The more things change, the more they stay the same. Electronic Arts has been the exclusive developer and publisher of American football video games carrying the NFL license since 2004 and it will likely remain the only NFL video game maker, even in the aftermath of a monopoly lawsuit originally filed against the company in 2008.
According to Kotaku, EA won’t have to pay out a huge sum—a paltry $27 million—as compensation to consumers taking part in the class-action lawsuit. Any customer that bought a version of Madden NFL for the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, or PlayStation 3 after 2005 is entitled to $1.95, while anyone that purchased Madden for PlayStation2, Xbox, or GameCube is entitled to $6.79.
What’s more, though EA will be barred from renewing any exclusivity deals with the NCAA for the next five years, it is free to renew its exclusivity agreement with the NFL when it expires in 2014.
The class-action lawsuit filed back in 2008 claimed that EA’s exclusivity deals, making it the sole video game maker with access to the National Football League, the National Football League Players Association, the National College Athletics Association, and the Arena Football League, shut down all competition creating a detrimental environment for consumers. Two private consumers in California and Washington, DC filed the suit claiming that EA was engaging in “blatantly anticompetitive conduct.” “The vigorous competition benefited consumers. Electronic Arts could have continued to compete by offering a lower price and/or higher quality product. Instead, Electronic Arts quickly entered into a series of exclusive agreements with the only viable sports football associations in the United States,” reads the lawsuit. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker then certified the class-action in December 2010.
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were scores of different football video games. Tecmo Bowl for NES, Joe Montana Football for Sega Genesis, NFL Quarterback Club, NFL GameDay, NFL 2K. If you liked your NFL and your video games, there was no shortage of options. Since 2004 though, Electronic Arts has been the only NFL game in town, its Madden NFL, resurrected NFL Blitz series, and various mobile and social game options being the only video games in the world to bear the likenesses and logos of the leagues teams. There have been other football games—2K Sports tried to re-enter the market with the NFL-less All-Pro Football, 505 flailed with Backbreaker, and Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff tried to thrive without Bo Jackson in tow—but all have failed without the support of the league itself.
It’s troubling that Electronic Arts simply settled the lawsuit while retaining its right to pursue exclusive rights to the NFL license. Despite the upturn in Madden NFL quality in recent years, it’s still a series that would benefit from healthy competition.