Electronic Arts announced that it will not be selling the 2014 edition of its college football video game series after losing a likeness rights lawsuit filed by two former college athletes, placing the future of that video game franchise in doubt.
The settlement announced on Thursday by EA resolved two lawsuits filed in 2009 by former athletes of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, who claimed they were denied "likeness rights" payments even though they were depicted as college football players without their approval on EA's "NCAA Football" game series. Ed O'Bannon, who previously played NCAA basketball, sued the college athletics group and the Collegiate Licensing Company. O'Bannon's case was combined with former NCAA football player Sam Keller, who sued EA and the college athletics group.
The settlement by EA and the Collegiate Licensing Company was confidential before it is presented to for approval to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. In an announcement canceling the NCAA College Football 2014 game, the company's General Manager for American Football Cam Weber said "we are evaluating our plan for the future of the franchise."
"The ongoing legal issues combined with increased questions surrounding schools and conferences have left us in a difficult position – one that challenges our ability to deliver an authentic sports experience," Weber said in the statement.
As for the EA staff working on the college football video game, John Reseburg, spokesperson for EA, says "we are working to place them elsewhere within the EA sports organization."
The lawsuit settlement does not resolve the legal dispute between the two athletes and the NCAA.
"We have asked for, but have not yet received, the terms" of the settlement reached on Thursday, according to a statement from Donald Remy, the chief legal officer for the NCAA. "We cannot comment further."
It's unclear at this point whether EA will continue its college football video games, but one possibility is that college sports game might be recreated "to make it look like college without it being college," to avoid the need to pay likeness rights, says Brian Blau, who analyzes the video game industry for technology research firm Gartner.
"Fans like playing their favorite team, and it means a lot to college students to play the athletes on their favorite teams." Blau says. "Making games is not a cheap endeavor. It can be very expensive. There has to be a balance on it, and the company has to ask the question 'is the game about the experience? Is it about the personalities?'"
Similar calls for likeness rights might happen in the future but it seems unlikely that EA's highly-lucrative Madden NFL video game franchise will be shut down, Blau says.
"When you have an industry built around sports heroes they are going to continually demand their fair share," Blau says. "This is something the movie industry and other content industries have to contend with also."