A U.S. district judge has certified a class-action anti-trust lawsuit against Electronic Arts that alleges the company illegally inflated prices for its football titles after attaining exclusive rights to league licenses.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker lets consumers who bought EA's NFL, NCAA or Arena Football console and PC games during or following 2005 to sign on as plaintiffs in the lawsuit and be represented by the legal team at firm Hagens Berman during an expected jury trial.
The suit itself alleges that EA used its monopoly control over various football league licenses during that period to increase the asking price of its football games, amounting to an illegal price-gouging scheme.
"We believe EA forced consumers to pay an artificial premium on Madden NFL video games," said Hagens Berman partner Steve Berman in a statement. "We intend to prove that EA could inflate prices on their sports titles because these exclusive licenses restrained trade and competition for interactive sports software."
In a 67-page complaint [PDF], the legal team specifically cites the 2004 pricing battle between Sega and Take-Two's NFL2K5, which retailed for just $19.95, and EA's Madden NFL 2005, which was lowered from a $49.95 asking price to $29.95 in November of that year.
A month after this price decrease, EA signed its exclusive licensing deal with the NFL, following with similar deals for the NCAA and Arena Football leagues in later months. The next year's Madden NFL 2006 faced no competition in the football game market at its usual $49.95 price point.
Current Madden NFL games retail for $59.95, which is standard for high-profile console retail titles. "But for Electronic Arts' exclusive agreements... the price of interactive football software produced by Electronic Arts would be substantially lower than its current price," the suit reads, alleging that such a price-inflating monopoly violates several anti-trust and unfair trade laws.
The suit seeks a jury trial to settle the matter as well as "restitution and/or damages to class members for the purchase of the software."
The case is unrelated to separate class-action lawsuits that argue EA illegally used player likenesses in its NCAA and Madden NFL football titles.