Original Madden developer Robin Antonick says that he hasn't received a royalty payment since 1992.
John Madden Football is one of the most consistently profitable franchises in video gaming – it’s sold more than 85 million copies since its 1988 debut – and now the series creator wants to get his hands on all of the profits. Robin Antonick, who developed the first Madden for the Commodore 64, MS-DOS, and Apple II, has filed a California lawsuit (PDF) against EA demanding nearly 20 years of missed royalty payments and potentially $4 billion in profits.
“Only recently, as a result of publicity surrounding the 20th Anniversary of the Madden videogame did Antonick become aware that Electronic Arts did not independently develop subsequent versions of its Madden NFL software," reads Antonick’s complaint. "Instead, according to recent statements by Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, the current generation of software apparently derived from software developed by Antonick.”
EA began porting Madden to other consoles – most notably the Sega Genesis – in the early 1990s, and assured Antonick that those games were built using new engines and technologies. Antonick’s lawsuit argues that it would have been impossible for EA to release those games without borrowing some of his IP, and that EA has continued to steal his code in all subsequent editions of Madden.
The lawsuit says that Antonick signed a contract with EA in 1986 that guarantees him 1.5 percent of the profits earned from any “derivative works,” and that EA has withheld those royalty payments since 1992. The Madden franchise has pulled in an estimated $4 billion over the years. That would entitle Antonick to roughly $60 million in royalties, although he’s currently seeking the disgorgement of all of those profits.
Antonick alleges that his code was also used to create EA’s Bill Walsh College Football, NCAA Football, and NHL sports franchises, and he goes on to claim ownership of features like 11-player sides, the 3D camera, and instant replay. Such features are now standard in digital football, but were revolutionary prior to Madden.
EA, meanwhile, says that, “The complaint and its 20 year-old claim are utterly without merit."
While I wouldn’t be surprised if Antonick gets a rather large royalty check – he is, after all, the creator of Madden – I doubt he’ll be getting the rest of the profits. The engine used to build Madden in 2011 probably doesn’t resemble the engine that was used in 1988 and there have been countless other individuals who have made their own unique contributions to Madden. Football concepts like 11-player teams and instant replay are also more likely to belong to the NFL than to a programmer who came along several decades later, even if the 1988 code does indeed belong to Antonick.
Then again, I’m not a programmer, so we’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out in the courts.