Monday, November 8, 2010

The NFL Needs to Fire Electronic Arts

For those who don’t know, the NFL has an agreement with Electronic Arts to make their Madden NFL games the only games that can use NFL team and player names.  This deal has been in place since 2004.

This deal is obviously bad for gamers.  Even those who love the Madden series should realize that competition improves the quality of games.  It forces developers to be innovative, to think of things that will make their product better than the alternatives.  Even if you love Madden NFL 11 as it is, realize that it would have been better with competition. 

I admire Backbreaker, but it wasn’t real competition for Madden, without an NFL license.  But even that game innovated in ways that will force EA to adapt.  Realtime physics is something that you can bet EA is looking into for future versions of their game.  Would they be looking into that if Backbreaker hadn’t come along?  Maybe, but they’d take their time in implementing it.  Maybe they’d have it ready for Madden ‘15.  Even now, they’re probably taking their time since Backbreaker isn’t serious competition.

In the fifth generation era, Madden had real competition, in theory, but still dominated.  I didn’t follow that generation of games, so I don’t know what the competition was or why Madden was better.  I’m sure that franchise mode has something to do with it.

What I do know is that when NFL 2k2 came out for the Dreamcast in 1999, it blew Madden 2000 out of the water in terms of graphics, sounds, and most other aspects.

NFL 2k2:


Madden 2000:


“But Madden was on inferior hardware!”  Not really, since Madden 2000 was not just on the admittedly-inferior N64 and PlayStation, but on the PC, where it could have taken advantage of more powerful hardware.  Besides, EA could have released it for the Dreamcast, but chose not to.

There are those who will argue that Madden was still better that year, but they generally can only point to franchise mode as the reason.

Yeah, NFL 2K2 did not have a franchise mode.  I personally don’t care about franchise mode, but if that it important to a person, then they would have been better off with Madden.  You can put development time into franchise mode when you’re using the same game engine you’ve been using for the last few years, with minimal improvements.  2K Sports (then Visual Concepts) did not have that luxury in 1999.

In any case, the point is that NFL 2k2 forced EA to take notice and try to bring their stagnating franchise up-to-par.  But by 2004, the NFL 2K franchise had also improved its game, with many (perhaps most) preferring ESPN NFL 2K5 to Madden 2005.  The was the last year Madden had real competition, of course.

Regardless of which game you liked better or how good you think the current Madden is, the point is the NFL’s agreement with EA is bad for gamers.  I’m sure the NFL thinks its better for them financially, but I wonder if they’ve considered that many gamers will lose interest in NFL games if/when they think the only game it town is stagnating.

What inspired me to write this is the recent decision of EA to not release an NBA game this year.  That’s right, they’re not bothering to try to compete with 2K Sports’ NBA 2K11 -- this year, at least.

So, NFL, the game company you have so much confidence in, that you’ve given an exclusive license to, isn’t even competitive when it comes to NBA games.  You’re sure you don’t want to give another developer a crack at the NFL license?

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