When it was announced that Gridiron Champions was officially going to bring college football games back to fans, the excitement quickly turned into skepticism.
How can a new company come in and make a college football game when companies like EA and 2K won’t? Aren’t college games not allowed?
It’s been five years since a college football game has graced the consoles of gamers everywhere, but that’s not because of any new laws. In fact, it’s due to the choice of publishers and developers.
The crucial Ed O’Bannon vs. NCAA case didn’t put an end to college video games legally. Instead, it was supposed to open the door to players who were featured in the game to be properly compensated for the use of their likenesses.
EA, which was named as a defendant in the case, settled out of court to the tune of $40 million spread out among nearly 30,000 athletes. After the settlement, it was revealed that EA ultimately had no issue paying for player likenesses because it would add to the realism of the games being released. But, due to the NCAA’s archaic views on amateurism and the student-athletes, any payment by EA for player usage would deem those athletes ineligible to play.
On top of that, the NCAA would’ve ceased licensing of schools, conferences, and more to EA. It was the ultimate nail in the NCAA Football and Basketball coffin for EA Sports.
Fast-forward to 2018 and Gridiron Champions from IMV Gaming is due for a release in 2020, marking the return of college football to gamers. But how is the game going to be made and released without any issue from the NCAA?
IMV Gaming can use the defense that any editing done by players of the game to any elements is protected by the freedom of artistic expression stated within the First Amendment.
IMV Gaming is going the route of creating completely fictitious schools, players, and conferences. While larger companies like EA and 2K may avoid it due to the “realism” they like to achieve, smaller companies like IMV aren’t too concerned about the lack of real schools hurting the overall product. Besides, one of IMV’s largest claims about Gridiron Champions is the in-depth customization that will be available to players.
“Gridiron Champions will set itself apart in the realm of creativity,” IMV Gaming states. “We want our users to be as creative as possible with our generic model. We intend to allow users to customize the generic rosters, teams, stadiums, and conferences.”
In addition, players will be allowed to upload their own logos and completely change the uniforms to their liking.
EA began allowing this feature in a smaller capacity towards the end of the NCAA Football series’ lifespan with the online team builder. It appears as though IMV Gaming’s plan for Gridiron Champions includes a team builder the likes of which has never been seen before.
But if player editing poses an issue for the powerhouse companies, why would a smaller company take on the potential risk of being targeted by litigation? It’s actually a simpler answer than one may expect in something as specific as this.
The Axis Football series is a game that similarly uses a full customization sweet to allow players to custom the game as they see fit. From NFL to NCAA mods, users create everything from jerseys to players in order to add to the realism. It’s something that they’ve made sure is ok to do since.
“As long as the game does not ship with the content — we’re talking about copyrighted logos, player likenesses, all that sort of stuff. — as long as the game doesn’t ship with it, it’s fine,” Danny Jugan, creator of Axis Football said. “If it’s user created after the fact and added to the game, it’s ok.
“As long as that is the approach taken, then there shouldn’t be legal issues.”
The key word to take away from the above statement is “ship”. It’s a key protection for games like Axis Football and, in this case, Gridiron Champions.
The only resemblance Gridiron Champions is going to have to NCAA Football is the game that’s being played on the field. Everything else, as mentioned before, is completely generic. This allows IMV Gaming to use the defense that any editing done by players of the game to any elements is protected by the freedom of artistic expression stated within the First Amendment. It may sound like a cheesy defense, but it’s a plausible and pretty solid one in this instance.
There are still two years between now and the release of Gridiron Champions, so things could very well change when it comes to utilizing the likenesses of college athletes. However, with the NCAA continuing to throw out the term “amateurism” for its athletes despite being a multi-billion dollar industry that makes its money off these students, it’s highly unlikely that we see any change any time soon.
That means fans, for better or worse, will have to hope that games like Gridiron Champions can recreate the college football experience that has been missing from video games for far too long.
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