Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Another Reason

I mentioned yesterday that the NCAA Basketball series from EA had been cancelled. In large part, it appears to have happened due to poor sales over time (well deserved, because the game was weak). However, I think this  may also be involved:
It’s a legal opinion that could have significant impact on the way the business of college athletics is conducted. At the very least, it should make the financial books, contracts and business deals of the NCAA, its conferences and individual schools public, in some cases, for the first time.

U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken denied the NCAA’s request Monday to dismiss a 2009 class-action lawsuit led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon over the use of former players’ likenesses in everything from video games to memorabilia to television rebroadcasts.

The way college games have always worked is that player likenesses and ratings would be as "real" as possible, but the player would be given a fictional name. So Tim Tebow would have a different name, but his physical size and his ratings would correspond to the real person. In every respect except the name, it was Tim Tebow, and we all knew it was Tim Tebow.

What pissed off O'Bannon was that he saw himself in a video game as part of a "classic" team (I assume it was an all-time UCLA team, because all-time teams aren't uncommon as an added feature). It wasn't his name, but it was his stature, physique, and ratings. Plus, the player was left-handed, like O'Bannon.

In other words, it really was O'Bannon, but he wasn't getting paid for the use of his likeness.

I think O'Bannon has an entirely fair complaint, and while the NCAA should be expected to prevail just because they usually do, this is a very, very uncomfortable area for them, because if they ever lose a case like this, it will open Pandora's Box.

Was this a primary reason that the NCAA series got cancelled? No, but I do think it's a factor, and I think it may also become a problem for the NCAA Football series, which was already bitten in the ass once. Remember last year how the "custom sounds" feature was introduced, enabling users to add their own sounds to the game? Well, it didn't get much attention at the time, but EA had been sued in late 2008 over the unlicensed use of the UNLV fight song. EA, to my understanding, believed they had the rights to all the various school fight songs through their purchase of the NCAA license, but as it turned out, the rights to some of the fight songs weren't owned by the schools.

So in NCAA Football last year, a decent number of fight songs (including Texas Tech, which is the team I usually play with) were suddenly missing, and this new "feature" to add sounds tied to certain game events was added. Including some events where the school's fight song would normally be played.

Does that sound like a coincidence? It shouldn't.

For quite a few years, licensing for an NCAA game was turnkey--just buy the rights from the NCAA and you had everything. Now, though, many of those rights appear to not be as cut-and-dried as it originally appeared, and I think there's a pain-in-the-ass factor that's going to reduce the willingness of EA to release college sports games at all, particularly when their sales are already borderline.

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