The year was 2004. Long before Madden and video game football were terms used interchangeably the way we use “Band-Aid” to describe all bandage products regardless of branding, the realm of gridiron greats was an open playing field. The 2K football series had existed for several years alongside EA Sports annual Madden offering and both sides seemed to have settled into a comfortable yet competitive status quo. Until 2K flipped the entire game on its ear and put Madden on notice in a way that has changed the gaming landscape around football as well as many other sports titles forever.
To adequately understand what was about to occur, a brief historical diversion. 2K football was one of the last remaining remnants of Sega’s final console, the ill-fated Dreamcast. Each year Visual Concepts produced a quality sports title across most of the major sports franchises, but few people noticed because they were buried on the Dreamcast system. With the death of the Dreamcast the 2K sports games navigated over to the PlayStation and Xbox, continuing to release well-regarded titles that were mildly successful, but not enough to put significant pressure on the world’s leading developer of sports gaming, Electronic Arts.
EA may have viewed this competition as unwelcome, but they didn’t make any major changes to their game engine or respond in a way that would indicate they viewed 2K sports as a legitimate threat. And then, it happened… the moment that altered it all. 2K snatched up the unbelievably available rights to the ESPN license, made massive overhauls to the presentation, graphics, and game play of their title, hired one of the most outspoken and well-known stars in the game in Terrell Owens to pose for the cover, and in the final coup de grace released their vastly superior title for the meager price of $19.99. The impact was immediate.
While their competition released yet another tired, old, complacent football game for $49.99, 2K had suddenly trumped them in every department and released a game that featured such first-time occurrences such as a halftime show that showed your real in-game footage with commentary, first-person mode, actual ESPN music and personalities… and all for the price of a pizza and a 2-liter. This was the most immersive, realistic, and exciting football game that had ever been released and even non-sports fans were picking it up to try it due to the low price of entry. And EA realized very quickly that immediate action would be necessary to protect their empire from being erased by this unprecedented assault on their bread-and-butter.
What did they do? If you are a student of gaming history then you already know the answer, but for those of you who may not what happened next was unthinkable… they BOUGHT the exclusive rights to make games based on NFL football. And just to keep 2K out of their honey pot in every conceivable way, they also purchased the rights to NCAA college football and even Arena League football. Seems a little bit like overkill, but after paying the NFL an exorbitant sum of money to be the exclusive developer of games based on professional football they were leaving nothing to chance. They left 2K games literally zero options, and after an ill-advised attempt at a football game that featured old retired players absent any of the licenses that would give their game credibility, 2K football died and Madden stood alone, once again, as not only the definitive game of football but also the ONLY game in town. They effectively excised their competition by making a massive commitment that seemed like a huge amount of money at the time, but they deemed the risk of being pushed out of their own comfortable position as being worth the investment and the results speak for themselves.
What would have happened if EA didn’t step up and shut 2K out of the game? While conjecture is easy, the truth is as close as the other sports juggernaut series, NBA 2K. This series has easily eclipsed the rival basketball series produced by EA (NBA Live) and has consistently sold in the top 10 of total video game sales each year as a result of their excellence in-game development. It is not too hard of a stretch to imagine that this same scenario could have happened in the football gaming sector. If EA hadn’t acted with such an extreme decision, the gaming landscape could have shifted to eliminate Madden from the store shelves permanently. It took an incredibly expensive, seemingly desperate, but ultimately necessary move from EA to save their franchise and here we are over a decade later about to play the only licensed football game in town one more time.
Now that’s what commitment looks like… EA put a ring on it as they understood that this was a relationship they could not afford to lose or even see diminsh. In my day to day walk with the Lord, I am challenged with realizing that I may have felt this way at my point of conversion and had the flames of that feeling fanned once again after a particularly moving sermon or service, but am I truly sold out for the Lord in this desperate of a manner? In Matthew 13:43-46 Jesus tells two short but significant parables to guide us in understanding how we should respond to His call to our lives.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
In each of these settings the message could not be more clear, but it’s application can be a tad bit more difficult. Much like EA in our previous example, there must be a recognition that what is on the other side is worth giving up everything in order to possess it. EA forked over millions of dollars to the NFL and in the end they not only survived, but thrived. The investment seems paltry now compared to the payoff.
Likewise, we are in the position of the man looking at real estate or the merchant searching for the perfect pearl. Once we have found the truth and the reality of the life we are meant to live, we have a choice to make. The value of the prize is much higher than anything we could ever generate on our own. Even after my conversion as a believer, if you are anything like me you have wasted too much time in relationships and activities that leave us unfulfilled and often more damaged and worse for the wear. And in my case, it was my fault for expecting people, places and things to be able to fill a God-shaped hole inside me that nothing else could ever hope to come close to. But if you asked me to give up those things for something better at that time I would look at you like you were crazy. Like a child stubbornly clinging to a mold-covered teddy bear while being offered a shopping spree at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, for years I failed to recognize the value of the life being offered to me while over-estimating the worth of the life I was living.
As believers, we must understand that our commitment to Christ requires 100% of ourselves… every thought, every desire, every possession. He can only deposit His free grace into an empty account. What He offers is priceless, with a mortal life directed by the Creator as He walks with us side by side followed by eternal life in the world to come. The very best this life offers is worthless by comparison. Sell out, and sell out fully. This is not a one time act of belief, but a commitment each and every day. But not only is it worth it, it is the only thing that is truly of worth both in this life and the life to come.