Byrd’s Nest #6: The Tragedy of NFL 2K5 (and what it means for all of gaming)
When a sports gamer hears the words NFL 2K5, they have a bittersweet reaction. Sweet because, despite coming out six years ago, the game is still regarded as one of the greatest sport video games ever made and bitter, because of the aftermath of the critical success of 2K5. This aftermath has had repercussions that extend to this day not only in the sports gaming world but also to video games as a whole. This is the tragedy of ESPN NFL 2K5.
NFL 2K5 was released in August of 2004 as the next installment of the NFL 2K series. At this time Madden was still king of the NFL game world so NFL 2K5 was considered just another launch trying to challenge Madden’s throne. However, this game was different. The commentary was the most fluid most gamers (myself included) had ever heard in a sports game and is still one of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard. The gameplay was astounding and the graphics were mind-blowing at the time. The ESPN presentation has yet to be matched in modern gaming as SportsCenter shows in Franchise Mode have yet to debut on Madden. The Crib mode allowed you to customize your own mansion with sports memorabilia, in-game bobblehead trophies, and for the first time in a game, actual achievements were unlocked in game. For these and many other reasons, NFL 2K5 is still lauded to this day as the greatest sports video game ever made and for a launch price of only $20 it out sold the $50 Madden that year. Gamers and critics alike couldn’t wait for the next installment. But they were about to get a rude awakening.
Madden publisher EA and developer Tiburon were shocked at the success of 2K5. They immediately signed an exclusivity deal with the NFL and NFLPA (NFL Player’s Association). This meant only EA could make NFL games. Because of this, the only option sports gamers have in terms of football games is Madden and as of recent years Madden games are downgrading in quality. Why? Because they don’t have to improve. They have a monopoly on licensed football games. Hockey, basketball, college football, and baseball don’t have any of these deals except for football. It’s an illegal monopoly.
Now, there is hope. 2K sports, the developer of the NFL 2K series is currently challenging EA in court for the reasons stated above. If they win there could be future NFL 2K games which means an increase in quality of both Madden and 2K games. Now if 2K wins this could set a new standard for all of gaming. It means non-IP licenses given only to a single company will not happen. So for example the US Army can’t sign a contract with Activision saying that US Army soldiers can only appear in Activison games.
So in conclusion, NFL 2K5 represents the best a sports game can be, but also represent something much more meaningful – the future of video game licensing of non-IPs. 2K5 is a landmark game for many reasons, but this may be its most important contribution to gaming.
About the Author - Matthew Byrd
Matthew is a senior at Jones College Prep. He regularly writes about Movies, Politics, Sports, and Video Games at his blog byrdsplace.tumblr.com and records podcasts for libraryofgames.org and does a film podcast called "The Final Cut Film Podcast" with fellow LoGer Taylor Bayless.