Last week, the sports video gaming world saw the exclusive agreement between FIFA and EA Sports come to a close after nearly 30 years. The move is intended to create more competition in the world of soccer video games outside of just Konami's eFootball.
While EA may not have an exclusive deal with the NHL, it sits as the top hockey game without real competition. It's been a full decade since the EA series has had a true challenger from a gameplay perspective (not including the fantastic Eastside Hockey Manager or Franchise Hockey Manager).
The cost of making a licensed sports game is not easy, but there are still a few major video game publishers that may have the resources to make a decent attempt at increasing the hockey game market. Here's a look at a few that could be good fits:
Sony has not made a hockey game since 2005, but it's a company that has the ability to get back into the scene. Sony's history with the sport as a publisher of their own series goes back to the earliest days of the Playstation. From 1995 to 2003 they produced NHL Faceoff which was rebranded Gretzky NHL in 2004.
Gretzky NHL beat EA by a few years when it came to integrating NBC's broadcast production in the game and gave players the ability to play as Gretzky throughout various points in his career with the Oilers, Kings, and Rangers.
Sony's sports gaming portfolio right now only has MLB's The Show, but Sony's team in San Diego has proven on next-generation consoles they can make a quality product. The Show is also a cross-platform game for both the PlayStation 5 and the XBOX Series X, something that EA Sports games do not yet have.
A new Sony NHL game that has cross-platform capabilities could certainly be something that gives them an edge.
Once upon a time ago, Konami's gaming library contained numerous sports video games based on North American leagues, and that also included hockey. The legendary company that created Blades of Steel in the 1980s, in the late 1990s put an NHL twist on the series for various fifth-generation consoles with NHL Blades of Steel '99 and NHL Blades of Steel 2000.
The reviews for the games were mixed in reviews and the company has largely moved away from sports games geared towards the North American market (eFootball and Winning Spirits Baseball are the current sports games produced by the company).
Konami's sports games always strived for a realistic experience and it would be interesting to see their take on a new NHL game would be after being away from the sport for over 20 years, essentially creating a new slate for themselves in the hockey gaming world.
Microsoft's run as a sports game developer may have been a short one, but it did see them produce their own hockey game in the form of NHL Rivals under the XBOX Game Studios Division in the mid-2000s.
Rivals took advantage of online play to allow pick-up games as well as pond hockey and was one of the first games to try and use its controls to give players pinpoint passing ability.
Microsoft may no longer have an in-house sports brand but a return could build a game in their own vision with new modes and elements that currently are lacking from the EA brand would give them a leg up. A new NHL Rivals game that included proper international teams and jerseys, a World Junior tournament and a fresh take on a franchise mode certainly would be fun.
The list wouldn't be complete without the inclusion of the company that gave EA Sports a real challenge when other companies dropped out of making NHL-licensed games in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
2K may have canceled their NHL 2K series and odds of them ever getting back into hockey are low, but the company did already surprise the gaming world when word broke last year about their plans to make a new NFL game which is now scheduled for a 2022 release.
With the return of the NHL on ESPN, it would be great to see a return of ESPN in the game for a return of the broadcast presentation which was prevalent in the game during the days of the Playstation 2.
2K also had a full all-star weekend, old school rinks, mini-games, and even beat EA to have the integration of classic teams and players.
It's hard to go a few days on social media without seeing hockey fans asking for the series return and it would be a welcome one.