This challenge was never more apparent than when a graphical oversight at EA Sports threatened to spell doom for not only Sports Interactive, but any other company working on a hockey title. EA Sports has recently sewn up exclusivity deals with the NFL, NASCAR and college football, and speculation has been rampant as to which leagues the company would sign next. Several weeks ago, the official NHL 2006 web site was launched with the words "exclusive license." It turned out to be a mistake - there is no such exclusivity agreement between EA and the NHL - but this nonetheless underlined the fragile nature of working with a spider's web of licenses.
As they approach the North American launch of their latest product, the team at the small London-based developer can rest easy in knowing that they have overcome a number of landmines to create a quality product. With over 3,200 teams and 32,000 players and staff, the sheer size of the global sports simulation can only be rivaled by the more mature Football Manager.
The game is a behemoth both in both a physical and legal sense, yet they soldier on each year fully armed with the knowledge that lawyers could derail them at any moment. If - for example - the NHL and EA were to sign an exclusivity agreement, three years of hard labor on the part of Sports Interactive would instantly go up in smoke. The flagship league would disappear from NHL EHM and, realistically, the game's future would almost certainly be nonexistent. A game born out of one young Finn's dream to see his favorite sport melded with his favorite game has marched past landmines of publishers, licenses and even the flagship league's crippling labor dispute to see another year.
Common sense at some of the world's larger publishers would never allow a niche sport in a niche gaming market to see daylight. Sports Interactive provides a shining example of how a dream and a passion can win out over "pragmatism" and create something fun for a significant group of gamers.
Dana "Lepidus" Massey is the Lead Content Editor for MMORPG.com and former Co-Lead Game Designer for Wish.