll deal with that by popping it in every now and again, just to remember a time when we had a choice between our NFL video games. Just to appreciate the incredible effort from Visual Concepts. But more so than all of that, play a video game that still holds up to this very day.
This was the Legend of NFL 2K5.