So hey, let me get something out there in the open right now: nothing I'm about to say is rooted in anything other than total speculation, save for the obvious things. Prior to the Legends of Candlestick game on Saturday, Joe Montana took to Twitter and posted the hashtags "#youvewaitedlongenough" and "joemontanafootball16." Accompanying said hashtag was a fully CG image of Montana in a football uniform facing a packed stadium.
Now, the conventional wisdom is that this was simply some kind of promotion to go with the Legends of Candlestick game, of course. But there are a few reasons I'm doubting that in particular.
The first is that the image is totally CG, and totally inconsistent with the other promotion going on for this thing. It would have been weird to go through the trouble to make this one image all on its own to promote the Legends of Candlestick game, given that it's already been promoted plenty. It's two entirely different things to go to your graphics guys and ask for a banner, and then ask for a complete CG image that's been touched up as nicely as the one in the picture.
The second is why would Montana be wording it as such if he were just talking about his number? Why "Joe Montana Football 16?" If he just meant that he's Joe Montana and he wears No .16, the word "football" would be superfluous. As it stands, it reads an awful lot like a sports game title.
Now let's talk about what a potential Joe Montana game would look like in 2015 -- the game would likely be releasing in 2015 if it were carrying the '16 label. The biggest question is whether or not it would come with, say, an NFL license. EA Sports holds an exclusive license with the NFL which allows it to use the league's branding and its 32 teams, and it has an exclusive license with the NFL Players Association which allows them to use player names and likenesses for the games.
EA has held this license for some time, and it has killed any chance of innovation or competition on the football game front, but that latter part is just my opinion, I guess. Without these licenses, Joe Montana Football 16 could not use any NFL branding. It would have to use fake teams, though it can put a bunch of ex-NFL players (legends and Hall of Famers) in the games provided those players don't have exclusive deals with EA Sports. It's also possible some players aren't totally represented by the NFLPA and could lend their likenesses, but if those deals are still in place with EA, it's unlikely more than a few would slip through the cracks.
There were rumors that EA's contracts with the league and players association were expiring after the 2013 season, but a CEO came out and said that they still have "a number of years left on our agreements there." Of course, exclusivity is not mentioned in this case, so it is theoretically possible that EA simply still has the rights to use these things, but not necessarily the exclusive rights.
But the render given might actually lend some credibility to the thought that they still have exclusivity, given that Montana is clearly not wearing a 49ers jersey in the image. Then again, if he were the face of another video game (remember Joe Montana Football on the Sega Genesis? That game didn't have NFL rights either, and Montana was the only real player in said game), maybe he wouldn't want the team represented in promotional materials?
I realize, at this point, I've said an awful lot about this and have come to no conclusions. To easily break it down: EA has had deals in place for a long time and likely still have those deals, which would mean this game can't use current NFL players or teams. This would virtually guarantee the game doesn't sell well and is a financial failure before it ever hits the shelf. The best-case scenario in this situation, as someone who follows the industry closely, would be enough people buying the game and liking it for the NFL to take notice and think twice about renewing the exclusive deal when that time comes.
The market is littered with failed non-licensed football games.
Or this could all mean nothing and it was just a random promotional image for that game Saturday. But that would be weird, yeah? Anyway, just something I thought was interesting.