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Ready for more football?

Quick Hit to offer an online game for fans who want something simpler than Madden

Jeffrey Anderson (center), the CEO and founder of Quick Hit Inc., with the software development team at their Foxborough offices. Jeffrey Anderson (center), the CEO and founder of Quick Hit Inc., with the software development team at their Foxborough offices. (Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe)
By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / September 22, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - They play a lot of football in this town - and not just in Gillette Stadium. A couple of miles away, at a company called Quick Hit Inc., a team of software developers oversees hundreds of games a day, played in virtual stadiums on the Internet. They hope to soon grow that number into the millions, as they launch the first massive, multiplayer online video game designed for football junkies.

Electronic Arts Inc.’s hugely popular Madden NFL games have long dominated the football video game market. Last year’s edition of Madden NFL sold 5.25 million copies, making it the second-best-selling video game in America in 2008. But Quick Hit founder Jeffrey Anderson is targeting a different audience: football fans put off by Madden’s bewildering complexity and sizable expense.

“Madden is the full-course French meal with the heavy cream sauces,’’ said Anderson. “We’re more of a pub.’’

While the latest Madden game for home video game consoles costs $60, Quick Hit Football can be played for free. The company plans to make its money through online advertising and by peddling a variety of in-game extras to the players. And while Madden features ultra-realistic 3-D graphics and complex playbooks, Quick Hit uses the relatively sparse graphics found in popular online “casual’’ games, the sort played by millions of office workers in their spare time.

Privately held Quick Hit Football raised $13 million in venture funding to develop the game, which is currently being tested by several thousand football-loving volunteers. The finished software was to have been completed in time for the start of the National Football League season, but was delayed to stamp out more bugs. The company now hopes to open the game to public play before November.

Anderson formerly headed Turbine Inc. in Westwood, a major maker of multiplayer fantasy games like Lord of the Rings Online. So it’s no surprise that Quick Hit Football sports some classic features of online role-playing games.

Each gamer plays as the coach of an 11-man team. Most members of the team are made-up characters, but each team includes two real-life National Football League legends, such as quarterback Warren Moon, running back Eric Dickerson, or receiver Fred Biletnikoff. These legendary players perform at a high level of skill, but the other players are not so hot.

To improve, a player must win “coaching points,’’ which are used to upgrade the team’s skills. “You start as a coach at level one, just like you start as a wizard at level one’’ in a fantasy game, Anderson said.

To improve their rankings in a fantasy game, players kill ogres or dragons. In Quick Hit Football, they play against other teams. Even when they lose a game, players pick up a few coaching points, so even when they’re not very good, they can “level up’’ and improve their performance. Players can wise up faster by reading on-screen tips from former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who serves as an adviser to Quick Hit.

In addition, players will be able to buy their way to greatness by using a credit card to purchase additional coaching points. Players will also be able to buy access to more sophisticated playbooks, scouting reports, and a virtual weight room to enhance the performance of team members. Prices for these extras still have not been determined, but a Quick Hit spokeswoman said that each would probably cost no more than a couple of dollars.

Quick Hit expects these add-on sales to generate its profits, along with advertising revenues. Pop-up ads will appear between plays, and brief video commercials will run at halftime and between quarters.

Edward Woo, a gaming analyst for Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, doubts that Quick Hit Football will ever be nearly as profitable as subscription-based online games like World of Warcraft, where players pay around $15 a month. For one thing, while Quick Hit has a smattering of virtual players that model current and former NFL players, sports junkies want to be able to play with and against real football stars as they can in Madden. “I don’t know how many people will be interested in playing a game that doesn’t have their favorite players,’’ Woo said.

Besides, Woo said, advertising rates for free-to-play multiplayer online games are too low to generate much money. He doubts that selling in-game extras to players will bring in very much. “They can make money,’’ he said. “I’m skeptical about whether they can make big money.’’

Anderson acknowledged that advertising rates are a problem, especially for traditional banner ads. “The market slowdown has had an impact,’’ he said, but he added that full-motion video ads still sell for a decent price.

In addition, said Anderson, Quick Hit will soon announce another source of revenue: sponsorship deals with major companies. A business could sponsor a Quick Hit play-of-the-day award, like the ones presented during NFL games. Or a sponsor could buy naming rights to one of Quick Hit’s online arenas.

Besides, there’s money to be made in other sports. Anderson said that once Quick Hit Football is launched, he may get to work on a version for baseball junkies.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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