Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More EA, Because Your E-Mail Demands It

I'll tell you what--I'm shocked by the amount of e-mail I've gotten about EA's exclusive NFL license. This is, by far, the most e-mail I've ever gotten on a single topic, and 100% of that mail is pissed off by the deal.

Here are a few more thoughts on this sorry situation. One, both the NFL and NFLPA were incredibly short-sighted. They would never consider offering exclusive television rights to one network--unless they owned it. If they wanted to grant licensing rights on something other than a game-by-game basis, they should have offered up two or even three licenses for bidding. More games, more total time played, more exposure for their brand.

I think what many people don't realize is that a large percentage of football fans now spend more time playing video football games than they do watching them. Our primary exposure to the game is via a game. And many of us play all of them, or at least try all of them. So what the NFL has done is reduce our exposure to their league.

The Madden franchise was wheezing like an emphysema patient this year. It's stale. What happens if EA, with their exclusive NFL license, makes a shitty football game one year? Oops. Sorry, NFL, you are 100% screwed, because now no one has anything they want to play, and it makes you look like a large accumulation of idiots for selling an exclusive license.

There's also, in my mind, and unwritten code of ethics among game developers. Destroying someone else's game instead of working to make your own game better is not part of that code, and in fact, it is an insult to the development community.

Now if you're not a sports gamer and you wonder why this matters, let me try to put it into pespective. Let's say that after Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 came out, almost everyone said that Half-Life 2 was much more fun to play, and it affected the sale of Doom 3. So instead of improving the Doom franchise, Id went out and wrote a huge check to essentially stop Valve from releasing another version of Half-Life. Would you be pissed off? I certainly would be.

What this exclusive license also doesn't address is the deterioration that is occurring throughout the EA Sports brand with their team sports games. The NCAA series is stale, and better crowd noise isn't going to fix that. The Madden series is so old and ill that it needs an iron lung. NHL is lousy. The March Madness series, which showed quite a bit of promise, is bugggy this year. The NBA Live series is probably the strongest team game right now, but it's not particularly fun (ESPN NBA got better reviews, in general, but it's not particularly fun to play either). MVP also showed promise last year, but it was released in unfinished, buggy condition. And FIFA? Wait a minute--it's hard to type with one hand holding my nose.

Even though these games have huge budgets compared to the competition, none of them are clearly better than their counterparts. What EA should be doing is analyzing how that is possible, not scratching checks to eliminate the competition that they can't match on a level playing field.

Here's a comparison:
Madden vs. ESPN NFL: ESPN this year hit Madden so hard that it needed a stretcher to get off the field.
NHL vs. ESPN NHL: What an ass-kicking. ESPN is hugely superior. The NHL series has been floundering for years. They've claimed to turn the corner so many times that they must be skating in circles.
NBA Live vs. ESPN NBA: this is pretty much a push, because neither game is that much fun to play, although Live on the PC looks excellent.
March Madness vs. ESPN College Hoops: Another ass kicking. Even with the bugs, ESPN is a terrific game, and was the best sports game released last year.
MVP vs. ESPN MLB: ESPN has a new developer this year. Last year MVP had tremendous potential but was released in very buggy condition.
FIFA vs. Konami's Winning Eleven: And one more ass kicking. The WE series is probably the premiere sports simulation on the market. FIFA is, well, shit, and has been for years.

See a pattern here? Even with more money, EA's sports line is weaker in almost every title. And if you're wondering if I'm an ESPN homer--no. ESPN has quality control issues because they cram so many new features in each year that it compromises their ability to find and fix bugs. Last year I thought Madden was the best football game I'd ever played, and NCAA was excellent. I also thought that the NBA Live and MVP games showed tremendous promise for their first years with a new engine. So 2003 was a very good year for EA Sports. But 2004 has been terrible, and isn't someone supposed to be held accountable for that?

I mean, besides us?

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