EA Faces Early Madden Designer Seeking Millions at Trial

Electronic Arts Inc., whose Madden NFL videogame sales have exceeded $4 billion, sent its last royalty check to programmer Robin Antonick in 1992 for computer code he wrote for the earliest version of the game.

A lawyer for Antonick told a federal jury in San Francisco that, unbeknownst to his client, EA continued to use his code to develop later versions of Madden NFL, and never paid him.

“Electronic Arts told him one thing and did another,” Robert Carey, the attorney, said in opening arguments yesterday. “They said we are going in a different direction and make this game, and we’re not going to use your stuff, and Robin’s claim is, ‘That’s not true.’”

EA, the second-largest video game publisher, denies using the code and says other company programmers developed later Madden NFL games independent of Antonick’s work. The company also alleges Antonick’s allegation didn’t realize his code had been used until 2009 is untrue, and he waited too long to claim he’s owed money.

The company “never used anything of Robin Antonick’s in any later games,” Susan Harriman, a lawyer for the company, said in her opening statement. “Mr. Antonick’s lawsuit is too late.”

Filing Deadline

This phase of the trial focuses on whether the statute of limitations, or the deadline for filing the lawsuit, has passed, and if not, whether Antonick is owed anything for Madden games sold before 1996. He is seeking compensatory damages of about $16 million and almost $200 million from EA’s pre-1996 game profits, said Stuart Paynter, one of Antonick’s attorneys.

Damages for games sold after 1996 will be considered in the second phase of the trial if the jury agrees with Antonick that the statute of limitations hasn’t expired, Paynter said. Antonick is seeking a 7 percent royalty rate for prior and future game sales as well as disgorgement of EA’s profit, which could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Antonick, an Illinois resident and former college football player, sued Redwood City, California-based EA in 2011, claiming he designed a prototype that ultimately became the Madden game, which has sold more than 85 million copies of the software for more than $4 billion in sales.

Commodore 64

Both sides agree that Antonick had a contract with EA in 1986 to develop a Madden game for Apple II, Commodore 64 and IBM personal computers. EA promised in 1991 to keep his source code confidential and not use it for games developed to run on other computers, Antonick’s lawyers said in court papers.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Antonick began to realize the hugely popular Madden game was based on his code, Paynter said by phone. EA was celebrating the Madden game’s 20th anniversary that year, and in media interviews company founder Trip Hawkins “expressly traces the origin of the Madden software to the 1988 version developed by Antonick,” according to the complaint.

Antonick bought a copy of the 20th anniversary collectors’ edition and was “shocked” to see it contained a timeline that “seemed to unambiguously trace every version of Madden released back to the version he developed in 1989,” his lawyers said in court filings.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who will preside over the trial, refused to throw out Antonick’s fraud allegation in April. He said that while he had “serious concerns” about the claim, he’d be in a better position to rule on it once the evidence has been presented at trial, the first phase of which is scheduled to last until July 9.

Antonick is the chief executive officer of MicroDonors Inc., a Boston company, and is the former chief web officer of the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The case is Antonick v. Electronic Arts Inc., 11-01543, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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