One thing's for sure: Electronic Arts' legal department won't be getting a lighter workload for Christmas. One day after the publisher was slapped with a $400 million lawsuit stemming from its alleged involvement in the firings of Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella, US District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker certified a national class-action lawsuit against EA's Madden NFL, NCAA Football, and Arena Football licenses, which was originally filed in June 2008.
EA's having a rough run on the legal gridiron.
As a result of today's ruling, gamers who bought Madden NFL, NCAA Football, or Arena Football games published by EA after January 1, 2005, can join the lawsuit as plaintiffs. Gamers can join the suit through law firm Hagens Berman's website.
"Consumers now have a legal standing to demand that EA refund consumers millions of dollars it made from Madden NFL and other sports titles through what we contend was an illegal price-gouging scheme," said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. "We're gratified by the ruling, and believe it underscores how lucrative and exclusive agreements in the video game industry can come with an inflated price tag for consumers."
The suit, which was filed by Hagens Berman on behalf of a pair of gamers from Washington, DC, and California, alleged that EA has engaged in "blatantly anticompetitive conduct" since 2004 and continues to do so. At that time, EA and Take-Two Interactive released competing NFL Football products, resulting in a pricing war that saw Take-Two drop the price of its NFL 2K5 to $19.99 and EA cut Madden 2005's sticker tag to $29.95 in response.
However, the suit alleged that rather than continue the pricing war with Take-Two, EA secured exclusivity deals with the NFL, NCAA, and Arena football leagues. With no Take-Two competitor the following year, the suit noted that Electronic Arts raised the price of Madden 2006 back to $49.95, an increase of nearly 70 percent. Madden NFL currently retails for as much as $59.95.
"We believe EA forced consumers to pay an artificial premium on Madden NFL video games," Berman continued. "We intend to prove that EA could inflate prices on their sports titles because these exclusive licenses restrained trade and competition for interactive sports software."
Madden NFL remains one of EA's best-selling titles, according to the NPD Group. In November, the most recent edition of the game, Madden NFL 11, ranked fourth in US retail sales, having seen release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PSP, and Wii.