You know it's going to be a long month when it starts out with 6,000 (former) professional athletes suing you. That's the reality that Electronic Arts is now facing from a group of disgruntled retired NFL players who aren't getting the recognition they feel they deserve.
Tony Davis, a 57-year-old former running back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, thinks there is something fishy about the fact that the only thing EA does when a player is retired from the franchise is strip out the name and change the jersey number. Everything else, including team affiliation and player statistics, remains exactly the same.
Davis's stint with the NFL ended in 1981, long before any video game company had any affiliation to a sports league, but he was included in early Madden titles as part of an extensive collection of historical teams and players. However, Davis, along with thousands of other players, no longer has any name recognition in the Madden series. Specifically, he calls out Madden NFL 09, saying that even though the game makes no reference to his name or jersey number, his likeness is still in there. Indeed, there is a seemingly random character in the game whose in-game stats happen to show that he was in the NFL for the same amount of years as Davis, has an identical height and weight as Davis did while in the league, and has the same ranking as Davis did in previous Madden titles.
Above: Tony Davis then (a spry running back for the 1970s Cincinnati Bengals) and
now (a guy nearing Social Security age)
The lawsuit claims, "Despite EA's 'scrambling' of the retired NFL players' numbers, the games are designed so that consumers of the Madden NFL video game franchise will have no difficulty identifying who the 'historic' players are."
It goes on to say, "EA has earned substantial revenue by creating, marketing, and selling video games featuring the likenesses of retired NFL players."
Now, we're all for everyone getting their fair share, but aren't those statement a bit slanted? Did Madden NFL 09 really sell that well because if you searched really hard through a lot of menus, you could find someone in a Tampa Bay Buccaneer uniform with a random name and random number that someone could trace back to a 1980 football player named Tony Davis? Particularly, note the word "by" up there, which seeks to imply that including the oldsters was the way EA made money off the Madden franchise. If all we gamers wanted was the ability to play as retired players, would the latest Madden really sell several million units every August?
Above: Madded NFL 09 apparently sold well because of all the retired players hidden inside the game. Farve? he had nothing to do with it.
This class-action group of thousands of retired NFL players, all with similar stories to Davis, will win something. The precedent is there, as practically the exact same issue popped up between retired players and the NFL players’ union in 2008, with a favorable outcome for the players. But it will hardly be a windfall. EA will probably make a settlement that the has-been players with a sense of entitlement won't like, and the Madden franchise will continue unharmed.
In the end, the people at EA Sports should get some kind of bonehead award for thinking they could continue to use virtually the same player assets even though they were no longer covered under the game's licensing terms. We get it - as fans, we want those guys in there (for instance, Eric tries to recreate the 1985/86 Bears every year). But EA - you gotta pay 'em for it.
Aug 02, 2010