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The video game isn't just a video game story

It's a business story, a labor story, and an emotional story.

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

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Welcome to the hundreds of new subscribers we’ve added this week! I’m thrilled that you’ve decided to give Extra Points a chance. This newsletter covers all sorts of off-the-field stories in the college sports industry, from NIL to labor law, media rights valuations to NCAA governance reform, conference realignment to academic reforms, and much more.

I don’t just write about EA Sports College Football 25.

But this week? Yeah, I want to write about the video game one more time real quick.

Part of the reason I write about college sports video game development so much? You, the reader, are clearly interested in it. The response I get from non-industry readers about anything I write that relates to video game development substantially outstrips the response I get from any other topic, save maybe conference realignment. The desire for information, no matter how minute, is immense, and I do my best to try and respond to that need.

And part of that reason, I’ll confess, is because I’m also personally interested in video games. We made a dang computer game, after all….but I’ve also been playing sports video games since Bill Walsh College Football, on Sega Genesis, way back in the mid-1990s. This is still a hobby of mine, albeit one I have far less time for now that I’m a parent.

But honestly, the biggest reason I’m so fascinated by this project is that this is so much more than just a transactional video game development story

Yesterday morning, I reported (along with many others) that EA Sports would begin to send out NIL contracts to more than 11,000 FBS athletes, paying them for usage of their digital likeness in this summer’s video game project. By every metric I can think of, this would represent the biggest NIL deal by any single company, both in terms of total spend (over six million dollars) and number of athletes.

EA Sports VP of Marketing John Reseburg tweeted on Thursday evening that over 5,000 athletes had already opted into that contract. That’s impressive because getting college students to fill out a form on time is typically considered a miracle, not far off the scale of the loaves and fishes.

The sheer scale involved here makes the logistics and execution of this particular contract a very important sports-business story. This sort of licensure scale has never been attempted before in a video game, and many industry observers are monitoring to see how easily EA, One Team Partners, CLC, and Opendorse can pull this off. If they’re successful, it could open the door for substantially more group licensing opportunities for athletes, and not just in video games.

After all, as Ben Chase, the Director of NIL Strategy at Florida noted, companies like Fanatics stand to substantially benefit from widespread group license adoption here. This contract isn’t just about one video game.

That contract also makes this video game a labor story

Every other large-scale video game licensing project has been conducted between the video game publisher and a union. That means that the bargaining agent was democratically elected by the athletes and is specifically accountable to their interests.

College football players aren’t employees (yet), and don’t currently have a union OR any sort of trade or professional association with anything close to widespread membership. OTP has lots of experience in group licensing projects, but they weren’t selected by FBS athletic membership.

When I spoke with EA earlier this week, their representatives told me that the company wanted the first licensing contract to be “expansive” and “inclusive”, one that offers money to the most athletes possible. That’s fine! Maybe a college athlete bargaining unit would have preferred smaller video game roster sizes and a larger payout…or any number of other proposals. One could credibly argue that the athletes themselves didn’t really get a chance to demonstrate what was important to them in the contract process.

Some groups, like the CFBPA, as well as other agents and activists, have strongly criticized the deal. But the only way to actually improve the quality of this deal (and future contracts) is to organize and build a meaningful organization. Pointing to lower payouts or a lack of royalty rates in the proposed contract could potentially be a galvanizing force in athlete organizations…or it could repel athletes.

After all, the honest truth is that individual college athletes, even very famous and marketable ones like Quinn Ewers or Carson Beck, have very, very little individual leverage in dealing with EA. This game sold well for decades without any athlete IP, after all, and even one famous player is just one dude out of 11,000. Being a part of the video game is also deeply popular with athletes, many of whom have said that they would participate even if they didn’t get any money.

This is not the kind of deal that can be haggled over like an Instagram ad buy with Joey’s Pizza down in Starkville or something.

So I’m very curious to see how labor leaders (or would-be labor leaders) try to play the conversation around this deal, and future deals. What is popular with Twitter activists and national journalists, after all, may be very unpopular with actual 20-year-old football players.

I’m going to keep making phone calls, filing FOIAs, and poking around to learn more about the technical development of EA Sports College Football 25. But I also want to continue to better understand what the game means for consumers, players, athletic departments, the NIL Industrial Complex, the athlete labor movement, and more.

It’s a big deal. Bigger than when I turn Kent State into a five-star superpower on my PlayStation after my girls go to sleep.

Here’s what else I wrote this week

It was a bit of a lighter writing week, I think, but that is partly because I also spent a gazillion hours this week on the phone, doing podcasts, video hits, and trying to do reporting. There are stories coming that have nothing to do with video games, I promise.

You can read everything we produce here by upgrading to a paid subscription. Four newsletters a week, access to ADS4000, all for just eight bucks? That’s a good deal, IMO.

Thanks for reading and listening, everybody. I’m going to close my computer for a bit. I’ll see you on the internet next week.

This edition of Extra Points is also brought to you by Sideline Design

Friends, I’m supposed to make a bunch of fancy social graphics to help promote this newsletter and the work that I’m doing. But I don’t have time to learn Photoshop or experiment with complicated editing tools. I’m too dumb and too busy for that.

But thanks to Sideline Design, I can whip something up in just a few minutes. Like this!

Sorry, sorry, I’m trying to delete it.

Anyway, if you want to make graphic design easier for your coaching staff, recruiting team, fellow writers or others, check out Sideline Design today. 

If you’d like to buy ads on Extra Points OR in ADS4000, good news! We have open inventory in April. Drop me a line at [email protected]. If you have news tips or FOIAs you want to share, I’m at [email protected]. Otherwise, I’m at [email protected], @MattBrownEP on Twitter, @ExtraPointsMB on Instagram, and @MattBrown on Bluesky.

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