In the realm of video game athletics, EA Sports takes home the gold medal for exclusive licensing. Since 2004 and 2005, the company has held exclusive publishing rights for NFL and NCAA football games respectively, and both Madden NFL and NCAA Football have raked in millions as a partial result.
But while the last decade has seen the two series develop into veritable brand names, some gamers have harbored animosity towards EA Sports for their trouncing of the competition. This manifested into a class action lawsuit in 2008 – the filing claimed EA’s retail pricing of Madden was artificially high thanks to exclusivity – and now a settlement has produced some potentially significant implications.
Electronic Arts has announced via their legal team that a $27 million dollar settlement fund is being set up for anyone who purchased Madden-, NCAA Football- or AFL-licensed games since 2005 (AFL is EA Sports’ Australian Rules Football series; not to be confused with 2006′s Arena Football). Pending court approval on September 27, $6.79 per game will be reimbursed on all purchases for Xbox, PS2 and GameCube titles, and $1.95 for games on the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii. Directions for claiming the money will be made available at a later date.
The settlement certainly sounds like it acknowledges possible misdealings of the past, and in doing so, it also hands out stipulations for EA’s operations of the future. Electronic Arts is barred from inking any exclusivity deals with the AFL for the next five years, and NCAA Football will carry the same restriction after the current license expires in 2014. Strangely, perhaps as a compromise, future business with the National Football League isn’t even mentioned, ostensibly opening the door for an exclusivity renewal when the license becomes a free agent after 2013.
Whether or not the settlement foreshadows the end of exclusivity remains unclear; it could just symbolize a penalty for egregious pricing under such deals. But even with NCAA Football losing the ability – and should it one day happen to Madden – don’t expect an inrush of new developers looking to set up shop on the console gridiron.
Despite the mercurial reviews of Madden and NCAA Football over the years (read our NCAA Football 13 review), each requires a massive investment in all angles of development, from gameplay engines to front end design to, yes, the acquisition of a license, exclusive or not (EA’s 2004 agreement with the NFL was worth $300 million). 2K Sports hasn’t produced a football title since 2007′s All Pro Football 2K8, and while several acclaimed (American) football titles like Backbreaker exist on mobile devices, the console struggles of that very franchise depict the significant challenges any newcomer would have to overcome.
Ranters, how much does money will Electronic Arts owe you if the settlement is approved this September? Should exclusivity be allowed to continue with major sporting leagues?
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