College football will be returning to video game consoles with the first version of “EA Sports College Football” launching in the summer of 2024.
When it is released, it will have been more than a decade since the release of “NCAA Football ’14,” which came out ahead of the 2013 season. There are still unknowns, but there is more clarity of what’s going to be in the first edition of the game.
EA vice president and general manager Daryl Holt spoke exclusively with ESPN about where things are with the game. Here’s what we know — and what we don’t:
So Summer 2024 is a little vague. Any more details?
Not really. EA Sports likely wants to give its other titles some breathing room, too. Madden usually comes out in August. FIFA — which is being rebranded to “EA Sports FC” starting next year — in late September and NHL in mid-October.
Back when it was called “NCAA Football” — no longer the name — the game typically came out in mid-July.
Holt said they still have options and aren’t tied into an exact date right now.
What’s going to be in the game?
That’s still a work in progress, although it is starting to crystallize. The game will have Dynasty Mode and Road to Glory — the team and single-player multi-season experiences familiar to players of previous editions of the game.
Over 120 schools will be in the game, but not every FBS school has signed up yet. Holt declined to say which schools have — and have not — committed to the game, although Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said soon after the announcement of the title’s return that his school would not participate unless his athletes benefited from it. Holt, when asked directly about Notre Dame, declined to answer. He also declined to explain what the process would be for getting those not in the game yet to be included.
The intent of EA Sports, Holt said, is for real college football players to be in the game, too, although the exact machinations are still being figured out.
An EA source told ESPN that if a player is included in the game, he will be compensated.
“Things are still evolving and they evolve at a rapid pace in different ways,” Holt said. “So, there are different elements that we’ve got, you know, within the schools or within the college athletics that are very, very clear. And there are other things that have a little bit more question marks around them.
“So it’s probably one of the more, I guess, hazy from that perspective of exactly what the clearest best path is.”
Holt did not rule out the possibility of FCS schools and HBCUs returning, either, although he wouldn’t comment on it. FCS and HBCUs were in the game up until the mid-2000s, back when it was Division I-A and I-AA.
Of the schools that have committed, EA has been gathering information about their sounds, experiences, traditions, stadiums and uniforms for inclusion. Holt said they’ve been to three college football games so far this season to get actual crowd noise and parts of what make different schools and stadiums unique with many more on the schedule with at least a full college football season to go until launch.
“This is an immersive college experience that’s gonna live on, so our expectations that we will continue to represent the authenticity of the sport,” Holt said. “Figure out ways that people can bring their passion for our game, their game and their sports team into our game and play it. So I think it’s gonna be an always-evolving experience.
“Some things are already things we’re architecting and thinking about some things I think will continue to come down the pipe.”
EA’s hope is to have everything for every team in the game — they’ve written new technology to try and match their ambition to reality — but until they really dive in and begin to fully develop the game, they won’t know what challenges might come.
What about the cover? Announcers?
Again, not much here. Regardless, it is too soon to choose a cover athletes. EA said they have started recording with “recognizable commentators” but wouldn’t divulge names.
Holt wouldn’t say if they will go the route of the “NBA2K” series, which has different announce teams, or Madden where it is one announce team throughout the game. Previous versions of the game featured ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso as announcers.
Where are they in development?
Holt said they are past the creative design and pre-production phases and have started production, having completed some prototypes and things they can look at. But it’s still very early.
Think of it as if they’ve gone to the grocery store, picked up most of what they want and are starting to heat up the oven to cook.
The game is being made in Maitland, Florida, and will use the Frostbite Engine, the same engine used for “Madden.”
Does this mean it’s going to be a “Madden” clone?
No. These are separate development teams working on the two games. The teams have shared some ideas and concepts and made suggestions to one another, but there’s actually competition between the two.
They are very focused about it being a specific college football game instead of Madden — College Edition.
“We want to make sure that it is distinctly uniquely college football,” Holt said. “If someone’s worried about it being a clone of ‘Madden’ or something else, that’s not our intent and not the way we’re approaching this.
“I think people are going to be excited when the game comes out.”
Holt addressed whether or not there was pressure because of criticisms of how Madden has handled its franchise mode for at least the past half-decade.
“When we sat down and started, you know, on a blank sheet of paper or whiteboard talking about what are we gonna focus on? What’s gonna be in the game? Dynasty was like, number one, top on the list,” Holt said. “We know that we’ve gotta satisfy the core and we know we wanna put meaningful decisions in that for replay ability and engagement and that aspect of almost a sandbox of things that they want to potentially do to create a program and run it and manage the team.
“And then lay the foundation for the future of a lot of things that we’re gonna do. So it does come down to a very important part of the game, a very important focus of the game. I’d say probably number two right after gameplay itself.”
What will be in Dynasty Mode? College players? Coaches?
A lot is still to be determined. Holt has stressed the plan and intent is to have real college football players in the game.
He didn’t rule out anything else, including coaches, something the old versions of “NCAA Football” did not have.
“Wish I could talk a little bit more about that, but we’ll have more to talk about in the future,” Holt said. “Just one of the aspects as we talk about the features and more detail, we’ll reveal more in the future.”
As far as integration with “Madden” — like importing draft classes, a popular feature from the old iterations of the game — Holt again was coy on what they will or won’t do but acknowledged there is a history of connectivity between the two products.
Any idea what Road to Glory will look like?
Like Dynasty, Holt was light on details although he did say multiple times they are cognizant of all the stops on the way for a college athlete from recruitment to becoming a “campus legend” and theoretically turning pro. Holt did say they are focused on making it “a compelling experience.”
Could there be more Madden integration with this and Face of the Franchise — again, probably too early to tell.
When asked if part of the experience would be making gamers go to class like in much older versions of the game, Holt laughed — and wouldn’t comment.
“I won’t comment or I won’t deny that that might have been on a board somewhere and could be in the game,” Holt said. “But more to come.”
More waiting, more than likely. With more than a year to go until release, it might be a slow information drip for at least a little while.
There’s a lot to do as they are trying to have an expansive scope and large scale within the game.
“You want team differentiation. You want wide open college gameplay, the stories of Saturday to come through,” Holt said. “And it’s those types of things that I think become interesting when you realize we’re making a game, but it’s an interactive experience and it’s a reflection of someone’s passion and affiliation.
“Every team is somebody’s favorite team, as we like to say. And so we’ve gotta make sure that that’s coming through.”