Originally created 12/26/05

Video game makers shed NFL license



CHICAGO - In a gritty new video game about a fictional football league, players cripple their opponents, gamble and use performance-enhancing supplements.

"Blitz: The League" is able to feature the graphic violence and adult themes not usually seen in sports video games because it was produced without an NFL license and the restrictions that carries.

Developed by Chicago's Midway Games, "Blitz" is the first unlicensed football title to hit store shelves since the NFL reach an exclusive agreement a year ago with Electronic Arts Inc., makers of the popular "Madden NFL" franchise. "Madden NFL" and the company's edgier "NFL Street" series are both rated E for everyone.

"We decided that we wanted to make this a mature-rated game for adults, and that opened up a whole lot of doors," said Mark Bilder, executive producer for "Blitz."

Because the game is unlicensed, it can't feature markings of real teams, NFL stadiums or images of NFL players. The star of this title is New York Nightmare linebacker Quentin Sands, a fictional player voiced by former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Bilder said "Blitz," which was released in October and has sold 350,000 units, fictionalizes real behavior that the NFL tries to downplay, such as off-the-field fights and wild parties. Its release came around the same time authorities in Minnesota launched an investigation after allegations surfaced of misconduct during a boat party attended by several Minnesota Vikings players.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper and three other players were charged Dec. 15 with three misdemeanors each for taking part in a party some thought bawdy.

"It's further reinforcement that these things do happen," Bilder said.

The NFL, though, says consumers are more interested in an "authentic" experience in football video games than in fictional shenanigans.

"We want to be associated with partners that portray the NFL in the best light and (with games) based in true reality," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the league is not overly concerned with the negative portrayal of football players in "Blitz."

"Our fans are sophisticated enough to know that the overwhelming majority of players are excellent people both on and off the field," McCarthy said.

Consumers bought 8 million football video games last year, generating $300 million in sales, said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities. About 6 million units were copies of "Madden NFL."

Electronic Arts' five-year deal with the NFL gives gamers who want to pit the Colts against the Eagles only one place to go until 2009. The company also has exclusive deals with NASCAR, FIFA, the NCAA and the PGA Tour.

Pachter said most fans would probably rather play a football game that features the Dallas Cowboys than the Dallas Aztecs in "Blitz."

"The reason we play football (games) is because of the identification with the players," Pachter said. "The reason we update is because we care that Randy Moss isn't with the Vikings anymore."

Previous versions of "Blitz" were developed with an NFL license and featured over-the-top gameplay but no graphic violence or questionable behavior off the field. Then, in 2003, Midway went to the NFL with a proposal for a more untraditional approach.

"They wanted to move in a direction that we weren't comfortable with for 2004. So, we mutually parted ways," McCarthy said. "That direction was where they are evidently heading now."

Jordan Edelstein, a spokesman for Electronic Arts, said the company does not consider "Blitz" a direct competitor.

"We kind of got our eye on a different ball," he said.