Twenty-five years after Robin Antonick helped to create what would become one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world, a judge has ruled that Electronic Arts owes him $11 million in unpaid royalties for his work on the Madden football franchise. Atonick’s fight is far from over though.
When John Madden Football first debuted on Commodore, Mac, and PC in 1998, it was a much different game from what it is now, both in terms of presentation and gameplay. The original game featured no actual NFL teams, no players, and the field was much bigger than a regulation field. At the time, Antonick was working for EA and developing along with Trip Hawkins, the company’s co-founder. Working on an Apple II, Antonick was responsible for the coding that produced the unusual 80 yard wide field, as well as all the playbook designed with that field in mind. The following year, the series debuted on the Sega Genesis and retained the oversized field and plays made for that field. For the Genesis version, EA brought in the long since defunct Park Place Production Team to develop the console version.
Earlier this week, a jury decided that the Genesis version of Madden that produced games from 1990-1996 used code that was a derivative of the original code Antonick wrote, and \awarded him $11 million in unpaid royalties including interest.
“This [case] has two facets,” Michael W. O’Neil, a partner at Novak Druce Connolly Bove + Quigg LLP, told Digital Trends. “The main facet was there was a contract. The question was, did Electronic Arts breach the contract? There was a provision in [Antonick’s] 1986 contract that said if the defendant, EA, uses any derivative work of Mr. Antonick’s programming code, then Mr. Antonick would be given a given a 3-percent royalty rate for that derivative work.”
Although it was written more than a quarter century ago, Antonick claims that he was unaware of the derivative nature of the code being used until Madden celebrated its 20th anniversary. Statements made by Hawkins at the time led Antonick to believe that it was his code, and not original programming from Park Place that was used. In 2011, Antonick filed a lawsuit, seeking tens of millions of dollars in unpaid royalties in the case of Robin Antonick vs. Electronic Arts Inc. EA was quick to claim that the statute of limitations had passed. That claim was thrown out by a jury ruling (although it wouldn’t stop the proceedings, EA has since appealed that decision), and the case went to trial.
“This was a contract dispute, a breach of contract. And the ways that the parties needed to prove that, that there was a breach, was that Mr. Antonick had to prove that the work from Sega Genesis was a derivative of his work on Apple II,” O’Neill told us. “And if it was, [EA] breached the contract.”
Despite the ruling in Antonick’s favor, the case is far from complete, and it should soon head to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“It will likely be appealed,” O’Neill said. “There will probably be two grounds. One [of the] grounds that hasn’t been decided, EA put on a defense that Antonick’s case was barred by a statute of limitations. That went against EA, and right now the District Court judge has that and needs to make a ruling.”
“The other one will be, with this case, that the jury erred in determining that the Sega Genesis football game is a derivative work of the Apple II football game under US copyright law, which defines what derivative works are.”
This ruling is also just the first part of the trial, and specifically covered the Madden games released between 1990 through 1996. A second phase will soon begin that covers the games beginning in 1997 and running through to the present, which have earned over $3 billion. Antonick’s lawyers also plan to appeal an earlier ruling as well, which excluded both the games released for the Super Nintendo, as well as Antonick’s claims that EA knowingly committed fraud. They will also seek further compensation based on a disgorgement of profits, meaning the judge will determine if Antonick is due a higher settlement based on any illegal or unethical acts EA committed.
For now business will continue as usual for EA, and the ruling will have no bearing on the upcoming 25th anniversary edition of Madden, which will be released on August 27.
“While we’re disappointed with the jury’s verdict and will appeal,” EA Sports told us,”this has always been a case about games from the early 1990s, and it has no impact on today’s Madden NFL franchise.”
[Updated to correct a typo.]