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Of Course It Is Electronic Arts: America’s Worst Company is trying to screw college players

The return of EA Sports’ NCAA Football has hit a snag, because of guess who?

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In this photo illustration, Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) logo...
These clowns again...
Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A year ago, we announced the return of Electronic Arts successful NCAA College Football franchise, set to release next year.

But that’s running into a bit of a snag. EA is working out compensation for the use of players names, likenesses jersey numbers, etc. And somehow, inexplicably, they have settled on the princely sum of...$500. An amount as outrageous as it is insulting.

Worse, until that gets settled, the game is going absolutely nowhere either.

The [NIL] rule change has made it directly possible for EA Sports to once again pursue making college football video games as long as they compensate the real players. The gaming company recently announced that they fully plan to commit $5 million to pay out all of the collegiate football players in the game. The issue is that with how many teams there are, this only works out to about $500 per player.

Many fans were disgusted with what they perceive as an insultingly low compensation for the college football athletes featured in the game that will likely profit millions of dollars. Some of them went on Twitter to blast EA Sports for their relatively cheap offer.

That is a sum beyond baffling, frankly. Even for Electronic Arts — and especially for this game.

For many players, it’s not even necessarily about the game: it’s about the experience of playing themselves in a video game. As CB said to me this morning, “it’s a form of immortality.” No need to go full Uncle Rico, when instead you can load up the PS31 and show Junior that you had a 93 rating with Penn State, could outrun a gazelle, and could face-plant a T-Rex. (Or maybe I’m just thinking of Derrick Henry again?)

They are about to be deprived of that chance now too.

Even the Fake Union allegedly acting to collectively bargain for players is trying to induce legal action. And, failing that, to flat-out boycott the game — the latter option is beginning to gain traction too:

A further report from Sportico suggests that college players will not receive royalties of any kind, with the report also stating that the $500 payment is a set fee with no ability to negotiate. The apparent low compensation has sparked calls for players to boycott the game, with the College Football Players Association spearheading the effort.

“All current players should boycott this deal,” Justin Falcinelli, vice president of the CFBPA, told ON3, “It is an opt-in deal, and they should not opt into it. It is just a ridiculously low amount of money.”

How did we even get in this Scrooge McDuck mess?

It begins and ends with Electronic Arts. Hold on to your butts. This is a company so fundamentally rotten, that it makes the Chinese Communist Party look like good faith actors.

For those of you unaware of Electronic Arts — beyond the iconic “EA Sports...” voice over — this “entertainment” monolith is consistently ranked as the worst company in America — the same nation that brought you Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Comcast, Bank of America, AT&T, and Walmart, among many other less savory corporate actors.

It is not an inconsequential player, either. Electronic Arts is a Fortune 500 company with a market cap of $7.42 billion — one of the bigger companies in an industry that is so vast it is larger than, and more profitable than, the rest of our popular media. Combined: Hollywood, music, streaming — all of it. In fact, gaming is five times bigger than Hollywood.

What have they done to earn this ire?

On top of yearly FIFA cash grabs, destroying legacy franchises, buying and then shuttering popular studios, killing off projects that had been anticipated for years, capricious firings, shitty treatment of employees, releasing broken products and so many other sins, EA has been at the forefront of “microtransactions” and “games as a service.”

The details of those concepts are a bit beyond this piece, but they boil down to one overarching goal: continuous monetization of a product that has already been sold to you.

Again, the way this is done gets very complex at times, but EA are innovators in selling cosmetic items to players, play-to-win “buffs” and gear in competitive games, stacking the deck against bad players to entice them into purchases, yearly “season passes” for more content, exploiting FOMO, and a host of other “microtransactions” (MTX). There is an entire subindustry of psychology meant to create and attract “whales” — huge volume consumers. EA was at the forefront of weaponizing the science of addiction to achieve that.

But by far the worst practice, one that has drawn scrutiny from US lawmakers, legal action in courts, and even prompted other nations to pass laws against them: the “loot box” — wherein players spend actual real-world currency in the hopes of getting a better in-game object for their use in these randomized “loot boxes.” However, the odds are so poor that they functionally qualify as gambling. See that point above about weaponizing addiction? This is where it pays off.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that EA would be the first one out of the blocks to screw over college athletes, or attempt to. What makes this a particularly bad look is that, if you recall, the entirety of the O’Bannon cases was about EA not compensating Ed O’Bannon for the NCAA Basketball series. It’s also why we described that litigation as a “stalking horse for pay-for-play” — the point was always to get under the table money legally for player performance.

This case was initially, and should have remained, a limited one -focusing on athletes’ names, images, likenesses and personalty rights; and, to another degree, about licensing of the same (hereafter “NIL,” for brevity.) However, testimony provided by O’Bannon focused on his (evolving) opinions regarding amateurism, and showed that if an elite athlete doesn’t give a damn, unsurprisingly, that athlete won’t graduate or take academics seriously. More disturbingly (to some, including this author), O’Bannon’s testimony -far different from his previous deposition testimony, was an absolute stalking horse for pay-for-play.

This very issue is why we have the NIL mess now. It is absolutely tone-deaf lunacy that a company at the heart of the matter, in the very same issue that has been in courts for almost a decade, now cannot decide that it wishes to pay out more than a meager $1.5 million or so.

And truly would be negligible money, both in terms of the player (a touchdown on homecoming is worth more than a $500 handshake), and in terms of the game itself.

The last release of the game, NCAA ‘14 in Summer of 2013, saw sales decline from 2012’s numbers, and month over month. But it still sold one million physical copies and netted almost $600 million dollars. That doesn’t even include digital releases, whose sales Playstation and Microsoft do not release. It’s very likely the game earned over a billion dollars. Most tentpole franchises do hit the billion-dollar mark (easily). Even in that year of “down” sales, NCAA ‘14 brought in $731 million in 2023 inflation-adjusted dollars — on a $135 million dollar budget for development, release, and marketing: popular vidya’ games can be a license to print money.

And that’s why EA’s parsimony here is so curious. EA in a very real way began this mess. It is a beloved franchise that will sell millions of copies when it returns. It will make billions of dollars. EA has been gifted a golden chance to earn goodwill among their core audience — the same young men who watch college football are the ones throwing $60-$70 on release day. It would avoid protracted litigation — or worse, a delayed release date. That’s all it takes: a few extra dollars, or a 1% royalty split, and so much harm can be mitigated or prevented.

But EA, as always, has chosen to screw over the people upon whom it relies to make and consume their products, just so as to proclaim they earned a few extra bucks in the quarterly investor call.

The ball remains in our court, ultimately. We vote our principles with our wallets, but I fear that will not be the case here, as we make our lemming march to the GameStop Sea to grab it off the shelf when it drops.

Worse, I fear I may be no different either. Yet until there is a financial repercussion, with a clear nexus between EA’s actions and our consumer buying behavior, there simply is no incentive to change, so they won’t.

And so many of us — including players — just want to play.


Are you buying NCAA 2024?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Not if a bunch of players hold out and EA doesn’t renegotiate their offer.
    (35 votes)
  • 39%
    No, I don’t play games or sports games.
    (121 votes)
  • 11%
    Up in the air. EA is skeazy, but I may still buy it.
    (34 votes)
  • 29%
    I’m definitely buying it.
    (88 votes)
  • 8%
    Only if everyone is treated fairly, it’s not an over-monetized mess, and EA doesn’t release a broken, buggy mess. A unicorn in 2023, basically
    (25 votes)
303 votes total Vote Now