TitletownTech helps StatusPRO launch first NFL-licensed virtual reality game – Green Bay Press Gazette
GREEN BAY – While StatusPRO’s NFL PRO ERA virtual reality game allows fans to quarterback NFL football teams in realistic settings, it does not come with an appearance on a virtual Pat McAfee Show, or with bruised ribs and a broken thumb.
“This is as close as we can get it to the real thing,” said Troy Jones, CEO of developer StatusPRO Inc. “If we didn’t feel like ‘Hey, this is how it is when I make this throw, and this is how it looks when I’m in the pocket, and this is how it looks when I scramble,’ then, you know, we would be trying to do our best to make the necessary changes so it did feel that way. (Andrew Hawkins, StatusPRO’s co-founder) and I like to say: it’s one-to-one, but one-to-one with the most fun parts of playing the game.”
Much about a professional football experience is included in the game, which went on the market in September and was showcased at the Green Bay Packers’ pep rally in London in October. TitletownTech, a partnership of the Packers and Microsoft, was instrumental in helping the virtual game become reality.
“They just bring a unique set of experiences through their affiliation with the Packers as well as Microsoft, so they always are a great ear, and available whenever (Hawkins) and I want to bounce something off of them,” Jones said. “They are part of every board meeting that we have.”
NFL PRO ERA is the first NFL- and NFLPA-licensed virtual reality simulation game, and is available on Meta Quest 2 and Sony PlayStation VR platforms. The game sells for $29.99. The cost for headsets from Meta and Sony lands in the mid-$300s and higher.
StatusPRO’s founders Jones and Hawkins have a history with football. Jones was a college quarterback who has business experience with Morgan Stanley, the NFL Players Association and Mixed River. Hawkins had a six-year career in the NFL with Cincinnati and Cleveland, worked as a broadcaster for ESPN, NFL Studios, Amazon and others, and worked with sports analytic companies.
TitletownTech got involved in the project in early 2021. In addition to being an investor, TitletownTech provides legal and other business assistance for StatusPRO.
“From a how-to-navigate as an early-stage founder and working with some pretty prominent investors and companies, we’ve been able to add a ton of value,” said Cordero Barkley, a partner in TitletownTech. “We’ve been able to help them outside of just investment dollars.”
Virtual reality was not new to StatusPRO. It developed VR training programs, used by six NFL teams, with data collected by the league from sensors worn by players. The NFL uses its Next Gen Stats to analyze trends and player performance, enhance fan experience in-stadium, online and during game telecasts.
StatusPRO worked with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to develop player performance parameters in the game, and Jackson is the game’s cover model.
The game includes mini games and a practice mode to build up skills; multiplayer sandbox, which allows gamers to play catch with friends in any NFL Stadium; and two-minute drill, which offers a fast-paced simulation experience and lets players compete against other gamers for the top spot on the leaderboard. It has a locker room and trophy room, and gamers can customize their players.
“Once they are ready for game day, they can quickly advance to play full 11-on-11 games in the exhibition mode and rack up trophies as they play a full NFL schedule and take their team all the way to the Super Bowl in our season mode,” Jones said.
Accurate representations of all 30 NFL stadiums are included. Barkley said fans who never get to visit Lambeau Field, much less stand on the turf, can get a sense of that experience.
This YouTube video demonstrates game play, but can’t give the total immersive sense a player gets from being in the game. It is nearly impossible to avoid flinching when defensive linemen come barreling down on you while you’re trying to find an open receiver.
“I’ve seen grown men hug themselves because they thought they were getting sacked by Ndamukong Suh,” Barkley said.
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Broken thumbs and bruised ribs aren’t likely to happen, unless a player forgets where he is and starts running into furniture. There’s always risks in football, it seems.
NFL and NFLPA licensing allows the use of real player names and stats, but, so far, individual features of players are limited. As with Madden NFL, the console video game that debuted in 1988, and also is licensed by the NFL, changes can be anticipated as technology improves.
“Since launch, we’ve been focusing on just trying to improve the game we’ve got. As far as the look and feel of it, I think the team has done an amazing job of doing the most that they can with the kind of technology that’s at market, but there’s new technology coming in the future and, obviously, we hope to continue to enhance the experience.” Jones said.
“And as far as features, we are exploring what we feel our audience wants and that’s what we are drilling into now, and over the next months we’ll be able to finalize what those features are and start to get ready to build those out so they are ready for next season.”
Jones said the game has been in the top three in the Meta Quest store going on seven weeks. Advertisements for the game have aired during Packers and other NFL games.
“We are a part of Meta’s holiday campaign. We’re part of a larger spot that features the most popular titles as we head into the holidays. We also have our own 30-second spot that you’re seeing air on various games. That’s exciting and amazing to see. It’s cool to be watching a game with your family and see an ad for the game come on,” Jones said.
Often, the first out of the gate with new technology gets overtaken by later rivals who take advantage of experience and technological improvements. Think Tecmo Super Bowl vs. Madden. Jones and Hawkins are aware of the risk of standing pat.
“The pie-in-the-sky goal is where I can have my own virtual football team and we go against yours. We are years away from that, but how do we build up to that?” Jones said. “Building up the road map and working backwards from there based on what the technology allows us to do is what our approach is now. We are going to work towards that.”
They also would like to have a college football game, but that might be an even more difficult task than trying to imagine technology that doesn’t yet exist. Everything about it is a moving target.
“All that stuff is in the works. There are a lot of moving parts to that, but I think there is a pathway to try to get started with something like that we’ll look to explore relatively quickly. When does it show up in the product? We don’t know that yet,” Jones said.
StatusPRO had done well meeting its development milestones, which were on a pretty tight timeline, Barkley said.
“Aaron Kennedy (TitletownTech’s entrepreneur-in-residence) spends time with Troy, just really helping him map out his board meetings and some of the structure of his team meetings; just how to drive leadership. Troy has really been engaged with us,” Barkley said.
Jones talks about democratizing the game, making it fun for football nerds and casual fans as well.
“The goal is to take this thing as far as you can and try to make it as big as it can be. We think there is a lot of potential in this idea of democratizing the experience of an NFL player and PRO ERA has many legs. We’re taking it one step at a time,” he said.
Contact Richard Ryman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at @rrymanPG or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/.
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