A jury today found that Electronic Arts used code and features developed by the designer of the first John Madden Football throughout Madden games published into the mid-1990s without crediting or paying him royalties, and required EA to pay damages that could start at $11 million and potentially reach much higher.
Robin Antonick, credited on the cover of the original 1988 PC game alongside John Madden, sued EA in federal court in 2011, alleging it recycled the code, design and other features he laid down in the first game for future editions, particularly the 16-bit console versions that exploded the series' popularity.
While Antonick's suit continues to allege that his work has been used into present-day versions of Madden, the jury's decision today just encompasses games published between 1990 and 1996—essentially its lifespan on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.
“This is a tremendous victory,” Rob Carey, one of Antonick's attorneys, said in a statement. "In many ways, this trial was a test of each party’s version of events. The jury uniformly rejected the idea that this game was developed without Robin’s work. It is, if nothing, a good omen for the next phase of the litigation.”
The $11 million figure was supplied by Antonick's attorneys; the jury said only that EA should have paid Antonick for his work appearing in Madden games from 1990 to 1996. A future phase of the trial will be held to determine whether Antonick's work indeed appears in versions of Madden published after the game's 16-bit era, and if EA is responsible for paying him royalties on that. Antonick's attorneys say EA's revenues on Madden games published in that span exceed $3 billion.
"While we’re disappointed with the jury’s verdict and will appeal, this has always been a case about games from the early 1990s, and it has no impact on today’s Madden NFL franchise,” Electronic Arts said in a statement following the verdict.
Throughout the life of this case EA has strenuously disputed the merits of Antonick's claim. When it was filed, a spokeswoman said the case was "utterly without merit," and Trip Hawkins, the series' creator and one of the founders of Electronic Arts, said Antonick overrated his own importance to the series' development.
But in today's verdict, the jury found that the game Antonick created shared substantial similarities with future published versions of Madden that did not credit him, principally in the offensive and defensive formations and plays that were available to the user.