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Let's Talk About: Exclusivity Contracts

Every so often, a genre emerges as incredibly popular, and the only natural thing is that many companies jump on the bandwagon. We've seen this time and time again with several different genres; a company will rise to fame with an innovative title and several other companies will attempt to capitalize upon the popularity, some successful, some not so much.

So what's an innovative company to do when the innovative company's formula is perfected upon by the competitor and starts selling as well? You sign a crippling exclusivity contract of course! We've seen it numerous times within the music video game genre with around ten huge name artists being exclusive to either Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but they are certainly not the most egregious violators in this regard. That title, of course, belongs to the Madden franchise; the ones that essentially started this wild trend.

The year is 2005 and slowly, but surely, the NFL 2K series has begun challenging Madden for the crown of the NFL games. The final straw that seemed to break the camel's back, was when 2K Sports brought out NFL 2K5 a full week earlier AND made it priced at only $20 from day one. By value pricing the title, it brought millions of Madden fanboys to turn and purchase what many people still consider to be the greatest NFL game ever created.

With EA Sports quickly losing it's stranglehold on the NFL game market, which it's held since the early 90's, they took drastic measures to execute a fatality on the competition: an as-of-then unheard of exclusivity contract with the National Football League, which meant they would be the only company that could use NFL player likenesses and names. This completely obliterated the NFL 2K series and, worse of all, cast the Madden franchise into near obscurity for three or four years due to their laxed attitude towards improving the title with seemingly no threat to their supperiority.

Sure, competitors such as Blitz: The League and Backbreakers have risen up, but the lack of NFL support has seen them smited by the almighty sales number. Even 2K Sports got back in the game for a year with the brilliantly-conceived, yet poorly executed All-Pro Football 2K8, which featured NFL Hall of Fame members, but ultimately it was seen as an astronomical failure.

Not only did Madden end the competition in the NFL realm, but they also opened up Pandora's Box by making that deal. Shortly after EA Sports signed the deal with the NFL, 2K Sports signed an exclusive contract with the MLB, which ended the MVP Baseball series. One stipulation existed in the MLB deal, however, which allowed for first-party use of MLB licenses, so the MLB: The Show franchise on the Playstation platform could continue to exist. In retaliation to this, EA Sports signed NCAA Mens Basketball to a contract similar to the NFL one.

Ultimately, exclusivity boils down to trying to attract more consumers, but in the end, the consumers are the biggest losers in deals such as these. Competition is what drives our economy and essentially what drives our developers to produce the highest quality games possible. You think the first person shooter genre would be better off if only Activision could publish in that genre? Of course not! It's great the EA and DICE can put out the Battlefield series and push Infinity Ward and co. to put out the best game possible and to continually try to fix issues in the game with patches.

But it doesn't matter, year after year, gamers eat up the new iteration of Madden. Sure, I'm guilty of this too, but I feel bad about it year after year because I know how great Madden could be if it had just a small push from 2K Sports or even a new face altogether. Boiled down, the point is: exclusivity is a real part of our gaming world now, but I still want Van Halen in my Rock Band and AC/DC in my Guitar Hero.