Column | EA should prioritize consumers in new college football video game

By Jermaine Sykes, Staff Writer

EA Sports announced it will revive its college football video game, with an intended release for Summer 2023. EA hasn’t released a college football game since 2013, and fans are highly anticipating getting their hands on the newest edition. 

Beginning in 1993, EA annually released new versions of its college football video game franchise until 2013, when the NCAA announced it would not renew its license contract with EA due to disputes over uses of players’ likenesses in the game. But likenesses rule changes opened up the possibility for EA to reobtain their license with the NCAA.

The NCAA Football video game franchise is back. But the ball is in EA’s court — this one release can make or break EA’s chokehold on the football gaming industry.

EA began its reign of power in the football gaming industry with its yearly releases of college football and NFL games. Their team-building modes — NCAA’s Dynasty and Madden’s Franchise — drove its success throughout the 2000s.

What has changed in the 10 years since the last NCAA Football video game release? Well, a lot. Players can now profit from their names, images and likenesses. The NCAA now has a College Football Playoff. The transfer portal and conference realignment have permanently changed the landscape of college football.

If handled properly, the new release can continue the company’s run as gaming king of football. But fans have been frustrated with EA in recent years.

EA no longer invests its time and resources in its team-building modes and now focuses on “Ultimate Team” modes in their NFL and FIFA video games. The card-collection mode includes arcade-like gameplay and retro players, as well as a micro-transaction system that can make the mode “pay-to-win.” This shift has created a problem between EA and its consumers.

The problem isn’t that EA has invested in a more profitable venture. The problem is that fans don’t want that style of play to take the main stage. 

Fans had #FixMadden trending on social media in 2020 in an attempt to plead with EA to fix Madden’s franchise mode. The attempt brought some changes to the game, but not as many as fans wanted. 

So what does this mean for the upcoming release of a college football game? We don’t know. Despite the fans not fully embracing EA’s shift to Ultimate Team, its very profitable for the company. EA’s revenue saw a 24.2% increase from March 31, 2021 to March 31, 2022. How does this make sense?

Since 2001, the NFL’s revenue has increased nearly exponentially besides a down year in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Collegiately, over 22 million people watched the 2022 National Championship game. Football, at all levels, is growing, and so is the number of fans. 

EA is at a crossroads. As the only prominent company that makes football video games, it has a monopoly on the industry. If it wants to focus on profit, EA can continue to focus on and concentrate on microtransactions and the more profitable modes. Or it can focus on making the best possible game.

I believe they should put profits to the side and worry about making the best possible game for their fans. Fans haven’t played with their favorite college teams in 10 years. EA emphasizing profit margins will be a slap in the face to such fans.

Older renditions of the NCAA Football games had exclusive and thorough modes such as Road to Glory — where players made characters that start in high school football and build their way up to college football stardom — and Mascot Mash-Up mode. Modes like these are what built the college football franchise to what it was in 2013. 

It’s not realistic to think EA will completely change its ways and abandon the more profitable modes. And I don’t think they have to. There can be a functional college football game with a micro-transaction-based mode — but it can’t be the selling point of the entire game. 

EA’s consumers have felt manipulated, but it hasn’t affected the company’s profits yet — the key word being yet. If EA wants to re-enter the college football market, it needs to make the product’s quality enough for fans to embrace. This can’t be just another money grab.

Time will tell what the fate of EA’s college football series will be. But if they botch this attempt, their control of the football gaming industry may be in jeopardy.