Madden NFL is perhaps the most recognizable title in Electronic Arts’ long list of sports games. The football simulator officially debuted in 1988 for the Apple II series of computers, and quickly gained recognition for its ties to Hall of Famer John Madden, a Super Bowl winning coach and color commentator.
Robin Antonick, one of the game’s primary developers during the franchise's early years, sued EA in 2011 claiming that the publisher stole much of his original code, design, and in-game features. More specifically, many of the offensive and defensive formations, as well as several user plays, may have been gleaned from the 1988 title. Today, a jury sided with Antonick, forcing EA to pay upwards of $11 million in restitution.
According to Kotaku, the verdict specifically targets code used in Madden titles published between 1990 and 1996; an era highlighted by 16-bit consoles such as the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Rob Carey, Antonick’s attorney, was elated at the decision, saying, “This is a tremendous victory. In many ways, this trial was a test of each party’s version of events. The jury uniformly rejected the idea that this game was developed without Robin’s work. It is, if nothing, a good omen for the next phase of litigation.”
What is this upcoming litigation phase that Carey is referring to? Although Antonick will receive repayments for royalties lost between 1990 and 1996, a future lawsuit is pending for code that appears in later versions. Over the seven year span, EA’s revenues from the Madden franchise exceeded $3 billion, and it is believed that recent titles may have grossed even more.
Despite the verdict, EA strongly disputes the claims, arguing that the similarities are “utterly without merit”. EA founder Trip Hawkins went on to say that Antonick has overvalued his impact on the franchise.
“While we’re disappointed with the jury’s verdict and will appeal, this has always been a case about games from the early 1990s, and it has no impact on today’s Madden NFL franchise,” the publisher explained in a post-verdict statement.