It appears as though NCAA Division I hockey is preparing to throw its hat into the video game arena. This news comes on the heels of the CHL and EA Sports’ formally announcing an agreement leading to the inclusion of both CHL teams and players in the video game developer’s upcoming NHL 11. Given the popularity of hockey video games, and the NCAA’s addition of Paul Kelly as the director of hockey marketing operations, it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that the two are in “talks”.
Kelly admitted on the Pipeline Show that there is no formal announcement at this point, and Electronic Arts is currently taking the ‘no comment’ stance at this time according to industry insiders.
“We, the colleges, are very interested in having that happen and we are just currently in the process of figuring out what dimensions that ought to take. [But] just as there is going to be a CHL component to the video game, there will be a college hockey component as well.” - Kelly
Now an NCAA hockey game or its addition to the NHL series is certainly cool in theory, but as with EA Sports’ other installments in their NCAA line of games it does beg the question: will anyone actually care?
Outside of the semi-popular NCAA Football series, the college sports genre has been a tough sell as evidenced by the demise of MVP College Baseball and the more recently disposed NCAA Basketball. The problem with these titles has never been the gameplay, but the lack of authenticity. NCAA Basketball 10 featured first overall NBA draft pick Blake Griffin on the cover, incredibly detailed CBS and ESPN in-game presentation, and rich stadium designs, but actual rosters in the game were filled with created players in place of real-life NCAA stars. The struggles for the NCAA gaming franchise are simply traced back to the difficulty in obtaining licensing.
It must be noted that a video game using an American university’s symbols or likenesses in a video game must go through the Collegiate Licensing Clearinghouse, and such deals are not cheap. While EA Sports already has a relationship with that authority through its NCAA Football franchise, the defunct NCAA Basketball and MVP College Baseball show the challenges of making a collegiate sport other than football sustainable.
While it would presumably be neat to pick up a controller and attempt to guide Boston College to NCAA championship glory, it could quickly become inane when instead of tickling the twine with Cameron Atkinson you’re left to lead the team with make-believe players with names like ‘Sticky McJefferson’. Sorry, but I’d take a pass on that. The re-playability of next generation sports games is built upon the foundation of the likenesses of their real-life counterparts. NCAA Division I hockey has seen its popularity rising the past couple of seasons, and there’s no doubt that the addition of Paul Kelly will only help foster growth, but they might not be ready for a step into the video game market just yet.