Exclusive rights to NFL simulation video games belong to EA Sports through at least 2025 thanks to a vote from league owners this offseason, but that doesn't mean current NFL players won't be featured in other games in the near future. 2K, the video game publisher behind the annual "NBA 2K" series and the popular "ESPN NFL 2K5" game, announced Thursday an agreement with the NFL Players Association to include more than 2,000 NFL players in multiple new football games starting in 2021.
2K, which itself operates under the umbrella of Take-Two Interactive, had previously announced a "multiyear partnership" with the NFL to produce future football-related games. 2K's latest agreement, struck alongside OneTeam Partners (OneTeam) -- a joint venture between the NFLPA, MLBPA and RedBird Capital -- confirms those games will feature active NFL player names, jersey numbers, images and likenesses.
2K's upcoming new games are classified as "non-simulation" games, which are technically exclusive to EA Sports and its annual "Madden" franchise. But it's unclear exactly what does and does not qualify as a "simulation." For instance, 2K said in its press release regarding the NFLPA deal that its games will be "football game experiences," signaling potential similarities with game-day play found in "Madden." Either way, 2K's acquisition of NFL player likenesses marks a clear step toward re-entering the NFL video game market.
"We're thrilled to be working with the NFLPA and OneTeam to bring the biggest and best stars in football to the games we're working on," said 2K president David Ismailer. "We want to give fans experiences that are authentic, memorable and fun, and having a roster of real-life sports heroes through the Players Association and OneTeam is a huge part of delivering on that promise."
Specific game titles, developers and release dates will be announced at a later date.
2K released six different NFL simulation titles between 1999-2004, most recently publishing the critically acclaimed "ESPN NFL 2K5." Electronic Arts signed an exclusivity deal with the NFL shortly afterward to ensure EA Sports held the rights to future simulation NFL games as part of its "Madden" series, which began in 1988.