EA have scored the game-winning touchdown in the battle for American football videogame supremacy by signing a five year exclusivity deal with the NFL and the NFL Players' Association.
The deal means that no other games publisher can use the official teams, players, and associated imagery of the NFL in their products. EA's long-running Madden NFL series will therefore be the only NFL American football game available, effectively putting an end to any competition in the marketplace and, in particular, destroying Sega and Take-Two's ESPN NFL series' bid for the title.
EA's exclusive ownership of the NFL license will commence as of next year's Madden NFL title (they usually launch in August in the US) and applies to every gaming platform - Madden has or will appear on PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, DS, PSP, and mobile phones, and EA has exclusive rights to them all.
Speaking to American sports network ESPN, the NFL's vice president of consumer products Gene Goldberg said of the deal, "We considered a whole variety of factors in making this decision and chose EA based on game quality, marketing ability and track record."
While EA certainly has a proven history in the American football game market (the Madden series goes all the way back to 1988 and consistently shifts shedloads every single year) but there are worries that the exclusivity agreement is a bum deal for the consumer, who is now stuck with only one officially licensed game.
Sega and Take-Two's ESPN NFL series is the worst casualty of the agreement. ESPN NFL 2K5 stuck a boot up Madden's arse in the US earlier this year by rocking a $19.99 price tag - Madden 2005 was priced at $49.99. Buoyed by strong reviews and a fat feature list ESPN NFL sold so well that EA were forced to drop Maddden's price to $29.99 in November.
Also speaking to ESPN, Take-Two spokesperson Ed Nebb said, "We believe that the decisions of the National Football League and Players Inc. to grant an exclusive license for videogames do a tremendous disservice to the consumers and sports fans whose funds ultimately support the NFL, by limiting their choices, curbing creativity and almost certainly leading to higher game prices."
The insinuation is that EA now have free rein to reinstate their $49.99 pricing policy without fear of competition, and ultimately charge NFL fans whatever they please.
Of course, EA already own numerous sports licenses like FIFA, PGA Tour and American motorsports organisation NASCAR. The difference between the NFL deal to, say, the FIFA deal is that the structure of world soccer means that Konami's Pro Evo can still secure official licenses to teams and players (as has begun to happen in Pro Evo 4), while the entirety of the NFL is now effectively locked out to any other publisher. While we can almost stomach fielding Von Mistelroum for Trad. Bricks Red in Pro Evo, the thought of an unlicensed American football game is crap sandwich.
So is it another indication of EA's desire to ruthlessly monopolise the games industry, or just an astute business decision? We'll leave that up to you, but we'll bring you more news on these developments as we get it.