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The Big Numbers Behind EA Sports’ College Football 25

EA Sports executives, designers, and athletes discuss the extensive, minute details that went into the creation of College Football 25.

For 11 long years, sports and gaming fans have anxiously awaited the next installment of EA Sportscollege football video game franchise. Ever since Electronic Arts announced in 2021 that the game would return, any morsel of speculated, leaked, or rumored information was treated like major breaking news in the gaming community.

Last week in Orlando, EA Sports invited a group of journalists and creators to its offices to serve them the whole damn cake ahead of the release of College Football 25 in July.

Across hours of presentations and interviews, executives spoke about the five-year process from the game’s ideation to completion. Developers and designers discussed what it took to create and implement every meticulous detail to do right by all 134 FBS schools and their game-day traditions and atmospheres, do right in terms of the gameplay on the field and dynasty modes, and build a comprehensive title with college football’s new NIL era in mind.

Bringing back the game was no small task after production stopped in part due to potential NIL-related litigation concerns, especially after a decade where PlayStation and Xbox both came out with multiple generations of new consoles.

“It’s amazing what we were able to pull off,” Rob Jones, EA’s Senior Production Director, told Boardroom. “Normally when you build games from professional leagues, there are usually only 30 teams. Trying to build out 134 was quite an endeavor, but necessity is the mother of invention. The vision was always to bring gameday Saturdays into your living room.

Nailing the stadiums, uniforms, and traditions for all 134 schools took a Herculean effort that we’ll detail a little bit here:

  • Over the course of more than two years, EA re-created 150 different stadiums from scratch for the game. It asked schools for detailed photos of each stadium for help, and 80 different schools sent an average of 1,000 photos each. “If a team like Insomniac making Spider-Man 2 can actually rebuild all of New York City and make you feel like you’re going through New York,” Jones said, “why can’t we replicate every single school faithfully so that people feel like we know them and we care about their school as we care about our own?”
  • EA staffers recorded 220 separate fan chants at every matchup you could imagine. It hired a professional marching band to record 180 different fight songs. EA even licensed songs like “Sandstorm,” “Zombie Nation,” and “Mo Bamba” to get every environment large and small just right.
  • From Penn State’s home crowd white-outs to Tennessee’s checkerboard fan layouts, College Football 25 boasts 169 different fashion themes after EA mapped out where each student section is and where away fans sit at every stadium. It accomplished that in part by working with ESPN to attend 41 different games over the last two years at venues across the country. It created what it called a tradition database, according to Lead Designer Christian Brown, including where the bands are, all the tunnel walk-outs, where the cheerleaders stand, every detail of pyrotechnics, the team celebrations, and even which sidelines the home teams play on.
  • At its Vancouver studio, EA’s prop team was hard at work. It built a ramp for The Hill at Clemson and hired stunt actors to run down at various speeds. “We built every prop to exact scale,” Brown said, measuring the exact height for Florida‘s gator head, building a staircase for Notre Dame‘s “Play Like A Champion Today” sign, and wood sculpting the exact size and weight for trophies like the Paul Bunyan Trophy and the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. EA hired cheer squads to motion capture every team’s cheerleaders, brought in actors to simulate every possible crowd reaction at every stadium, and captured or designed the mannerisms for each and every mascot, human or animal.

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The challenges of bringing the game back as NIL rules and regulations kept changing were manifold, Daryl Holt, the Senior Vice President and Group Gaming Manager of American football for EA’s Tiburon Studios, said. Inside the game itself, a metric measurement called brand exposure will play NIL’s role for players this year in the Road To Glory player mode. To make that aspect of the game even more realistic, EA consulted with a defensive coach at Tennessee to detail to designers what student-athletes go through on a daily basis, the choices they need to make, and how regimented their lives are.

Jones said EA took a safer route with NIL this year because it might take a couple of years before we truly know how rules and regulations will evolve.

“We want to make sure that we keep ourselves agile enough to be able to react to what’s happening in the real world,” he said.

When it came to potential NIL deals to include the players’ names and likenesses for the first time, Holt said EA wanted even the 85th man on each roster to be included, and $600 could be the largest NIL deal they get.

“We wanted to be as inclusive and equitable as possible,” Holt said, “and that seems to be what resonated with the players. We were blown away by the players’ responses and the amount of interest.”

More than 13,000 players opted into the game, with EA doling out more than $7.8 million in NIL deals to make that a reality. In addition to its executives and staff, EA brought in college and NFL legend Michael Vick, Colorado two-way superstar and cover athlete Travis Hunter, and ESPN/ABC broadcaster Chris Fowler, who’s the primary voice of the game to spice up presentations and speak with media.

It gave me the opportunity to ask players whether they thought $600 was a fair amount to pay players to give their names away to the video game.

“It could’ve been $1,000 a player,” Vick told Boardroom, “But hey, $600 is $600 for not doing anything, right? But you have to start somewhere, and in five years from now, it could be $1,000. And in 15 years, it could be $1,500. It’s definitely better than getting nothing. We didn’t get anything.”

“$600 is a lot of money for 13,000 people,” Hunter told Boardroom. “Imagine we just gave a random 13,000 people $600. They’d be happy. But for me, it’s not really about the money. It’s about me being in the game.”

For the gameplay, the art and design team worked hand-in-hand over the years to build from scratch the most realistic version of a football video game we’ve seen, pro or college.

  • Led by Art Director Richard Burgess-Dawson, EA used a Creaform 3D scanner normally used by the aerospace industry to replicate every single uniform combination down to the materials, stitching, and patterns. Each team sent in an average of four helmets, three jerseys, and three pants, but some teams had 20 different helmets and five jerseys, Burgess-Dawson said.
  • For 16,000 unique likenesses in the game, EA created 70 different head styles derived from real-world photos. “We were trying to track all the recipe ingredients for our heads and put our tracking sheet in Google Sheets,” Burgess-Dawson told Boardroom. “And there’s a hard limit where you can only have 10 million active cells, and we hit that limit. We actually broke Google Sheets.”
  • EA Sports worked with Pro Football Focus to create unique playbooks for all 134 schools based on 10 base offensive styles, determining accurate ratings for each team and thousands of players. “Schools really leaned into this,” Jones said. From detailed running styles and realistic wear-and-tear to your screen literally shaking while on the road on offense in a hostile environment, the gameplay will be unlike anything ever seen. Working with PFF will also allow the game to be more nimble with updates on big play calls teams make during a given week. “Now we can be more nimble,” Jones said. “If we see it on Saturday, maybe we can have it in the game on Monday. They’re trying to move into a direction that allows us to have better synergy for our users.”

College Football 25 will have two broadcasting crews, with Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit calling larger games and a crew of Rece Davis, David Pollack, and Jesse Palmer calling the rest of the action. Fowler said he recorded more than 115 hours of audio over the last two-and-a-half years— and that Herbstreit had even more to do— describing plays for 750 different last names and every possible call from crowning a national champion to a team punting on second down. 

“I’ve been involved in college football at ESPN for 36 years. And this experience playing my small part of the relaunch of this game is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in this sport,” Fowler said.

EA Sports’ goals in bringing College Football back is to attract a new generation of fans while satisfying the loyal core of gamers who’s played the 2013 version for more than a decade. And while Holt wouldn’t disclose the company’s estimates for how many units College Football 25 will sell, he’s realized for at least five years what the market opportunity is to bring the game back to its loyal and eager fan base.

“We’ve been pleased with the passion and interest in this game that we’re seeing right now,” he said. “Based off of every tidbit of information we’ve said or brought forward in terms of the number of views and impressions and interactions it drives, we have high hopes for the game.”

While the work for College Football 25 is close to completion, the title simply won’t cease to exist after one year. EA Sports, Holt said, has a detailed plan for the future centered around huge online communities of football fans the company plans to engage with.

If the current buzz around the game is any indication, college football fans will feel like it was truly worth the wait.

Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.