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Judge Certifies Class in ‘Madden’ Antitrust Claim

(CN) - A federal judge granted class certification in antitrust lawsuit over an alleged monopoly on the sports gaming industry between Electronic Arts and professional sports organizations like the National Football League.

The complaint, filed in 2008, claims the California video game developer's exclusive agreements with the NFL, the NFL Players Union, the Arena Football League and the NCAA have effectively eliminated competition in the interactive football software market. The class says the price for Electronic Arts' most popular game "Madden NFL" rose 70 percent from $29.99 to $49.99 immediately after the agreements were made.

Electronic Arts argued that a class certification is not practical because of the differences among video game consumers, but U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of the San Francisco federal court disagreed.

"The modest amount at stake for each purchaser renders individual prosecution impractical," Walker wrote. "Thus, class treatment likely represents plaintiffs' only chance for adjudication."

He added that the plaintiffs successfully mounted "a common nucleus of anticompetitive conduct."

"The overarching substantive issue presented is common to all purported members of plaintiffs' proposed class: whether EA's series of exclusive licensing agreements with the NFL, NCAA and AFL choked off competition in a way that is not legally sanctioned and whether, as a result of EA's conduct, plaintiffs suffered injury," Walker wrote.

Armed with three exclusive licenses, the class claims that EA stopped competing on price, causing wholesale prices to skyrocket.

"Under this theory, it is of no consequence that 'early' purchasers paid the industry standard price for their video games - EA could not have charged the prevailing industry-standard price if competitors remained," Walker wrote. "This theory has a basis in both the theoretical and real-world evidence."

The class consists of all persons in the United States who bought Electronic Arts' Madden NFL, NCAA or Arena Football League brand interactive football software, excluding software for mobile devices, with a release date of Jan. 1, 2005, to the present.

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