Saturday, August 15, 2009

Michael Vick joins EA's last hurrah

Michael Vick is finally back. No, I don’t mean in the NFL or in the public eye. I mean back in Electronic Arts’ John Madden football game.

In an annual ritual, the latest EA football game (now Madden NFL 10) went on sale at 12:01am Friday morning for Wii, Xbox360, PS3, PS2 and PSP console owners.

However, the announcement of the new Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback came long after the game had been released for duplication. Instead, the EA developers in Marin County had to scramble to add the backup quarterback to the game for the next online update.

The Madden NFL title has been the perennial EA blockbuster, and the Merc even speculated that it could help the overall industry:

"Madden" arrives just in time for the video game industry, which has suffered from flagging sales due to both a lack of blockbuster titles and the decline in the economy.

According to market researcher NPD Group, sales of video game software, hardware and accessories came in at $848.8 million in July, down 29 percent from a year earlier.

"While year-to-date results are weak, there are some big titles set to be released over the next several months, including 'Madden' this month, which should help spur sales," NPD analyst Anita Frazier said, according to our friends at The Associated Press.
I see this instead as the last hurrah for the best-selling sports game of all time.

I first heard of Madden as the coach of the last decent Raiders team (which brought him the familiar plaque at SFO airport). Most sports fans know him as the quirky sportscaster who refused to fly on an airplane. But now that he’s retired, a new generation of teenage boys will say “who???”

Meanwhile the secular trend for the software products business has been down, down, down. Kids steal software, or they play crappy free stuff online, or they don’t bother. The recession has converted their $500/year videogame habits from a “must” to a “nice to have,” particularly if mom or dad no longer has a job.

My guess is that in two years, NFL football from EA will be available as a fully subscription (SaaS) model, the way that Google already is and big software companies like Microsoft, Adobe and Intuit are heading towards. Hopefully EA will be able to charge more than Google for their subscriptions (or reap billions of dollars in ads for their free offerings).

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