“EA Sports: It’s in the game.”  Anyone who plays video games and spends a portion of that time playing sports titles is familiar with that phrase, and could even mimic how the voiceover says it.  That goes to show you what kind of power Electronic Arts has acquired in the sports video game market over time.

FIFA Soccer has sold over 100 million copies in its history as a video game.  Madden NFL football has sold over 90 million copies since its debut back in 1989.  NBA Live has sold over 35 million copies of the basketball franchise.

The common link here?  They’re all games that are made by EA Sports.

Considering how powerful the UFC is in the world of MMA, and how powerful EA Sports is in the world of gaming, it seemed only natural for the two companies to get together and produce a video game.  However, when the two couldn’t come to terms several years ago, UFC President Dana White was very vocal about the company.

“When we first went out with the EA guys, they were so pompous, so arrogant it was ridiculous,” White told ESPN. “They didn’t respect the sport, but then after we did our deal with THQ, then they want to come out and talk about how they were going to compete with us. Well, we won. We beat them. We won, and that’s the way I play. If you want to come out and you want to fight and you want to compete, let’s do it. We did it, and we won.  I’m not going to sit here and say that I have any hard feelings for EA. Nope. I already kicked their ass, I’m happy.”

In October 2010, EA Sports released their first attempt at a MMA video game, titled EA Sports MMA.  The game featured Strikeforce as its major promotion and had such fighters as Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Randy Couture, Bas Rutten, Dan Henderson, Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Shinya Aoki and Gilbert Melendez as playable characters in the game.  Although it looked like it could be a promising title, it didn’t live up to the expectations.  Reports showed that the game sold just 45,000 copies in its first month on store shelves, which was significantly less than THQ’s UFC Undisputed 2009, which was released in May 2009 and sold 1 million copies in its first month.  Furthermore, the next version of THQ’s UFC franchise, UFC Undisputed 2010, sold 413,000 copies during that first month in which EA’s competing title was available.  It quickly became clear that the EA Sports name alone wasn’t enough to make MMA fans spend their hard-earned money on a game.

With White’s previous comments toward the video game giant, you would think that the UFC partnering with EA Sports would never occur.  But then again, if you thought like that, you would be naive to the fact that the UFC president is a man that tends to go back and forth on a lot of topics, and that he is also the man that coined the phrase “business as usual.”

Recently, at the video game industry’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly known as E3, the UFC announced an official partnership with EA Sports, transferring their exclusive license from THQ.  The same company that White blasted less than a year earlier will now be the company behind the next video game for the biggest MMA promotion on the planet.

So just what does this new partnership with EA Sports mean?  Well, for one, name recognition.  THQ is a solid gaming company, but it cannot match what Electronic Arts has been able to accomplish in its history of making video games.  And name recognition works both ways, as gamers who are casual MMA fans may have been hesitant to pick up EA Sports MMA because of the fact that it had nothing to do with the UFC.

But there’s also the dedication to excellence that the people at EA bring to the table.  Anyone who has played Madden NFL over the years can tell you how a simple innovation such as the ability to call hot routes—changes to the receivers’ paths before the snap of the football—has improved the game for the better.  The hot routes were improved upon from year to year, and even expanded to the defensive side of the football so that gamers were able to change a player from dropping into a zone to blitzing, or vice versa. While there is nothing in MMA that is remotely similar to a hot route, it is the adaptation and evolution of features incorporated by EA Sports that continually has gamers coming back year after year to pick up the next edition of its games.

Now, with the ability to purchase UFC pay-per-view cards and stream them from Xbox Live along with watching other UFC programming, one can expect that the next edition of the UFC video game would have a feature that plays alongside this.  It can be expected that the gameplay engine from EA Sports MMA will be completely revamped as well, and perhaps even scrapped in favor of starting over from scratch.  And any other failures in the previous EA Sports effort will also likely be revisited and improved upon.

For those who think that this new partnership is actually a bad move because it monopolizes MMA gaming, leaving fight fans with no other options, they will be relieved to learn that Bellator plans on releasing a game this summer.  After Zuffa effectively eliminated its former nemesis, Strikeforce, by purchasing the promotion, Bellator has risen up to be the biggest fly in the ear of Zuffa. Gamers need to acknowledge that this is ultimately a good thing.  Competition is best for consumers, and the fact that EA Sports will have to keep checking over its shoulder and force itself to work harder than it already is means that the consumers will be the winners.

But at the end of the day, the partnership between EA Sports and the UFC is a good thing all around.  Gamers can expect to see a top-notch product, which will create more fans of the sport, and having more fans benefits everyone, in both the gaming industry and the sport.

Photo: Strikeforce Grand Prix Champion Daniel Cormier plays EA MMA (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.