With the release of a new AFL video game, AFL 23, we take a look back at the history of Aussie Rules video games, dating back to 1989, from dodgy starts to lifelike graphics.

Australian Rules Football

Many people believe the first AFL video game was the 1991 release Aussie Rules Footy, however that is not the case.

In 1989, Australian Rules Football was released for 8-bit home computers.

Why many people don't know about this game could be because it was made by a British developer and seems to have only been available in the UK.

The gameplay was of a birds-eye view with too much happening on screen to realise what is happening at first glance.

Image: YouTube (micromme)

Going into more detail about this game makes us glad it's forgotten in time.

The rules were completely wrong, if you scored a behind or the ball went out, it would reset as a centre bounce.

The only team you could play as was Hawthorn or you could change the comp to a fictional outback league and play as The Koalas.

As for commentary, this was covered by Michael Dundee of ABC News. A name that pretty much sums up what the rest of the world thought of Aussies in the 80s.

Aussie Rules Footy 

Now we get into the appropriate AFL video games.

Developed and published in Australia, and released for the NES, Aussie Rules Footy was the first simulation footy game.

This game was a major step in the right direction and is held in high regard when looked back on by many, with some considering it the best.

For the early 90s, it featured much detail and captured the game perfectly for what they could back then.

It featured standard play against AI or a friend, a kick-to-kick mode and a season mode for one to six players.

Despite featuring on the cover, the West Coast Eagles were not in the game, instead the WA team was named Perth, while other fictional teams based in Canberra, Darwin and Hobart were included.

This game is also famous for the commentary line "out of bounds on the full", something still used by fans today.

AFL Finals Fever 

The first official AFL-licensed video game, AFL Finals Fever released solely for Microsoft Windows in 1996.

While it had its issues, mainly being very slow, players ran lethargically and you had to manually run for a loose ball while out of play or wait for the umpire to walk over to it, it did pave the way for the series.

The league was well represented, with player stats, photos, coaches and club songs. This was the first step to how AFL games present player stats today.

Image: YouTube (minimme)

However, every player was the same model.

These stats are quite important, especially speed, with how slow the game was, faster players were the best tactically.

AFL Finals Fever was also the final game to feature the Fitzroy Lions and Brisbane Bears before their merger.

The EA years (AFL 98 & AFL 99)

Creative Assembly made several sporting games for EA in the 90s, including two AFL games.

The quality of games improved drastically, given the publisher was a massive name in the industry.

AFL 98 released for Windows in 1997 and featured 3D arenas and mo-cap of players (the mo-cap didn't really look like it was though).

The field in said arenas were way too big however, looking like it was in the kms rather than metres.

And in a series first, play-by-play commentary was included, with Bruce McAvaney calling the action.

Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions joined the series for the first time too.

The detailed stats and names for each player were there, but each player was once again the same model.

The following year saw AFL 99 come out for Windows and PlayStation.

It is essentially an updated 98, with list updates and a new season.

3D models look way better this time, with arenas improved, even featuring sponsors, and the character models now differ. Looking a bit more like each player.

Pre-game cutscenes were introduced and for the first time, you could choose how your team sets up at a ruck contest and kick in.

The PlayStation version was a downgrade from the PC version however, in terms of graphics, not featuring 3D characters.

Leigh Matthews joins McAvaney for commentary and the game even features one-on-one fist fights.

The AFL Live/Premiership series 

Now this is the series that most people remember when AFL video games are brought up in conversation, especially 2004.

Developed by IR Gurus for publisher Acclaim until they went out of business in 2004, when Sony got the rights and published the final three games of the series.

Before AFL Live 2003 started the run of games, Acclaim actually released a game called Kevin Sheedy AFL Coach 2002 for PC.

This was a management game where you took on the role of a coach commanding a game of footy.

Now onto the games people actually played.

AFL Live 2003, released for the PS2, Xbox and PC, featured the best graphics to date, and ran on the same engine as the Burnout and Grand Theft Auto games.

Commentary was delivered by Garry Lyon and Stephen Quartermain, and the grounds and players finally felt to scale.

The next instalment, AFL Live 2004 is considered one of, if not, the best AFL video games.

2004 felt less arcade-like, and brought in a more simulation style, trying to replicate the actual game.

Different kicking techniques were introduced, no longer just the normal drop punt, but torps, snaps, stab passes and bananas, and wind was brought back to the game.

There were several modes, including fun mini-games, training and the Wizard Cup (with its own rules like real life).

Dennis Cometti, Gerard Healy and Christie Malthouse provide commentary, the likes of which could be humorous at times due to the awkwardness. It was also quite buggy, with wrong calls and delayed reactions.

To this day, people joke about said commentary.

The next year saw AFL Live: Premiership Edition, which was seen as a cash grab for a soon-to-be bankrupt publisher. It was essentially the same game, just with updated lists and guernseys.

The next game, AFL Premiership 2005 was published by Sony, and therefore meant it was a PS2 exclusive, at least until THQ was allowed to publish it for Xbox and Windows.

An online mode was brought in and it supported the EyeToy: Cameo system, which allowed you to scan your own likeness to be in the game. But rather than make your own character, you had to replace an existing player's face with your own. Just imagine the monstrosities that were created.

Kicking was nerfed a lot, you couldn't kick the ball that far, set shots from 50 did not make the distance.

On commentary, Cometti was joined by Dermott Brereton for more bad calling.

AFL Premiership 2006 for the PS2 was an improvement on 2005, introducing management systems, like drafting and trading but 2007 saw the series hit its peak, and could be argued as the best game of the series.

Image: YouTube (igcompany)

The last game IR Gurus developed, the PS2 exclusive AFL Premiership 2007, while not the best graphically, was one of the better games gameplay-wise. The management systems were improved on and it featured an interesting 'Mission Mode'.

Mission Mode allowed you to play historic matches with handicaps involved such as trying to overcome seemingly impossible score deficits, to slim leads with seconds left on the clock.

This would be the last AFL console game until 2011, but we did get two AFL games on handheld gaming devices in 2009.

Handheld games

AFL Challenge for the PlayStation Portable was developed by Wicked Witch Software and co-published by Sony and Tru Blu Entertainment.

This game was critically panned and you could see why.

It was clunky, seemed cheap, you could tell the budget was low, since it's the only game since Finals Fever to not feature commentary.

Even worse, hitting the post could still count as a goal.

For the Nintendo DS, things became really weird with AFL Mascot Manor.

Image: YouTube (Gumballamiyumi)

Focused more on the AFL mascots than on the sport itself, the central component of the game is the adventure the player's Mascot will experience in the themed worlds.

This was part of AFL's focus on kids, with each club getting a new or redone mascot.

Each mascot's stage/level is different, and was overall a fun experience.

It even had a card collecting incentive, what kid doesn't love that, and a 'normal' footy mode.

Mobile versions of AFL Wii and AFL Live 2 (more on them soon) were also made for IOS in 2011 and 2015.

The start of the Tru Blu era

The first game on console since 2007, was 2011's AFL Live.

Developed by Big Ant Studios, who actually went well over budget, so they were dropped as devs for future games, AFL Live was a somewhat successful return, releasing for the PS3, Xbox 360 and on PC.

It was essentially the PS2 games ported to the next generation of consoles with slightly better graphics, but still bad for the time.

It had a lack of features, the career mode is just playing the 2011 season but it did allow you to create your own team or player.

The management features that peaked in 2007 were nowhere to be seen.

The next year saw a Game of the Year edition, despite never being nominated or winning such an award, that served as an update with new lists, a stadium and GWS added.

On top of the 18 licensed teams, three other teams were added, Victoria, Indigenous All Stars and an All Stars Team (Dream Team) from the AFL Hall of Fame Tribute Match.

Tru Blu went to Wicked Witch (Mascot Manor dev) to develop the next few games, with a game titled AFL releasing for the Wii.

You could tell there was more focus on the management than the gameplay when creating the game.

In 2013, AFL Live 2 was released for the same platforms as its predecessor.

This game performed poorly compared to AFL Live, but did the management side of the game justice.

New features added to it however were a 15-year career mode, fending off and shepherding was brought in and it featured over 60 teams.

In 2014, an update was provided through DLC, with new lists, ratings, stadiums etc.

Tru Blu later years

Now we head to the eighth generation of consoles and the AFL games that came with, that is the PS4 and Xbox One, and of course PC still getting games too.

AFL Evolution released in 2017 and much of the marketing was how players were scanned into the game to look realistic.

However, it was really only the bigger names who were scanned, so for those who didn't, they looked nothing like their real-life counterpart.

The game featured plenty of modes but there was a lack of a proper training mode.

Players were able to create players/teams and upload them for others to download, so teams of yesteryear were available for those who wanted them.

Image: YouTube (AussieFooty)

Commentary once again featured Cometti, this time joined by Matthew Richardson.

AFLW, the TAC Cup and VFL were all featured in the game, and a 2018 update (as paid DLC) added the WAFL, SANFL and NEAFL, alongside new players and Perth Stadium to the game.

Another mixed review game, graphic wise it's weak but probably some of the best gameplay thus far.

2020 saw AFL Evolution 2, which was an improved version of the first game.

It switched over to a new engine, Unreal Engine, which explained the delay, releasing three years after the first.

Commentary throughout all the AFL games just got worse and worse, and this was no exception. This time Anthony Hudson and Garry Lyon had the honours, but it was again very dodgy.

A 2021 season update, again paid DLC, saw new players, 40 new face scans, the new rule changes (STAND!), an updated VFL season with 22 teams and Cazalys Stadium.

The Future

A new AFL game has arrived, AFL 23, and the hype amongst the gamers of the AFL community is at a high.

The official synopsis states that AFL 23 is the most authentic video game football experience to date.

It incorporates over 1200 players across the AFL/AFLW, with motion-captured animation, photo-realistic likenesses, in-depth skills and unique player traits powered by Champion Data.

You can build your favourite AFL or AFLW club into a footballing powerhouse in the Management Career mode, overseeing drafting and player development, you'll be in full control of your team's path to the silverware.

Create your own clubs, players and stadiums, then share them with the world online.

Images via Big Ant Studios, AFL Twitter

With commentary featuring Anthony Hudson, Hamish McLachlan, Daniel Harford, Kelli Underwood and Jason Bennett.

READ MORE: AFL 23 to include ‘Pro Team' mode, more player ratings revealed

READ MORE: 36 AFL legends set to feature in upcoming AFL 23 video game

So that's a lengthy look back at the history of AFL video games, from top-down pixelated games made by the English that didn't replicate the game at all, to a somewhat near proper simulation of today's AFL made here in Australia.
Every AFL game we've had has issues, with almost all of them excelling in one area over the rest.
Aussie Rules is a hard sport to replicate compared to others because of its unpredictability and several moving parts, but that's what we love about it. They'll never be like FIFA or NBA 2K, and while many don't find the games to be that great, there are also many others who love them, just because they have a video game based on AFL.