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The MMA Video Game War of 2010

This week is a big one in the video game industry as the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, takes place in Los Angeles over the next few days. E3 has traditionally been the epicenter for annual mega announcements with the major publishers announcing their future plans while the media struggles to cover everything and the consumer is treated to more news than they are able to process. For those of you who don’t know much about gaming (and I realize that is not many as MMA and games have a pretty large demographic crossover) the statistics that have been thrown around the past few years put it approximately equal in size to the movie industry. That is to say, games are big business.

This is why it is a big deal that Electronic Arts has announced their entrance into the MMA gaming world. EA is the largest independent developer in the world, they rival Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo in size. The pivotal aspect of why this is major news to the MMA world in addition to the gaming world surrounds the fact that gaming giant EA is doing this sans UFC and instead is making a game that will need to draw upon the considerable non-UFC talent in the world to make up its roster. The while the impact to the MMA business could be virtually nonexistant, it could also turn out to be something of a game changer, particularly to the “free agent” MMA fighter. This is obviously speculative, but it wouldn’t be wise to doubt the potential impact of the company that brings us Madden year after year and the influence it has had on professional football.

For the aptly titled EA Sports MMA franchise to succeed (with the debut iteration scheduled for 2010) EA will need to aggressively market their product to not only so called “MMA fans” but the much larger base of “UFC fans”. Few, if any, companies are situated as strongly as EA to pull this off – EA Sports is a brand that carries its host of loyal sports fans. Should EA’s title have a successful launch, millions of eyes could be introduced to Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, and Shinya Aoki, and a whole host of other fighters rich with talent but short on name value. While those names are speculative at the moment, presumably this is the game that UFC icon Randy Couture is associated with (who is the rare exception to the traditional ironclad Zuffa contract). This is strictly conjecture but imagine the recognition a fighter like Fedor would get in the United States from being associated with a top tier MMA title produced by EA and with Randy Couture’s name attached. The same could be said for all the fighters that sign up to be a part of EA’s new franchise.

Of course the game has to be good, and THQ set the bar high with its debut with this year’s critically acclaimed UFC 2009 Undisputed. Besides having the considerable clout of the UFC name and roster, THQ will be on their second release and presumably correcting many of the things that fans want to see in UFC 2010. The counter point is that EA can also learn from what THQ has done and fan reaction. Still, it will presumably be a game of catch up for EA against an established brand in the UFC and seasoned developers in the MMA realm with THQ and Yukes.

What is going to happen here? It’s far too early to say. While probably annoyed by this announcement, Zuffa and THQ can’t be overly worried as they are in a great position for the future. As long as UFC 2010 adds and improves on this year’s game considerably MMA fans will be back. It’s not as if the video game market can’t support multiple companies making games on the same sport. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, soccer… the list goes on.

Should EA manage to assemble an impressive lineup of mixed martial artists (and maybe even team up with Strikeforce, Affliction, World Victory Road, and Dream) and put together an outstanding game we could see some interesting developments. Will Dana be more aggressive in signing fighters such as Fedor and be willing to concede somewhat in an effort to eliminate potential competition before it gains momentum? How would this help the exposure of a company like Strikeforce to have their fighters associated with a major MMA game? Would we see a non-UFC PPV draw semi-respectable numbers down the road? These are big ifs, and hardly sure things. Yet it’s hard not to speculate on what a juggernaut like EA can accomplish with its considerable industry savvy and marketing clout. Any way you slice it, things just got more interesting.

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