Published in Games

John Madden Football was not copied

by on27 January 2014

Original game was too different

A federal judge overturned a jury's multimillion-dollar damage award to the programmer of the original "John Madden Football" video game. US District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco said there was no evidence that his work was copied for seven years, without credit, by the marketer of later versions of the game.

The ruling means that Electronic Arts Inc. will not have to pay $4 million in damages, plus interest that could have exceeded $7 million. The jury verdict could have led to larger damages against the company for later versions of the game, which reaped billions of dollars in revenues, if they had been lifted from the work of programmer Robin Antonick.

"Madden Football," which first appeared in 1988. Until then computer games of that period that depicted a handful of players making robotic movements. The new game showed all 22 players carrying out NFL plays. Antonick, a programmer who had played college football, was given credit and royalties for the game's first edition. However in 1990 EA brought in new programming teams in 1990 and said they started from scratch, without using Antonick's source code.

A federal court jury sided with Antonick that the Madden games from 1990 through 1996 were so similar in plays and formations that they must have been based on the programmer's original source code. Judge Breyer said that the jurors had no basis for that conclusion because they were never shown the games side by side in order to make their own evaluation. Jurors heard from Antonick's expert witness, who said the games used the same plays and formations and the same system of player ratings, and that while the later versions had added some features, they were "essentially the same" and used the same programming.

However without the opportunity to view each of the versions of the later games, the jury had no basis for evaluating whether the changes the expert addressed altered each subsequent game, Breyer said.
Antonick will appeal the ruling, his lawyers said.

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