Gamers, including those who don't even play sports video games, love to hate the exclusive license the NFL sold to EA Sports in 2005, making Madden the only NFL video game on consoles. Let's not forget the NFL Players' Association is a part of this, too. With just one exception (GameLoft's NFL 2010 for iPhone, no longer available), Madden's console and mobile offerings are the only games with an NFLPA group license for the past eight years. The NFL license gives a video game the teams' names, uniforms and symbols, but the NFLPA's license gives it more than 2,000 real world players.
The players' union doesn't seem inclined to license any other publisher any time soon. On Thursday, George Atallah, the NFLPA's top spokesman, conducted an AMA on Reddit and, unlike NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in his pre-Super Bowl AMA, actually answered a question about the exclusive license held by Madden.
Responding to a fan waving the bloody shirt of NFL 2K5 and saying fans "are sick and tired of not having a choice of picking an NFL game to play," Atallah said:
We have an agreement with EA and Madden. I have heard some opinions like yours, but honestly, EA is one of our best partners. I know they hear some of your input as well and work to improve the game every year.
When another fan said "I will not purchase another ea nfl licensed game until the consumers are able to have a choice again. The consumers should be in your best interest sir." Atallah replied:
I'm sorry to hear that. One thing to clarify though, my job and the job of the NFLPA, is to ensure that the players' interests are top priority. I know that might not be the most popular answer, but it's our mission.
Let's rewind, because while there are well established roles of the NFL's leadership as cash-raking scrooges, and EA as mustache-twirlers who buy the pot, the players' association isn't some Robin Hood crusading for the public, either. In fact, retired players, in a lawsuit, accused the union of giving EA Sports a sweetheart deal back in 2004, instead of taking an offer worth more money from 2K Sports. The suit was settled for $24 million (Electronic Arts was not a party to it.)
The NFLPA's interest is not in video game development, and that's for sure. The NFL is the licensor to answer for product quality, as it reviews and approves the game's feature set and new inclusions. The NFLPA is more concerned that Madden follows the group licensing agreement, uses players' likenesses appropriately, and doesn't bounce its check.
What's all this mean? As amusing as it was that a class-action lawsuit actually had aspirations of nullifying the NFL's exclusive license with EA (and the settlement of that suit had absolutely zero effect on how Madden is made) the league's exclusive arrangement is just one of two mountains to climb. Games like the defunct browser-based QuickHit NFL and mobile apps like NFL Rivals, and NFL Kicker have all gone forward with league licensing—and not the NFLPA's. This year's NFL Pro from GameLoft suffered from a number of deficiencies, one of them being a roster full of eye-rolling pun names because the game didn't have a deal with the NFLPA.
Yes, Electronic Arts' deals with the NFL and the NFLPA expire this year. Neither of the latter two parties seem unwilling to pursue other options, and both are essential to creating any legitimate simulation of the current league.
NFLPA Explains Position on the Exclusive License [Pasta Padre]