(CFL Madden images from @CFLMadden)
If you watch CFL football and play video games, you’ve probably wondered why you don’t ever see the CFL represented on your favourite console. Since I moved to Regina seven years ago I’ve been paying more and more attention to Canada’s league. It’s necessary around here if you don’t want to be left on the fringes of conversations. If you want proof of how pervasive Rider Pride is, just take a walk around downtown Regina on a day when the Roughriders are playing and count the people wearing green. It’s nuts.
As I became more and more invested in the preferred local pastime, I naturally wondered if there was a video game I could be playing to help familiarize myself with the game and the league. And of course there wasn’t, and still isn’t.
But a little digging has uncovered some interesting efforts where the world of video games has intersected with that of Canadian football.
It turns out that back in 1999 British Columbian game developer Wintervalley Software released a PC game called CFL Football ’99, which stands as the only officially licensed CFL video game ever released. Rather than trying to compete directly with established football video game franchises like Madden that feature quick and flashy arcade gameplay, Wintervalley opted to make a slower paced simulation style game. It featured the eight contemporary CFL teams, their current rosters, and featured on-field action as well as between-game team management sequences. While some sports gamers preferred this more thoughtful kind of experience, CFL Football ’99 was outclassed by existing franchises in the simulation genre, most notably Sierra’s Front Page Sports series, so it mainly appealed to diehard CFL fans.
Despite the game’s limited market, Wintervalley began work on a second CFL game to be released in 2000. Unfortunately the developer became more interested in customization than the CFL license, so all official CFL content was ditched to allow players to adjust the rules and field size according to their preferences. The final product was Maximum Football, eventually released in 2006 after a drawn out development. While the game, along with its 2007 successor Maximum Football 2.0, can be played with Canadian football rules and field size, you would have to use your imagination as far as official CFL teams go.
EA Sports’ annual Madden series has been the source of some faint glimmers of hope for CFL fans. In 2012, Kotaku learned that some of EA’s developers had been working off the clock and had created a working CFL game using editing tools in NCAA Football. While their Canadian boss Cam Weber found that interesting, he stated that the company had no intentions of making an official CFL product, despite revealing that he had spoken several times with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon.
With no official help coming from game publishers, our best chance of playing a game with real CFL teams seems to lie with the PC modding community. I’ve found two Twitter accounts – @CFLMadden and @CflMadden14 – that are each promising to bring a detailed CFL mod for Madden to the public. Both accounts boast an impressive collection of screenshots that demonstrate meticulous attention to detail for team uniforms, players and even the league’s football fields. You can readily spot Mosaic Stadium and BC Place in the images, and even players can be recognized by their distinctive hairstyles, builds and faces. A lot of work has gone into these mods to bring a recognizable CFL experience to gamers, but despite the Canadian aesthetic, you’ll still be playing with American rules. Sure, you can take Darian Durant and the Saskatchewan Roughriders to the field at Mosaic, but I can’t imagine it will be a satisfying experience to run on a narrow, 100 yard field, throwing for four downs. I don’t want to detract from the work the modders have done because it all looks fantastic, but without Canadian rules it can’t be anything more than a CFL themed costume party.
So why won’t EA or another publisher get behind a CFL game? The obvious answer is that CFL fans and gamers make up a small market cross-section. Most American football fans aren’t aware of the league, preoccupied as they are with the NFL and college football. Even in Canada the CFL is losing ground to the NFL, especially among the 18-35 demographic which is crucial for video games. Another Twitter account I’ve come across, @CFLVideoGame, is trying to demonstrate the demand for a real Canadian football game. It’s been around since September 2012 and so far has gathered only 413 followers, and hasn’t tweeted since June. The account links to an online petition asking game developers to create a CFL game, or even just a CFL expansion to an existing game. The petition, now closed, only picked up 297 supporters.
I don’t take that to be an accurate representation of interest in or viability of a CFL video game; it’s more a reflection of the social media reach of the individual running the petition. The idea of a CFL video game first occurred to me a few years ago while I was watching a lacrosse match of all things. I don’t follow lacrosse, but it was some kind of championship game, and after it was over the commentators plugged a video game based on the league that had just been released on the Xbox Live Marketplace. If lacrosse can get a video game, why not the CFL?
Is the answer simply that there is an established product that is similar and already extremely lucrative? Perhaps there are worries that an EA CFL game would compete with Madden and lure away Canadian fans who were only going to purchase one football game. The most viable solution I’ve encountered is for EA to create DLC for Madden that lets us play as CFL teams with Canadian rules. I’ve never bought a Madden game but I would certainly be tempted to shell out for it plus the DLC if EA ever decided to go that route.
So if you’re listening game developers, there is an admittedly small but hungry market out there waiting for a CFL video game. We’ve got cash in our hands and we’re waving it around, waiting for someone to sell us the game we’re looking for.