December 13, 2004. Many sports game fans likely remember the date as one where the landscape of the football gaming world dramatically changed. On that date the announcement was made that Electronic Arts had secured exclusive video game rights to the NFL, effectively cutting the NFL 2K series out of the race. Despite predictions of doom and gloom, and the series' two-year absence from store shelves, it seems you can't keep a good football series down. Today's official announcement of All-Pro Football 2K8, a game long-rumored to be in the works, confirms that the team at 2K Sports is back on the virtual gridiron, preparing a football game that looks to make up for what it lacks in officially licensed teams and logos with the kind of hard-hitting, authentic gameplay the series has built its reputation on. We spoke with Visual Concepts president Greg Thomas today about the long road to APF 2K8.
GameSpot: A lot of people have been waiting for this announcement, so how does it feel to finally be "officially" talking about All-Pro Football 2K8?
Greg Thomas: Well, we're all very excited about it. We have been keeping quiet for a long time about our plan. And obviously we've been busy with a lot of other things. But we're really excited about...getting back to all of our fans who really loved NFL 2K5.
GS: So, tell me about the process of getting to this announcement. I'm curious as to how the game evolved from what was perhaps going to be NFL 2K6 to what we'll be playing this year.
GT: [A lot has] evolved. It hasn't been, you know, nonstop football work every single day since NFL 2K5 shipped. We've had a lot of other things to do, like the [PlayStation 3] launch with incredibly short time frames, and getting our NBA game to the place it's at now, which is, you know, the best NBA game out there. [With NFL 2K5], after we shipped it and we really started to think about what we'd do next for our football game, it took some time to really think. We had to really go through a lot of different processes here and figure out exactly what we wanted to do. And that did take a decent amount of time to make sure that we put something, you know, super-compelling together for all our fans.
GS: Was it something that you'd maybe come back to once a week and conceptualize ideas for the game, or was it something that all came together at once?
GT: All of the above. It was once a day for a while...then once a week. It was just a lot of different people throwing a lot of different strategies in the ring and figuring out exactly what was the right strategy. This is not about us trying to cash in on NFL 2K5 in any way. This is about us really building the best football game we can build for our fans.
GS: After NFL 2K5 and the loss of the NFL license, was there ever any thought of simply stripping everything out and creating a sort of generic 2K6?
GT: Never. We would never do something like that. This is not how we work. If we don't have something really fantastic to offer our fans, then we just don't want to be in that business. So that's why we really took a decent amount of time to figure out exactly what we did want to do.
GS: Looking back at NFL 2K5 specifically, what did you like about it, and where did you think you could go next?
GT: Like all of our games, every single game I've ever made in my entire career, they're all not good enough. But then it comes out and you start hearing people talk about it in the forums, you're watching people play it, you're reading reviews, and you start to feel a lot more comfortable with what you've released, on different levels. That being said, we had had just a huge list of things that we wanted to do. And if you look at that game, even back in 2K5, it's still light years--even just presentation-wise--where the current football games are.
So I think that we felt good about what we shipped, but again, we had a lot of things that we wanted to do, and we always do.
GS: Other publishers have made stabs at non-NFL football games. We have Midway's Blitz revamp, and Sony tried with an ill-fated football game [Road to Sunday]. How do you view the market for "unofficial" football products, and how do you go about ensuring that All-Pro Football thrives in that market?
GT: I think that we've come up with some very unique ideas on how to play a football game, and I think that there's room for both. I think those people who want the NFL are going to be able to get their fill of the NFL, and I think that there's people who are going to feel like, "Hey, with the NFL game I didn't get my fill of everything I wanted for football." And I think there's other people who are going to say, even with the Blitz game, or whatever other games are going to be made for football, "I still didn't get a good enough feel for football," when they see what we're putting out.
GS: Do you have sales expectations for this game?
GT: I think we always expect our games to do well, sales-wise. And we never talk about sales figures. But I think that we always expect our games to do well or else we wouldn't be making them. So I think that from our standpoint we're expecting this game to be a big, big seller. We're expecting our fans to be really excited, and there's a lot of fans.
We think there's a lot of really exciting information to come through the months here until we launch that are going to keep people and generate more excitement as we go, until it culminates in really what is the final kind of launch plan for us.
GS: The name of the game is All-Pro Football 2K8. Where did the name come from, and how does it reflect the game that you're creating?
GT: We went through a lot of different strategies for names and that kind of thing, and we really came on sticking with obviously Football 2K8, because that has been what we've been building here since the original 2K on the Dreamcast. And All-Pro really just fits in because that's the kind of game we're trying to make. We are focused on making the best football game that a gamer can play. And there's nothing better than an All-Pro, you know, [so] it made perfect sense for us.
GS: The name also is suggestive of star players, so one of the obvious questions is: Will we see former pros in the game, and what can you tell us about that?
GT: You know, anything is possible. We're not really going to talk about any kind of specific features today, but you can look at All-Pro Football 2K8, and you can come across a lot of different reasons why we named it that. One of them is the one that you suggested. There are about four others that you can also come up and make a good argument for. And I think today we really just want to kind of talk about the fact that we're making this game, and we're going to really let the details kind of come out as we get close to the launch.
GS: Since you're developing the game for next-gen consoles, how much of it will be built from the ground up?
GT: The last time we shipped our football game it was on PS2 and Xbox, so we've had a lot of work to do to build it on the next-gen systems. I think that our overall plan has been: we want to keep the spirit of NFL 2K5, but we want to really build from the ground up on a lot of different [areas]. If there's a number, say six different key basic foundations to this game, we're probably rebuilding four of them. So I think that from that standpoint we're really reengineering most of everything, but we do want that ultimate feel to be what our fans have always liked.
GS: So is it safe to say that this will play and feel like an older 2K NFL game, at least from a control standpoint?
GT: No, I don't think that's fair. I think it's fair to say that, the overall feel and control that all of our 2K games give is really our goal. And you can look at what we do with our basketball product. And you know, from that level, that's really what we're aiming for with football. We want to give a lot of control to the player. We do not want the player to be watching so much. We want the player to be playing.
GS: When you're talking about a sports game that doesn't have recognizable teams or recognizable players so to speak, I'm wondering how you've approached that from a design standpoint. Are you going the Blitz route and making things over-the-top, or are you sticking to the roots of the 2K series being a sim series and being attractive to people who are just straight-up football fans?
GT: Well, like I said before, we're really not divulging too much today. The one thing I will say is that, and I've said it previously in this call, is just that we're going after all of the fans who have appreciated the games that we've built for them for years and if we are to do that successfully...we are going to give them something that we know...that they're going to like.
GS: The downsides of a long development cycle are obvious--you guys want to have a football game out there, gamers want to play that football game--but is there an upside to a long development cycle?
GT: Well, there's a lot of upsides to a long development cycle, especially when you have new hardware. You know, a long development cycle on old hardware is really a bad thing, but on new hardware it's a really good thing. You know, you're assured to get the latest, greatest technologies and that kind of thing. But we haven't been just chugging away on football for the last three years. We've had to learn the PS3...and while we've always had football in our brain, and really always had our plans together, we weren't always every single day working on this game.
So I think from that standpoint we haven't had a superlong development period. I don't like personally to wait. I think it would have been great to have this game a couple of years ago, but that just wasn't going to happen. That just wasn't in the cards. We wouldn't have made the PS3 launch. But from a football standpoint we think that the amount of time that we're putting into this game is exactly what it needs, and we're going to ship a game that we're going to be really proud to ship.
GS: A lot of people are curious as to the degree of customization there will be in the game. Is there anything you can tell me about that?
GT: I think that [last] gen games had a level of customization. I think the next-gen games now, people are really asking for a lot more customization as you get into much more detail, finer details, and that kind of thing. And so our goal is to really appeal to those next-gen consumers. And so the idea is, hey, we want to give our fans an experience--very much what they expect from us.
GS: The standard in sports games is to have an athlete appear on the cover. Have you made any decisions on this, as to whether you'll have a cover athlete and what type of person you are looking for?
GT: Yeah, I think, again, we've had a lot of talks about that. We're not really ready to say anything today about the cover. But I will tell you that we definitely do have a plan, and it's really unique and it's exciting.
GS: Do you foresee 2K going after the NFL license again?
GT: You know, I think that our stance has been pretty clear on what we think of the situation with the licensors. We think that everybody should be allowed to make a game, and we think that ultimately is going to make better games. I think that [the NBA's multiple license approach] has really shown that's the way to go. And I think that what happened with the NFL and MLB is unfortunate. When you have competition you have twice as many people thinking about how to solve problems, or thinking about new ideas, and it just breeds competition and therefore it breeds better titles in the marketplace.
I think our kind of vision would be [that] we want to build a football game first and foremost, and the licensors, if they come, great, if they don't, that's great too.
It's all about our fans who stood behind our games. You can remember all of the postings and stories and everything that went online when this whole NFL thing happened. A lot of these guys really stood behind us and continue to stand behind us today. And you know, all of that, that's what really matters to us. We want to make the fans of our game happy, people who said, "Hey, the 2K football series is the best." So we think that it's more about the sport of football and the engine than it is about any [licensor].
GS: Sounds good. Well, I can't wait to hear more about the game.
GT: Very cool. We have a lot of different things to talk about as we get closer into launch here as far as everything...dates and features and what we're doing differently and how, and why, and price, and everything. And you know, expect the unexpected. We've got some really neat ideas, and as we get close to launch, people are going to be really excited.
GS: Thanks for your time, Greg.