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Original  Madden  Creator Suing EA For Tens Of Millions In Series Royalties
Original Madden Creator Suing EA For Tens Of Millions In Series Royalties
April 1, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

April 1, 2011 | By Kyle Orland
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    28 comments
More: Console/PC, Production, Business/Marketing



Developer Robin Antonick, who was instrumental in the creation the original computer version of John Madden Football, is suing Electronic Arts for two decades worth of royalties on derivative works, which could amount to tens of millions of dollars.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in California District Court [PDF], Antonick alleges EA used technologies Antonick developed for the original Madden -- released in 1988 and 1989 for the Commodore 64, MS-DOS and Apple II -- in developing subsequent versions of the title for a variety of different platforms.

The lawsuit highlights innovations the original game brought to virtual football, such as 11-player sides, 3D camera technologies, instant replay features and "sophisticated models of player behavior in place of static rules-based gameplay."

These models formed "the foundation of the Madden franchise," according to the lawsuit, and make further games in the series subject to a 1986 contract that promises Antonick 1.5 percent of the profits from any "derivative works" made for different hardware.

EA has withheld those royalties, Antonick says, by arguing that subsequent Madden games were developed independently of Antonick's computer version. When Park Place Productions was brought in to develop the 1990 Sega Genesis version of the game, the company allegedly told Antonick that his IP would not be used because the title was going in a new, more "arcade"-focused direction.

But Antonick points out that Park Place was assisted by EA employee Richard Hilleman, who worked closely with Antonick on the original Madden and currently serves as EA's Chief Creative Officer.

In an interview cited in the lawsuit, Park Place founder Michael Knox said Hilleman spent "well over a month" living in the Park Place offices and turning the game from "something that looked good into something that actually played great football."

"Given Richard Hilleman's extensive knowledge of Antonick's code, it would not be possible for Hilleman to spend 'countless hours' working on subsequent versions of Madden without benefiting from and in fact utilizing Antonick's ground-breaking prior development work," the lawsuit says.

EA founder Trip Hawkins and long-time executive Bing Gordon are also cited by name as having "had extensive access to and knowledge of Antonick's code, design documents and other intellectual property," which were allegedly used in developing new versions.

What's more, the lawsuit also alleges that John Madden only met with Park Place during a single promotional event, meaning Antonick's earlier work in digitizing Madden's plays must have been used in the game.

The suit also expresses skepticism that the Genesis version's sole programmer, Jim Simmons, could have created the game on his own in an accelerated six month timeframe despite having no prior commercial development experience.

Beyond the Madden royalties, Antonick also alleges that his IP was used in developing the Bill Walsh College Football and NCAA Football franchises, as well as EA hockey games which Hawkins allegedly said used Madden's engine.

Antonick says his treatment by EA is indicative of a pattern of disrespect to IP rights for the company, citing current EA lawsuits over hiring employees from Activision and the use of various player likenesses in EA games as evidence.

"Electronic Arts' cavalier treatment of Antonick's intellectual property and contractual rights is symptomatic of a corporate culture that has long taken a 'so sue me' approach to the use of third party intellectual property that it does not own and generally devalues the importance of intellectual property," the suit says.

The Madden series alone has made EA an estimated $4 billion in profits, which would entitle Antonick to at least $60 million according to the royalty agreement. An EA rep did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.


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Comments


Benjamin Leggett
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Apparently the Bethesda founders also worked on it, see quote from Christopher Weaver about Gridiron (1986) for the Amiga/Atari: http://www.mobygames.com/company/bethesda-softworks-llc



See also the Bethesda/EA lawsuit over Gridiron/Madden in 1987: http://www.atarimagazines.com/v7n5/LateNewsFlashes.html

Thomas Grove
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Why did he wait 20 years to bring this up?

Tomiko Gun
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It's all about the money dude. If he sued back in the 90s, he'll basically get dirt compared to what he'll be getting now.

Joseph Caddell
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the longer the more $$$$ ;)

Kyle Orland
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Actually, this is addressed in the suit -- Antonick said he took at face value EA's assurances that the console versions didn't use any of his code for decades. It wasn't until interviews with Gordon and Knox (mentioned above) showed otherwise that he says he felt it was worth pressing.



Anyway, even if he sued in 1992 and won, he still would have gotten the 1.5 percent over the life of the series. It's not like the timing of the lawsuit cuts off what he has a right to.

Cody Scott
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that was my thought on it all, and even if he did take EA's word for it (which is pretty stupid when money is involved) he should have looked into it just to make sure they where not lieing to him.

Mike Siciliano
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"Anyway, even if he sued in 1992 and won, he still would have gotten the 1.5 percent over the life of the series. It's not like the timing of the lawsuit cuts off what he has a right to."



That's not necessarily true. There's something called a statute of limitations that precludes you from bringing a late lawsuit. I'm not saying that it applies here, but late timing on a lawsuit can indeed cut off what you have a right to.

Kyle Orland
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That's true, but my point was that suing earlier wouldn't have meant he'd have to forfeit future profits.

ferret johnson
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worth noting, in addition to the other points brought up is:

1) it costs a fortune to bring this type of lawsuit. it's not worth it until the $$$ potential is significant.



2) if done right away, EA'd just change the code for upcoming years and try to get out of paying royalties again.



Ultimately, this is the smartest way to do it. And since royalties are % based, it really doesn't matter when he does the lawsuit -- he should be getting paid them, or not being paid them period.

Jacob Johnson
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It also takes YEARS for a suit like this to surface and hold any water.

Thomas Nocera
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I found it interesting to read the PDF of the redacted court filing to better understand why so much time elapsed before the plaintiff brought suit. (Thanks, Kyle Orland, for including the link to it in your article.) Seems like EA has quite a legal mess on their hands with this suit - which I note seeks punitive damages. (That's in addition to $60 million or so in royalties. My prediction is that it will likely result in an out of court settlement at some point after the discovery process.



Interesting that the plaintiff apparently knew quite a bit about football, having played the game at the college level - but not in the NFL. He also appears to have been quite trusting. He accepted at face value all the information he was given...and it was only upon discovering some recently published information did he find he was likely duped - and the victim of an alledged fraud. The suit is well written although much of the plaintiff's assertions have been redacted in order to, I presume, protect his intellectual property. It is interesting to me that Madden's NFL football franchise has earned over $4 billion dollars over the years. If the allegations in the suit hold up, EA will have a lot of explaining to do.

And anybody who has ever signed a contract with them may want to follow this case. I hope Kyle Orland will stay on this case and post EA's attorney's response once it is filed.

Alan Rimkeit
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I really think this an Aprils Fools joke....

Tomiko Gun
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Robin, take the settlement money. Madden's selling well not because of your old code or your "innovations," it's because EA has a NFL license monopoly and a very cutthroat but good marketing department.

Tim Carter
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Wow. You guys are wanting to deny a creator's rights. No wonder you get pwned by the game industry.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I am all for creator's rights, and even I think that two decades is a little fishy. If I feel that waiting long periods of time to up the stakes is unethical for companies, I have to feel that way for individuals as well.

Daniel Martinez
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Uphill battle.

Alan Rimkeit
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BLOOD BOWL!!!! :D

DanielThomas MacInnes
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I wouldn't take Park Place's Michael Knox's word for anything. Both he and his colleague who founded Park Place (name escapes me and I'm not willing to Google it) were both a couple of card sharks. Knox gave a phone interview to Sega-16 a few years ago (he died from cancer in 2009) where he made a number of surreal and bizarre claims. That's probably an interesting story in itself; at least, that's what I thought while I was doing research on Madden back in February.



I think the creators of John Madden Football are well established and easily verifiable. And we must remember that the series evolved pretty rapidly from it's Apple II days to the Sega Genesis. Madden 92 on Genesis is really where the Madden Football that we all know emerged. It's also my favorite game in the series.

R G
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I don't really see this going anywhere. I know that where I work, if I contribute code it belongs namely to the studio/company, unless it's just "//super OP amazing".



Maybe it was different back then, idk.

Tim Carter
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Did you negotiate a 1.5 percent royalty in your contract?

R G
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Lol no, I negotiated "I can haz job, amirite?"

Benjamin Quintero
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This news broke on the 1st. Is anyone else suspicious? Ill believe it when i see them in court. What could they possibly still be using? Oh yeah for(int i;;), that must be it. Besides, if he had a patent on all of those it might be different. Otherwise, he can get in line with every other coder who's ever written a line worth talking about. Sounds like a ploy to get people talking about a fading franchise. Job well done EA.

Cody Scott
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well they did show the lawsuit in a pdf format....

Benjamin Quintero
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Lol good point. I stand corrected.

Tim Carter
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Code is covered by copyright, not patent. As such, his rights extend over his whole lifetime, plus 75 years.

Tim Carter
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My guess is that the accountants made sure Madden made no "profits".

Mike Siciliano
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That would be quite difficult to do with a publicly traded company.

Serge Arroyo
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just another guy looking for his payday. Either EA will bleed him dry in lawyers fees, or they'll settle for a fraction of that.


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