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Online Video Game Lands A Rare League License — The NFL's

Quick Hit Football, the free-to-play online football game, will bring NFL teams to its MMO-style team management simulation under one of the very few licenses the league’s given to a video game of any type other than Madden.

The deal, made public first through Kotaku, will deliver all of the logos, colour schemes, uniforms, emblems and brands of the league and its 32 teams. Players, who act as a franchise’s coach and general manager, will be able to pick an actual NFL team to develop or build out a completely unique one, as they have since the game’s launch late last summer.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed; Quick Hit Football evidently is outside the scope of the NFL’s pact with EA Sports, which makes Madden the only NFL licensed game series on consoles, PCs or handheld game systems. Games on mobile devices, such as Gameloft’s NFL 2010, which released on the iPhone, also aren’t covered by the deal, which dates back to 2005 and runs through 2012.

But Quick Hit wasn’t diving at contractual loopholes as part of its development plan, said CEO Jeffrey Anderson, formerly the CEO of MMO-maker Turbine, Inc., and it didn’t necessarily consider an NFL licence to be a goal this soon. “From the beginning, we have tried to make a real game; we’ve always wanted to create a real football experience, not a cartoon game or something throwaway,” Anderson said. “It’s always been our focus, and we believed that if we did a good job and made a great game, then the opportunities would present themselves.”

Quick Hit’s pact is not an exclusive; but when it brings the league emblems into the game it will be the only online NFL video game on the market. While EA Sports has taken two major properties – FIFA and Tiger Woods PGA Tour – online, there’s no indication it has plans to do the same with Madden. Still, Quick Hit’s glad to be the first, and to have a deep gameplay engine already in place.

What it does not have, as of now, is a deal with the NFL Player’s Association, the union in charge of group licensing for all NFL players’ likenesses. So no active players will appear in the game beyond the five current stars with whom Quick Hit has been allowed to negotiate an appearance contract. Anderson, asked if Quick Hit was pursuing or in negotiations for such a licence, declined all comment on the subject.

Quick Hit Football is a strategy game, not an action-based one. Players call plays and then the game’s AI acts out the outcome. The meat of the persistence experience is in signing, developing and cutting players and building out playbooks to grow your franchise into a powerhouse. The game’s free to play, but certain unlockables and points used to develop attributes are available through microtransactions, although they are also accrued for free with enough play. The game features advertising between quarters and in some windows.

Anderson said the game will not change its name to incorporate the NFL branding. With the league, it has plainly become a more attractive property to advertisers, and the company clearly has interest in augmenting that part of its business.

For players, Anderson did not yet offer specifics for how NFL teams will be integrated into the game for existing players who’ve already invested plenty of time in their own created franchise. “We’ve got lots of ideas,” he said. “We have it mapped out pretty clearly, but we’ll defer that questionf or now. The goal is to give people the opportunity to buildan NFL franchise. So there will be some free-access content, some premium content, but where that line is and how we’ll shepherd in new users versus existing users is something we can’t talk about today.”

Still, it’s a considerable milestone for a startup that not too long ago was building its game above a coffee shop in Foxboro, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. Anderson said Quick Hit had contact with the league and built relationships with the Patriots’ business management over the past two years, but once it launched a tangible product that the league could see, conversations took a more serious and definite tone.

“I think we represent the next generation of game,” Anderson said. “We’re not bigger than Madden, we don’t have as many features as Facebook – but what we represent is the next generation of gaming and all of those concepts going on right now. [The NFL]looked at what’s going on, and saw what kind of opportunity existed, and saw a company at the intersection of that.”