When NFL Blitz was announced in October, I asked the game’s producer, Dave Ross, what kind of hitting action the game would feature, given the league’s increased sensitivity to violence and head injuries since the last version of the game was released in 2003. Ross said at the time they were still working through approvals with the league, but promised it’d still “contain over-the-top, fast arcade action with big hits and guys catching on fire.”
Well, since then, the NFL has ordered late hits removed from the latest game. Speaking to GamesRadar, Ross said the EA Sports Tiburon team did include late hits, a staple of the hold series, in early builds of the game, including one shown to the league. But the NFL said no and asked EA to prohibit contact after the whistle.
“At the end of the day they really felt like, with the messaging that they have, and with their stance on player health and safety, that it was something that was better left out of the game at this point,” he told GamesRadar. “It still has the same over-the-top arcade experience that people remember from the old version of the game … it just doesn’t have the late hits anymore.”
It’s not just the NFL’s sensitivity, of late, to the bad PR of brain-rattling collisions, whether they’re cartoonishly presented or not. In some ways, it shows a more sophisticated understanding of how video games apply to a league’s brand management than they did around the turn of the century.
As is well known, the NFL has a single video game licensing partner (for console games, anyway) and it is EA Sports. The biggest reason is money, but another is control. Managing a relationship with a single licensing partner means the league can be more hands-on in monitoring, approving, and expressing how it wants to be presented in the products carrying its symbols. This is a manifestation of that.