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Three ways a video game designer would make football more fun

Football is a game so we got ‘Mass Effect’ designer Manveer Heir to hack it to boost the play factor.

Illustration by Dina “Alex” Abou Karam

Two chess grandmasters battling one another with white and black pieces that embody the athletic grace and beauty of Misty Copeland’s balletics. A heavy dose of the hard hitting from Ali-Frazier’s Thrilla in Manila. As a game designer who has helped design games such as Mass Effect: 3, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Wolfenstein, I think of football as the combination of those two things.

However, the game of football is ever-evolving, and the question of what it will look like in the future is one I confront both as a designer and a (mostly college) football fan. From that perspective, here are three things I could see happening to make a more interesting and engaging game for fans.

The second forward pass

There was a time where the forward pass wasn’t just illegal, it was considered heresy. That’s how most people presently treat the idea of throwing the ball a second time on a single play. But what would the game look like if we opened things up and allowed players to throw the ball a second time?

This rule change would mean that a player who catches a forward pass thrown from behind the line of scrimmage may, at any time, throw a second forward pass. If the second pass is completed, play continues as normal. If the pass is incomplete, the ball comes back to the original line of scrimmage from the start of the play.

This would lead to revolutionary new offenses and schemes, as well as totally new defensive counters that focus on safeties and corners, pushing the athleticism and tactics of the sport. Imagine what the future evolution of the hook and ladder looks like, and you can understand the potential from this one rule change.

DELETE the chain gang

One of the most frustrating parts of watching a game is waiting for the chain gang to come out and measure a first down, only to show that the ball was short by two chain links. Spotting the ball is an inexact science, and everyone on and off the field knows it. So when we try to suddenly be precise and decide if a play is a first down or a turnover on downs, many fans rightly feel cheated. What about all the other plays where the ball was spotted a few inches off? Why do we only care in first-down situations?

The solution is to find a way to finally take all of the amazing technology we see on TV and project it onto the actual field of play. Imagine if the yellow first-down line wasn’t just on TV but something players saw so they knew when to extend the ball that last little bit.

Imagine if there was sensor technology in the ball, on the field, and on players’ uniforms that recognized when the player was down or out of bounds and automatically marked the new line of scrimmage. No more slowing down the game to measure, and no more wondering where the first-down marker is in the middle of the field. No more running out the chain gang.

Instead we’d get pure game, without the interruptions. We never worry about these things in football video games, and we shouldn’t have to worry about them in real football either.

Gamblor

Eventually we are going to get to a point where TV delays and satellite transmission delays are effectively zero, and that will be a glorious day for the world of live gambling. We already have "live" prop betting, but if we could actually always be at real time, the possibilities of the types of prop bets would open to the user. Possible bets could appear on the TV screen (or holographic projection of the game) and could be placed with a user’s mind (a remote control-free future)!

What types of bets will viewers make in the future? They will bet on the next offensive formation. They will bet on what player will get the ball next. They will bet on if the current set of downs will end in a first down or a punt. They will bet on hang time of a punted ball in the air down to the 10th of a second.

And just like in games, when players win these microbets, lights and sounds will go off on screen just like slot machines, making gamblers feel the dopamine rush and all those happy juices that compel them to gamble more.

In addition to more bets being possible, the social connection of leaderboards, streaks ("Spencer has lost 42 bets in a row"), and multiplayer competition (1 vs. 1 betting against your friends with the house taking a cut of the winnings) will improve the experience for the viewer, which will lead to more gambling and, ultimately, more interest in football.

And isn’t that what we’re all after?