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EA HUNGRY .... EA SMASH!!! GRRRRR!
December 17, 2004 2:52 PM   Subscribe

The battle for the NFL After EA Games bombshell announcement that it had signed a five-year exclusive licensing deal with the NFL, many sports games fans are wondering what will happen to their favorite franchises that don't feature John Madden. You can bet ESPN is hoppin' mad (and probably Microsoft as well), as are fans of its NFL 2K series (of which I'm a proud member). Do deals like this hurt the fans or the sport ... or even the gaming industry itself? I certainly think so. Sports is about competition! Oh, no, wait it's about money. Never mind.
posted by WolfDaddy (34 comments total)

 
You missed the really intriguing news, which was NFL Blitz saying they didn't want those rights anyway.
"No longer bound to the NFL license, there will be no league restrictions on content and gamers will finally experience what makes playing a football video game really fun: off-field controversies, dirty hits, excessive celebrations and much more," Midway marketing chief Steve Allison said in a statement.
Of course, this works out much better for Blitz than ESPN, since they aren't trying to beat Madden on the simulation.
posted by Ubiq at 2:57 PM on December 17, 2004


Ubiq, I was aware of that announcement (also aware that every other football franchise stood back this year and let EA and ESPN slug it out alone), but I really feel that, to me at least, playing a game with fictional teams, players, stadiums and whatnot will be ... boring, no matter how "dirty" the game is. I play football games for the fun of them, not how hard the hits may be.

Oh, well, I guess the XFL license is up for grabs, eh?
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:01 PM on December 17, 2004


Wait? There are other football games besides Madden? When did that happen?

As long as no one messes with my GTA: SA, nobody gets hurt.
posted by fenriq at 3:02 PM on December 17, 2004


This just means there'll be more focus on college football in video games. People who play sports video games already know which companies and series they like, this won't change too much. All it really does is tosses one more reason on the pile of "Why to hate EA".
posted by Saydur at 3:05 PM on December 17, 2004


You know, it's kind of incredible watching the coolness of EA collapse. I mean, sure, we're all witness to the whispering campaign against Google, but EA's onto something else entirely.

Expect them to sublicense out the NFL license -- at substantial profit, of course.
posted by effugas at 3:12 PM on December 17, 2004


i know EA has been working on this exclusive contract for a couple years now, but it's interesting that it's cemented the year that ESPN decided to lower the prices of all their new sports titles (which, interestingly, are much better than EA's offerings) to $19.99.

that pissed EA off, for sure. but i wonder how angry the NFL became, seeing as their license was sold for so low a price?
posted by NationalKato at 3:29 PM on December 17, 2004


I'll just say that Madden 2005 easily trumps the ESPN offering. Sorry. I picked up the ESPN game opening for something new, but no go. Madden still reigns.

But I think this deal will bode poorly for all involved: no competition means no reason for EA to do much to Madden. Don't know if I will be picking up next year's game.

But hey, ESPN's NBA2K5 is awesome, far better than NBA Live. So I got that going for me, which is nice.
posted by xmutex at 3:48 PM on December 17, 2004


If a game ceases to be fun because you don't recognize the names from the teevee, how much fun was it to begin with?
posted by Space Coyote at 3:49 PM on December 17, 2004


ESPN has no problem creating a popular fictional football that the NFL does not like. Just add a few teams to compete against the team in 'Playmakers' and turn it in to a video game.
posted by Frank Grimes at 3:50 PM on December 17, 2004


EA has earned my wrath. Fall at my pirate's cutlass. Yaaargh.
posted by The God Complex at 3:51 PM on December 17, 2004


ESPN's NHL2K5 was far and away the best hockey game on any platform. anb at $19.99 i didn't even glance at NHL 2005 from EA.

now if the lockout would just end...
posted by NationalKato at 3:54 PM on December 17, 2004


Hey Grimey (you don't mind if I call you Grimey, do you? Yes, oh well, hey Grimey!), Playmakers is an excellent show and it would be interesting to expand the brand into a game series as well. I'd like to see it, especially if I can be DH smoking crack under the stadium.
posted by fenriq at 4:09 PM on December 17, 2004


I'll just say that Madden 2005 easily trumps the ESPN offering. Sorry. I picked up the ESPN game opening for something new, but no go. Madden still reigns.

But was it $30 worth of better? Madden for $50 or ESPN for $20, it was a no brainer in my mind. I can't fathom buying a new Madden every freaking year anyway.

If anything, this will stifle innovation in the Madden franchise. As for ESPN, I can't see them doing anything that would piss the NFL off, considering that they are a broadcast partner. See "Playmakers," as was mentioned above. They'll concentrate on college football, college hoop, and the other pro sports.
posted by bawanaal at 4:36 PM on December 17, 2004


What's to stop Espn or anyone else from building a game with no preset database of team/player info and an easy interface for adding your own? Its not that hard to get/make a database of team rosters and player stats.
posted by clubfoote at 4:41 PM on December 17, 2004


Some of the best sports video games of all-time had little to no correlation with any official league:

5. Blades of Steel
4. Mutant League Football
3. Baseball Simulator 1.000
2. Super Tecmo Bowl (I believe had no contracts)
1. Baseball Stars

It's just time for the developers to get creative (not that this isn't a bad thing)
posted by themadjuggler at 5:00 PM on December 17, 2004


BASEBALL STARS!

omg, flashback.

I still have that game cart around here somewhere.

And RBI Baseball was great, too.
posted by xmutex at 5:04 PM on December 17, 2004


Bad for gamers? Yes, lack of competition sucks.

Good for the NFL? I'd imagine so, they initiated this, so they must have calculated how how much money they were getting from the various companies and set the bidding for exclusive rights somewhere north of that.

Good for EA? Maybe, I've read some analysts guess they overpaid, like it's unknown how much they paid but people are saying 200-300 million or more, EA has to sell a lot of units to cover that, which they will, but I wonder how much money will be left over since the even the most grandiose video games usually have budgets in the 20 million dollar range.

What's to stop Espn or anyone else from building a game with no preset database of team/player info and an easy interface for adding your own? Its not that hard to get/make a database of team rosters and player stats.

Nothing really, but EA games will have the advantage of having custom animations and photos and stuff for individual players.

And I wish more companies would look at the $20 price point. ESPN NFL went from selling 450'000 copies to selling over 2 million (with more Christmas sales coming), and Katamari Damacy was a surprise hit at $20. Hopefully cheaper games might be a boon to everyone.
posted by bobo123 at 5:10 PM on December 17, 2004


If a game ceases to be fun because you don't recognize the names from the teevee, how much fun was it to begin with?

Because, for just one example, with NFL 2K5's VIP Profile system you could play against a team using actual accumulated statistical data for how the team's coach played the game? It really added a lot of authentic flavor to the game, and it's not something Madden's likely to have soon-- now that all they have to do is sit back and update rosters for the next 5 years.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:17 PM on December 17, 2004


The craziest part of the deal is it's apparently worth $300 million.
posted by Nelson at 5:45 PM on December 17, 2004


I've LONG said that SNK's Baseball Stars is the greatest sports game released on any system ever.
posted by McBain at 5:56 PM on December 17, 2004


Playmakers is an excellent show and it would be interesting to expand the brand into a game series as well. I'd like to see it, especially if I can be DH smoking crack under the stadium.

Midway has already announced that they're making a game with the writers of Playmakers. Look about half-way down on the following link:
http://sports.ign.com/articles/572/572886p1.html?fromint=1


As for ESPN, I can't see them doing anything that would piss the NFL off, considering that they are a broadcast partner. See "Playmakers," as was mentioned above. They'll concentrate on college football, college hoop, and the other pro sports.

Given the _huge_ difference between sales for pro-based football games and college-based football games, I doubt you'll see studios suddenly pouring a lot more money into college games. The market just isn't there.
posted by ga$money at 6:32 PM on December 17, 2004


ga$--

It's embarassing to have realized this, but the death of Britney Spears' career and her billion-dollar endorsement deal with Pepsi (thus crossing Coke) are pretty noticably correlated. Pro sports are really pissing people off -- the whole lot of em, from the collapsing NHL to the roided MLB to the thuggish NBA to the ever more noticably greedy NFL. You can't build a cultural icon on annoyance (and believe me, its been tried).
posted by effugas at 10:13 PM on December 17, 2004


The general consensus seems to be that EA way overpaid for the rights to the NFL license. The other companies had a chance to buy it, but passed it up as well.

What I can't figure out is why ESPN has a entire show devoted to breaking down teams and plays and uses Madden football for doing the analysis and has EA Sports logos all over the studio, but at the same time they sell their own rival video game.
posted by Arch Stanton at 7:54 AM on December 18, 2004


I actually work for EA, at Tiburon Studios on Madden and I can tell you that despite how ESPN must have felt, we were pretty damned excited.

I can also tell you, directly from the staff that none of us and I mean NONE of us are looking at this as an opportunity to slack and make a poor or halfassed product. I don't think that these people know how to do a bad job (and i'm talking about my friends here, not the evil empire. These are good guys who want to make a good product).
posted by the theory of revolution at 7:57 AM on December 18, 2004


Is this something that I would need a videogame player to ...

/obligatory
posted by pmurray63 at 8:47 AM on December 18, 2004


Full disclosure: I am a producer for a football game rival to EA's Madden. I won't say which, since we're still unannounced.

To "the theory of revolution": I don't doubt that you and your colleagues intend to make the best game you can. I've met very few people in the game industry who aren't dedicated and hardworking and passionate. But I also know, all too well, that the really big decisions don't get made by the soldiers on the line, or even by the people who stand above them. I respect your game and your studio immensely, but come on, _Madden_ hasn't changed significantly for the last few years. Do you really think the suits at EA are going to take this as an opportunity to revolutionize football simulations? I suspect you'll make the best game you're _allowed_ to make.

Not meant as a flame, just as a reality check.
posted by ga$money at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2004


ga$ -

I hope so, man. I really hope so.

PS good luck with your game. Be sure to mention something about it when it gets announced!

PPS We're going to slaughter you.
posted by the theory of revolution at 11:36 AM on December 18, 2004


What's to stop Espn or anyone else from building a game with no preset database of team/player info and an easy interface for adding your own? Its not that hard to get/make a database of team rosters and player stats.

fire pro wrestling did that with pro-wrestlers, quite successfully might i add.
posted by joedan at 2:59 PM on December 18, 2004


the theory of revolution: a question for you.

Isn't the timing of this deal a little suspect? ESPN's franchise was Madden's first serious challenger, and they were willing to get down in the mud to compete with you guys. Are you really planning to innovate in the next version of Madden so much that I'll be interested in buying the game, not to mention those fans that could afford an excellent football game at $20, but not at $50? I have to be honest, I've not been impressed with the last several iterations of Madden, whereas ESPN really makes me feel "in the game" not only through fun play, but its presentation. I could have the game play itself and fool people into thinking a real game was on. Madden's never done that, mainly due to Mr. Madden being a bit too tired-sounding and repetitive (though I do love the training camp in the Madden series).

ga$money, a question for you, too: do you really think you can bring enough to the table to challenge the one-left-standing behemoth (and rival the presentation flash of ESPN's offering)? If so, please keep me informed of your progress as you can via e-mail. I like playing David vs. Goliath :-)

Thanks for the full disclosures, both of you ... it's fun to hear from the people actually making the games in a venue like this rather than the (usually) rabid fan-boards for the games in question.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:10 PM on December 18, 2004


sorry ga$money, but EA is a piss poor company.

Example: C&C Generals (witth zero hour expansion).
It won some awards and was the top selling game of the year, but several months after that EA can't be bothered to make a patch, that would take me like 10 minutes to do, to fix some of the most glaring bugs/cheats that plague its online portion.
The biggest example the scud-hack. Jeeze, just make a check if not_built=true then dont fire missles.
posted by Iax at 7:07 PM on December 18, 2004


Wolf: Like I said man, everyone here that I work with at ground zero wants to make the greatest, most innovative thing you've ever seen. Ga$ has been in the trenches too, clearly. In games, reality rarely lives up to the desires of ambition, much as we would want it to. Particularly when you are releasing a game on a nine-month schedule, with a fixed, unchangeable release date announced a year in advance.

I wish we had a timeline like those bastards at Valve do. I mean, SEVEN years to make a game? Can you imagine what Madden or ESPN would look like and play like if we had seven years to polish it?
posted by the theory of revolution at 9:33 PM on December 18, 2004


Wolf: You ask a tricky question. In a nutshell, no, we don't think you can take Madden head-on, feature-for-feature, and win. I think the ESPN title proved that conclusively, as in my opinion, being as objective as I can muster, I think it's a better game than Madden and it still couldn't really compete until the price dropped so radically that people didn't have anything to lose by trying it. Otherwise, I think games are expensive enough that consumers play it safe and buy what they already know, or what their friends buy. As reflected in somebody's question above, alot of people don't even know there are other NFL games out there. On more than one occasion, I've seen a commercial for _my own game_ and afterward learned that people around me thought they were seeing a commercial for Madden. How do you beat that kind of market saturation? By being something that Madden clearly isn't.

What you're left with is to try something different and see if there's a market for it, which is what we're doing. And having spoken to developers of numerous other football titles, during conferences or during interviews for positions on my team, that seems to be the strategy of most other football titles out there, even before the NFL/EA announcement. What the NFL/EA exclusive says to me is two things: the NFL execs are incredibly risk averse (I've met a few of them, and I've rarely met a group more worried about their public image), and that the EA execs really are afraid of what might come down the path. I think the ESPN price drop scared them enough that they're willing to spend a lot of money to eliminate the possibility of any NFL-based competition.

What remains to be seen is whether consumers will now be interested in a non-NFL football title enough to make it worth the price of development (AAA titles now equal moderately budgeted studio films in terms of cost). I personally think there's room for Madden _and_ other, original football games. But the next 2-3 years should be interesting, to say the least.

While it's tempting to be bitter, I also know a lot of people who work or have worked at EA, so I wish them, and us, the best. Not for the EA suits' benefit (I still think they're a bunch of fuckers for how they treat their employees), but because the game development community is still small enough that your rival today might be your boss tomorrow.
posted by ga$money at 1:08 PM on December 19, 2004


Stop it ga$money, you're depressing me :-)

I really admired ESPN (though as mentioned before, ESPN using Madden for their onscreen analysis kinda shot themselves in both feet, oh the bitter irony!) for throwing down the gauntlet this year, and I knew EA was scared of the challenge because immediately after the reduced price was announced, their spinmeisters started trashing the game, and doing so more loudly as the sales numbers mounted. The timing of this deal saddens me, but doesn't surprise me in the least, given EA's quest to, apparently, own everything Nestle doesn't.

I guess I'd be interested in an non-NFL branded game if it could keep the same exciting gameplay and presentation style (not to mention the incredible volume of often-amusing commentary) that the NFL 2K series has offered me the last 5 or 6 years. I just reserve the right to create a team called the Fudgepackers and have hot pink and black uniforms ... and cheerleader boys in hotpants. That'll show those suits at EA and the NFL!!! :-)

Thanks for the great response. I look forward to further developments on this (battle)front.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:42 PM on December 19, 2004


Some of the best sports video games of all-time had little to no correlation with any official league:
5. Blades of Steel
4. Mutant League Football
3. Baseball Simulator 1.000
2. Super Tecmo Bowl (I believe had no contracts)
1. Baseball Stars


0. Speedball 2
posted by NortonDC at 12:14 AM on December 21, 2004


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