Building the first NFL-licensed VR football franchise with Unity
Feb 9, 2024|3 Min
Building the first NFL-licensed VR football franchise with Unity
In this guest blog, StatusPRO walks through how they tackled developing NFL PRO ERA.

When cofounders Troy Jones and Andrew “Hawk” Hawkins set out to deliver this VR football game, the first to be licensed by the NFL, they knew it was an ambitious task. With experienced professionals behind them, their team not only launched NFL PRO ERA in September 2022 but also delivered a multiplatform game available on Meta Quest, Sony PlayStation® (PS VR and PS VR2), and Steam. Now, they’ve gone farther, introducing new features such as head-to-head multiplayer and expanding to new platforms.

StatusPRO’s Head of AI and Gameplay Derrick Levy lays out how they made it happen with help from Unity.
It starts with the team

To achieve our goals, we needed to assemble a team of skilled developers who were knowledgeable and passionate about football game development. And we did. With over 100 years of combined experience, the team knew what worked and what didn’t.

As a small company with a big license, our team operates differently than larger studios. For example, we have just one technical artist and one technical animator, while a bigger company may have a team of 10–15 artists or multiple animators. Our team members wear multiple hats, with engineers needing to know a little bit about everything in order to contribute to any part of the game. This versatility helps us be more efficient and focused.

In order to build the Coach Confidence system, we leaned heavily on the ability to extend the Editor. I created a set of tools that allowed design to create over 100 unique events that could be updated and tuned without additional engineering support. This flexibility allowed both design and engineering to continue to create new, engaging experiences without one team being blocked by another.

Design with the user in mind

We have multiple design principles at StatusPRO, but our core principles are:

1. Quality over quantity

2. Content and variety are key

3. Give gamers a reason to come back

In building NFL PRO ERA for multiple platforms, we maintained focus on giving users an immersive football experience like no other and adjusting to different platforms as needed. Unity was especially helpful as a partner, offering platform-specific guidance and sharing experiences from other developers who faced similar issues. This helped us anticipate and address any challenges before they became major setbacks.

Unity’s XR Plug-in Management system made it possible for us to support the Meta, Steam, PSVR, and PICO platforms easily and without the need to learn each platform's specific SDK.

Using the OpenXR subsystem along with the new Input Action Assets made it easy to support not only these platforms but the multitude of headsets that are available for PC, without the need for managing any additional plug-ins. Setup takes minutes instead of days.

Tips for overcoming technical issues
Screenshot from StatusPRO’s NFL PRO ERA II

During the development process of NFL PRO ERA, we faced numerous performance challenges. Prior to alpha, there were stability issues due to memory load times while running at 15 frames per second. Unity played a critical role in helping us overcome these obstacles through a four-day sit-down with a Unity engineer. We conducted a thorough performance analysis and investigation into the game’s performance issues, receiving valuable feedback and suggested actions to improve the performance.

This collaboration also extended to error reporting and handling platform-specific code. Unity introduced us to Backtrace, a tool we now use for error reporting, and provided us with priority support for any issues we encountered during the development process.

The cross-platform support offered also made it possible for us to write the majority of the game’s code in a platform-agnostic way. With 85% of the code shared across platforms, we were able to easily roll out our game on multiple platforms while still maintaining a high level of quality.

If you’re building a multiplatform VR experience, take advantage of opportunities for support because it is almost guaranteed to significantly improve performance. There’s nothing more satisfying than meeting deadlines while also achieving a high level of quality.

Take this season of football to the next level and experience NFL PRO ERA II on Quest, PlayStation, or Steam. Be sure to check out more Made with Unity stories straight from developers here.