Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Grey Cup 2006 (Collector's Edition)

This is big news. And it stinks.

December 13, 2004: 7:14 PM EST
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. said Monday it had signed an exclusive agreement with the National Football League and the marketing arm of its players' union, giving EA the sole rights to put NFL players, stadiums and teams in its games.

What does this mean, and why doth it smell most foul? This deal says that EA Sports will be the only company making football games for any system, anywhere, with real NFL images/players/stadiums. Even the colors of the teams are locked up in EA's computer pallettes. Sure, EA's competitors, currently the NFL2K series by Sega/Take Two, can make a football game next year. To this point they've bitten hard into EA Sports' command of the video game football world. Now their future is dim. Would you want to play using the Maryland Warpath versus the Texas SteerRiders or Redskins versus Cowboys? What fun is there in controlling BlackBird linebacker #52 when you can run with the Ravens' Ray Lewis?

Back before video games were big business, sports video games could be successful products using imaginary teams and players whose positions and numbers resembled the real thing. I loved the original Tecmo Bowl on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) just as much as the later NFL-Property'd Super Tecmo Bowl. SNK put out Baseball Stars on the NES that didn't have Major League Baseball support but was insanely addictive. This game didn't even pretend to be based in real players--there was an all-woman team in the league! And we certainly can't forget one of the greatest hockey games ever, the thumb-bruiser Blades of Steel. Again, imaginary names, teams, and venues. But it played like a charm and you (OK, I) didn't care who you were controlling as long as the game was fun.

Sadly, those days are now behind us. Games existed without name-brand competitors. Today, a great part of the marketing of video games comes from their ability to accurately reflect more than just the real game of football. It is the realism of player faces, bodies, and likenesses that take 21st century games to levels only dreamed of back in the 80s. NFL2KWhatever will be hard pressed to market a new game with no-names, even if you can somehow download user-created rosters. Maybe they can corner the market on Arena Football, or the Canadian Football League. Anyone looking forward to a digitized Chris Berman showing halftime highlights of the Ottowa Renegades? Me neither.

I like Madden football a lot; in fact, it's what I have exclusively bought and played since Tecmo Bowl. And my first reaction to the NFL/EA monopoly was to boycott EA products for the five year term of the contract. Upon further reflection, it's hard to fault Electronic Arts because what they did was, honestly, good business. They've likely crushed their competition (who had actually forced them to lower the price on Madden by offering NFL2K5 2 1/2 times cheaper) and has secured a future profit on those same rights if it chooses to sell once the contract nears its end.

EA may issue a statement stating that their new monopoly is good for gaming because they can now focus less on competing and more on innovating (hopefully that includes fixing the "formation shift" bug). We may see an improvement in gameplay and presentation. Madden can now become all that they've dreamed it to be. To that I say...yeah, true. But I proffer the following fear, which is taught in any Business 101 class:

Most economists agree that under perfect competition, firms produce quantities more in line with societies needs, and at the least costly method. Therefore, we can conclude that monopolies adversely affect the market while the consumer is best served under perfect competition...monopolies artificially limit supply in order to raise prices. This is always the case when observing a typical supply and demand relationship. They also create a burden on society by misallocating resources. Monopolies are also less efficient due to the fact that there is no competition to drive them to operate at lower costs. Monopolies also suppress innovation and technology in their market. This is because they do not wish others to create cheaper and/or better products.

So get ready, football fans, for Madden 2006 to return to $50; I wouldn't be surprised if Madden 2007, on the PlayStation 3, retails for $60. And we can thank the money-grubbers in the NFL's front office.

Why the NFL would sell their rights as such escapes me. Who better than they to recognize that competition is better for consumers? Having a dominant team like the Patriots was fun for 20 games or so; but a whole lot of football fans cheered when they were toppled by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now the league has an unthinkable three teams with one loss, and the playoffs look to be one of the most exciting Clash of the Titans in recent memory. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has preached parity as being good for the league. Now his franchise has hypocritically shafted fans in the pursuit of big dollars. Sad.

Don't want to keep giving EA your hard-earned money? Some turn to HD Loader. Not that I would endorse such a thing. Ahem.

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