Introducing Soccer Relegation to American Football — in a Video GameS

Maybe the only way to make the Oakland Raiders' season interesting past the sixth week would be to force them - and every other wretched team - to play for the right to stay in the National Football League.

That will never happen in real life. But Backbreaker, coming Tuesday from NaturalMotion and 505 Games, doesn't have an NFL license - and can't have one in fact. That means the English studio may do as it pleases with the fictitious American football league it's created for the game, even imposing upon it European football's system of relegation and promotion.

"We follow (American) football but we obviously have this European tendency, and one thing we get over here is the end of season drama of promotion and relegation," Rob Donald, NaturalMotion's associate producer on Backbreaker, told Kotaku. "There's nothing like it at the top level of sport."

Not only will English football see its bottom three sides fighting for their lives, even at the end of a hopeless season, the top squads in a lower classification will battle as if they're still eligible for a premiership or Champions' League berth. That's because promotion to the top classification carries with it millions of pounds in television revenue, plus added ticket sales and licensing revenue. "We call it the richest game in football," Donald says.

NaturalMotion wanted to deliver that excitement to Backbreaker in its "Road to Backbreaker" mode, in which a player's created team progresses through three ranks - a lower 8-team league, a mid-range 16-team class, and the upper 32-team division. The idea is that even in a bad season there's still something to play for - hard.

"When we were throwing around the idea, it was genuinely something that caused a bit of concern," Donald said. "Would people understand this? It's alien to the largest market of people, maybe they're not going to understand it. But the more we explain this, people are going, 'Oh wow, I really like the sound of that.' It's something I think people can get into. It makes them love the teams a little bit more. And it this wouldn't make sense if you're following a license. You can't just make up a relegation competition for the NFL, it wouldn't make any sense.

"But if people have these fictional teams, and they feel a genuine bond with them, then we feel it'll be very important to them to keep them up in the league and to get promoted," Donald said, "and it will be very heartbreaking when they get relegated and have to start all over again."

Backbreaker
ships with 60 teams - nearly double the NFL's stable of 32 - so the three-tiered structure explains why there are so many. Some will be crap, others stronger, Donald says. Players can also create their own franchises through the game's deep customization engine.

But it's apparent that no matter who you choose to play, there's an opportunity for something to be at stake with any team you choose - unlike going into a season with the Cleveland Browns or the Buffalo Bills in Madden.