It's in the game.™
EA Sports is the label under which Electronic Arts has published its video game sports franchises since the early 1990's. It was initially applied to the 1994 editions of Madden, NHL and FIFA on the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. Earlier titles had borne the in-game label of 'EASN' (Electronic Arts Sports Network) which was uncomfortably similar to ESPN, and so 'EA Sports' was developed as an alternative.
The philosophy behind the EA Sports titles was to present the sport in question in a similar manner to a television broadcast. (This was not a totally new concept, as it had been tried with Cinemaware's TV Sports series, but EA were the first to apply the idea successfully, with official licenses and known commentators.)
The much-derided policy of releasing a revised edition of each game every year was started with John Madden Football, where the inclusion of player names and statistics (something of an innovation at the time) made it seem worthwhile to the developers to produce new versions to keep this information up to date, as well as introducting refinements and extra features. Surprisingly, although this policy has led the key EA Sports franchises to be some of the top grossing games of all time, it was initially resisted by Electronic Arts management, who thought there wasn't a market for another football game so soon after the last one.
Over the years the core franchises have expanded to support new hardware platforms and technologies, and an increasing number of sports have been added to the roster. Inevitably, the constant need-it-or-not annual updates have led to some of the games offering little advancement over their immediate predecessor, with a new engine being built from scratch every few years (sometimes to the games' detriment). An additional feature allowed by the increasing budgets is the inclusion of one or more licensed contemporary pop music tracks in each new version.
The current EA Sports franchises are listed below, most of which appear annually. (Note that the year in the title is quite often the year after the game's initial release, to fit in with the Christmas shopping period.) So to get the latest version, simply append the current year (or the current year plus one).
*Often the FIFA
series manages two releases per year, with a seperate edition in World Cup
years and other seperate editions where they can think of an excuse.
There has also been the occasional half-hearted stab at management sims, special editions to mark certain sporting events, and (tentatively) sports trivia titles (as a reaction to Sports Interactive's forays into this field).
The label's importance to Electronic Arts's ongoing success was made clear in their rebranding exercise in 2000. The company is now split into 'EA Sports' 'EA Games' and 'EA.com' divisions.
EA Sports has now sprouted a subsidiary label of its own, EA Sports BIG, which concentrates on extreme sports, arcade sports, snowboarding and other less 'serious' sports titles. (Freekstyle, NBA Street, SSX.)
EA Sports' dominance of the market (reliant as much on their brand name as the increasingly variable quality of their titles) is starting to be challenged by concerted efforts from other publishers. Sega's '2Kx' sports games (Sega Sports) have in recent years had a large amount of commercial success, especially in America. Konami's football games (Pro Evolution Soccer, Winning Eleven) have for the first time outsold FIFA on the Playstation 2 this Christmas, and in the wider market, younger gamers are being drawn more towards 'extreme sports' titles (the poster boy being the all-conquering Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series).