A Norfolk man led the design behind a popular new NFL sports app that people can download on their smartphones.
Jeff Luhr went to work for Zynga in February. Over the next six months, he led the team that started from scratch in designing an app that lets people serve as the general manager and coach of their favorite NFL team.
“NFL Showdown,” which can be obtained free from Apple’s App Store and Google Play for Android, lets players who download the app acquire actual NFL players and build their franchise, using NFL logos and playing an actual NFL schedule.
The NFL gave Zynga an exclusive agreement to design the mobile app game that is similar to fantasy football. The app was released in August, with a worldwide release on Sept. 4.
Zynga, which has developed other popular games like “Farmville,” “Zynga Poker” and “Words with Friends,” is venturing into sports with Zynga Sports 365.
Along with “NFL Showdown,” Zynga Sports 365 plans to build a Tiger Woods golf tournament and expand into more sports down the road.
Like anyone who played fantasy football, those who play the game take over their favorite NFL team, then work to make it better by scanning the list of free agents or practicing their teams.
The difference between the best and worst NFL teams isn’t great in “NFL Showdown,” which enables a team like the Jaguars to possibly make the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl.
One of the neat features is how the game mimics the NFL. After the first week in the NFL, for example, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons had the best week of NFL quarterbacks.
If a Zynga player had him on his team, Ryan would have earned him some bonus points that would have helped the player in practice.
Each team plays a game every day. After 17 days, there are four days of playoffs. Games take about 10 minutes and general managers can watch the games or check back later to get the results.
The first cycle completed this past Sunday with the Super Bowl. The next cycle began on Monday, Sept. 15, and will go for the next 17 days. Just like the NFL, there is one bye week.
If a person makes the playoffs, he or she advances to the next level. A person can keep playing every day of the year, earning a higher status.
People also can purchase gold coins or watch videos to earn coins, but teams improve with skill and not just buying their way to better teams.
Luhr said Zynga players are rewarded by checking in every day and looking at the NFL waiver wire or practicing their teams. They can decide strategy, such as how they might want to split carries between running backs.
By joining through Facebook, players get hooked up with friends. Just as with playing fantasy football, competing against friends adds another layer to the game.
The games themselves take about 10 minutes. If a person has a conflict and chooses not to watch the game, he or she is not penalized.
Luhr developed the game after working for years for EA Sports in Orlando, Florida, where he was the creative director for “NCAA Football,” as well as creative director for the Core Football Gameplay team, which served “NCAA” and “Madden NFL.”
In 2011, Luhr made arrangements to have Clete Blakeman, a former Nebraska quarterback who is now an NFL official, appear in some EA sports games. Blakeman, who is an Omaha attorney, grew up in Norfolk.
Luhr grew up in Osmond, playing a lot of video games. He went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and was planning to be a Spanish teacher.
While at UNL, he entered an EA Sports tournament with a friend and won the national tournament. He ended up getting an internship at EA Sports.
Looking back, Luhr said he took a chance heading out to San Francisco, not knowing anyone and not even having a place to stay. Eventually, he ended up in Orlando.
Luhr, whose wife, Sara, also is from Osmond, said he and his wife decided they wanted to move back to Nebraska and chose Norfolk. They have two children.
Most of his work can be completed through computers and the Internet, so he works out of a studio in his basement in Norfolk.
He travels about once a month to Orlando or San Francisco. In between, there are daily conferences via computer in which he works with fellow employee teams in those cities.
Given the time differences, he sometimes has to work some odd hours, but he isn’t complaining.
Luhr said he feels fortunate because his work is something he probably would be doing to relax if he wasn’t working.
For those used to playing the EA Sports games, this new game is more casual. This game is “not a twitch game” where the player controls the action on the field, although he or she can still affect the outcome.
“It’s a fun way to pass the time,” he said. “You don’t have to have 90 minutes to play one game.”
Another benefit is this game can be updated. Unlike games that come with a disc, this game can be updated and improvements made through periodic downloads.