The fight for console control


Published: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 3:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 3:01 p.m.

If you thought the battle between professional athletes was intense, you haven't been following the clash of the console sports giants.

After years of competing with other NFL video game franchises, EA Sports secured the exclusive rights to the NFL license, including the teams, logos and player names.

The result: This year's Madden 2006 game will be the only NFL-branded title gamers can pick up.

Additionally, EA Sports also bought the rights to the ESPN license, which was previously held by EA's chief competitor in the sports game world, 2K Games.

But all is not lost for 2K Games, who managed to secure an exclusive agreement of their own with MLB.

Soon after EA's acquisition of the NFL license, 2K Games partnered with MLB to obtain the exclusive rights for cross-platform MLB-branded titles.

That means that platform-exclusive MLB titles, such as Sony-owned 989 Sports' "MLB" franchise, are still around. But that leaves cross-platform developers such as EA out of the game.

Bucking the trend, the NBA and NHL did not sign exclusive agreements with developers, meaning the respective franchises from 2K Games and EA for those leagues will see the light of day.

So where do these changes leave gamers? 2K Games' well-reviewed "NFL 2K" series is no more, while the same is said for EA's "MVP Baseball" series. Additionally, Midway's arcade style "NFL Blitz" and "MLB Slugfest" have received the axe.

According to gamerankings.com, a Web site that averages the scores given to games by professional reviews, 2K Games' "Major League Baseball 2005" title has an average score of 81.3 percent for the Playstation 2, while EA's "MVP Baseball 2005" has an average score of 87.4 percent.

EA's "Madden 2005" and 2K Games' "ESPN NFL 2K6" have similar scores around 89 percent.

In the end, despite anyone's favorite sports title, gamers are losing two quality, well reviewed franchises.

But the legalities of the changes haven't stopped developers who were left in the cold by the deals. Thinking outside the box, some developers are pressing on with new iterations of old franchises.

Midway is at work on "Blitz: The League." Without an NFL license, Midway is free to create a more violent and graphic depiction of a fictional football league.

The title is being co-written by a former writer of ESPN's controversial canceled television series "Playmakers."

Additionally, NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, known just as well for his battles with alcohol and drugs as he is for his football accomplishments, will grace the cover of the title and be featured in the game as the character "Quentin Sands."

The title, which ships this fall for Xbox and Playstation 2, will feature action both on and off the field, giving players the option to have athletes use illegal performance enhancing drugs at the risk of being caught.

Rumors have circled that 2K Games will make a stab at a NFL "legends" game, signing retired NFL Hall of Fame players on an individual basis to star in a new football title, but nothing has been announced.

EA's "Madden 06" is released on August 9 for Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube, and will debut on the Xbox 360 this fall. 2K Games' "Major League Baseball 2K6" will hit stores next spring.

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