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EA Locks Up the NFL

Will the NFL's five year exclusive deal with Electronic Arts mean better or worse football games for us?

By James Stevenson     December 17, 2004

MADDEN 2005.
© EA Sports

This week it was announced that Electronic Arts and the NFL had signed and exclusive licensing deal for five years in the MADDEN NFL franchise. That means the end of NFL Teams, Players and Stadiums in opposing brands such as ESPN NFL 2K. In this week's edition of Gamers' Thumb, James will look at how this changes the landscape of football videogames.

It's almost shocking to some extent to see a monopoly like this form, but given the recent environment of football games, it makes more sense. When Take-Two and Sega partnered to bring the ESPN NFL 2K franchise out at the budget price of $19.99, it started a price war that involved the NFL franchise. After doing more damage to MADDEN's market share than any competitor in recent memory thanks to stellar reviews, great word of mouth and the price point, EA finally relented and lowed the price of MADDEN to $29.99.

The NFL doesn't like to see its brand devalued by a price war. The result of this was making a lot of money by signing an exclusive deal while ensuring that the price of NFL videogames stays at $49.99, or potentially higher now that it's the only way to play with your favorite teams and players.


MADDEN 2005.

biggest concern I have is what this does to competition. Back in the old N64 days, the unlicensed MADDEN 64 couldn't compared to the NFL QUARTERBACK CLUB which had everyone's favorite players (of course, NFL QB CLUB was a decent game at the time as well) I highly doubt ESPN can sell its games, even at twenty bucks, without the NFL License. It seems Midway has been planning for this for a while, as today it announced BLITZ: PLAYMAKERS, a Mature-rated football game showing the dark side of professional football.

What will Sega do with its killer football engine? I'm not entirely sure. I might do something like adapt the game to college football and maybe attempt a major coup by getting the NCAA to finally allow player names in the game these guys are all over TV, it's not going to hurt if their name is put into a videogame (considering you can easily do this manually and the announcers have the names preloaded, why not just cut this step out?). Get the exclusive license, and screw Electronic Arts right back.

Chances of that happening? Slim. Given the budget model that the game is running on, I don't know what we'll see happen. I feel really bad for the guys at Visual Concepts who created an amazing football game this year but may not have the market to expand upon it.

Finally, for Electronic Arts, I only hope that this doesn't stall the advances made recently in the game. Things like the hit-stick and playmaker are good editions, but EA was being chased by Sega and had to make the additions to stay ahead and keep the review scores high. Will EA put as much effort into defending its market share after already spending the money to keep the license which essentially ensures it?

Interesting questions to be sure, and I imagine this and maybe even next year's versions of MADDEN will show many improvements. The telling factor will be years three through five of this NFL deal that show EA's true commitment.


Take-Two has announced June release for GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS on the Xbox and PC... The Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is proposing a law that would punish those who sell Mature-rated games to kids... Nintendo will release a multimedia adapter to play MP3s and MPEG4 movies on SD Cards for the Game Boy Advance SP and Nintendo DS in Japan...

On Shelves

Slow week and funny enough only one game recommendation: EA's NFL STREET 2. If you like BLITZ-style action, here's where you can get it with the NFL License.


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