amal-Jay ewis-Lay

Dec 21, 2004

In an act of evil reserved for the creatures of hell and large corporations, Electronic Arts dropped the following bombshell on the videogame world about a week ago.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Dec. 13, 2004–Electronic Arts
today announced exclusive licensing relationships with the National
Football League and PLAYERS INC to develop, publish and distribute
interactive football games. These five-year agreements — which EA
negotiated separately — give EA the exclusive rights to the NFL teams,
stadiums and players for use in its football videogames. Both
agreements also include exclusive rights for console online features.

This move, which effectively wipes out all competition on the brown pigskin front, is liable to prove a great move for EA’s bottom line. Unfortunately, the sports gamer (yep, that’s me) will spend at least five years getting screwed in terms of price, quality, and innovation.

The most immediate repercussions of this deal will be felt by EA’s most successful competition, Sega’s NFL 2K series of football games. Without access to the names of the NFL’s teams and players, Sega’s franchise is left with a gaping hole that can only be filled with some creative use of pig latin and broad generalities. Anyone want to play the Baltimore Black Birds against the Dallas Horse Riders? I didn’t think so.

Sega’s games have given EA’s Madden series a run for their money for years. A copy of Sega’s ESPN NFL 2K5 rests on my shelf right next to my copy of Madden NFL 2005 this year, largely due to an aggressive price strategy meant to widen their consumer base. A $20 price tag is difficult to ignore, both by the leisurely sports gamer and the competition. Memo to Sega: “How’s that price tag treating you?” — Love EA.

As sad as I find the demise of Sega’s once proud NFL 2K series, the long term repercussions could be much worse. Sports games, and particularly football games due to the absolute dominance of EA’s Madden games, are a very difficult bracket to break into. Historically, EA has had such an enormous lead in terms of development time to add to their already vast resources that competition is very much discouraged. Sports games take years to make and mature. Artificial intelligence needs to be refined. Playbooks need to be tweaked. Options are added as time allows.

Deciding to take on EA on their home turf is an enormous financial risk. Given another five year lead, what company would consider bidding against them in 2010? This deal might not shut out the competition for years. It may shut others out effectively forever. EA’s the 800 lb gorilla. Just try and take him on when he’s already full.

Oddly, I’m unsure what the NFL really gets of this besides a one-time
lump sum and some ease in the bookkeeping department. Why limit your potential audience? Why dramatically slash the number of football games released in a year? Isn’t that called free marketing? Why alienate the fans of other football franchises? If that $20 price tag for ESPN NFL 2K5 was good for anyone outside of the offices of Take Two (the publisher) and Sega, it was the NFL. You want folks to fire up their Xbox and see your logo as often as possible. All signs point to the fact that the NFL was looking for this, yearning for it apparently. I’m sure the fat check is nice. You might have thought a bit about the future.

While the NFL goes the way of NASCAR, FIFA, and the PGA — all organizations that also happen to share an exclusive agreement with EA — I’m left with few choices. And, despite my misgivings, I’ll buy Madden anyway. I simply need a football game on my shelf every August. My problem has been medically diagnosed. I can’t help myself.

Apparently, the real problem isn’t EA’s evil business practices. It’s that they work.

by | Categories: games |

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