GREEN BAY – While StatusPRO’s NFL PRO ERA virtual reality game allows fans to quarterback NFL football teams in realistic settings, it doesn’t 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 don’t feel like, ‘Hey, this is what it looks like when I make the throw, and this is what it looks like when I’m in the pocket, and this is what it looks like when I push,’ then, you know, We would be trying to do our best to make the necessary changes so that it felt like this. (Andrew Hawkins, the co-founder of StatusPRO) And I like to say: it is one-to-one, but one-to-one With the most fun parts of playing the game.
Much of a professional football experience is included in the game, which went on the market in September and was shown 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 and Microsoft, so they’re always a great ear and available when (Hawkins) and I want to bounce something off of them,” Jones said. “They are part of every board meeting 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 price for headsets from Meta and Sony is in the mid $300s and up.
The founders of StatusPRO, Jones and Hawkins, have a history with football. Jones was a college quarterback who had 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 analysis companies.
TitletownTech is involved in the project in early 2021. In addition to being an investor, TitletownTech provides legal, accounting and other business assistance for StatusPRO.
“From how to navigate as an early-stage founder and working with some pretty well-known investors and companies, we’ve been able to add a ton of value,” said Cordero Barkley, a partner at TitletownTech. “We’ve been able to help them beyond just investment dollars.”
Virtual reality is not new to StatusPRO. It developed VR training programs, used by six NFL teams, using data collected by the league from sensors worn by players. The NFL uses its Next Gen stats to analyze trends and player performance, improving the fan experience in stadiums, 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 players to catch up with friends at 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’re ready for game day, they can quickly advance to play full 11-on-11 games in exhibition mode and earn 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 the experience.
This YouTube video demonstrates game play, but cannot give the full immersive sense that a player gets from being in the game. It’s nearly impossible to avoid flinching when defensive linemen come barreling down on you while you’re trying to find an open receiver.
“I saw grown men hugging each other because they thought they were 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 are always risks in football, it seems.
NFL and NFLPA licensing allows the use of real player names and stats, but, until now, individual features of players have been limited. As with Madden NFL, the console video game that debuted in 1988, and is also licensed by the NFL, changes can be anticipated as technology improves.
“Since launch, we’ve focused on just trying to improve the game that we have. As far as the look and feel of it, I think the team has done an amazing job of doing the most they can with the mod. Technology that is on the market, but there is new technology coming in the future and, of course, we hope to continue to improve the experience. Jones said.
“And as far as features, we’re exploring what we feel our audience wants and that’s what we’re drilling into right now, and over the next few months we’ll be able to finalize what those features are and start getting ready to build those features. So they are ready for next season.”
Jones said the game was in the top three on the Meta Quest store for seven weeks. Advertisements for the game aired during Packers and other NFL games.
“We’re 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 see air on various games. This It’s exciting and amazing to watch. It’s cool to watch a game with your family and see an ad for the game,” Jones said.
Often, the first out of the gate with new technology is 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 risks of standing still.
“The pie-in-the-sky goal is where I can have my own virtual football team and we go against yours. We’re years away from that, but how do we build to that?” Jones said. “Building the road map and working back from there based on what the technology allows us to do is what our approach is now. We’re going to work towards that.”
They, too, would like to have a college football game, but that may be an even more difficult task than trying to imagine technology that does not yet exist. Everything about him is a moving target.
“All that stuff is in the works. There’s a lot of moving parts to this, but I think there’s a way to try to start with something like that that we’ll look to explore relatively quickly. When does it show up in the product? We don’t know that yet,” Jones said.
Barkley said StatusPRO met its development milestones, which were on a pretty tight timeline.
“Aaron Kennedy (TitletownTech’s entrepreneur-in-residence) spends time with Troy, just really helping him flesh out his board meetings and some of the structure of his team meetings; just like leadership. Troy has been really engaged with us,” Barkley said.
Jones talks about democratizing the game, making it fun for football nerds and casual fans alike.
“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’s a lot of potential in the idea of democratizing the experience of being an NFL player and PRO ERA has a lot of legs . . . we’re taking it one step at a time,” he said.