Meanwhile, legal pressure from former college football players who didn't see a dime from EA's NCAA Football series forced EA to stop making that Madden-like game altogether. Last year's NCAA Football '14 was the series' final installment after former college players sued both the company and the NCAA. Those ex-players now await settlements from both groups.

It's been that ugly for EA this year, and the Madden franchise has taken its share of the hits. First-week sales of Madden NFL 25 dropped 650,000 from the release of Madden NFL '13 a year prior, with Forbes video game contributor Erik Kain freely blaming the lack of other NFL titles for Madden's stagnancy.

Beyond Madden, EA took home Worst Company in America honors from Consumerist for the second year in a row last year. It beat Bank of America, Anheuser-Busch InBev, United Health Care, Comcast and Live Nation's Ticketmaster for the honor by fumbling the launch of its latest SimCity release and halfheartedly apologizing to gamers while blaming them for EA's problems. That was before Chief Executive John Riccitello stepped down and before EA released Battlefield 4 with a slew of technical problems, which slowed that title's sales significantly

All that said, EA still makes up a 30% share of Xbox One games and a 40% share of PlayStation 4 games. Also, this is a World Cup year and EA's sales of its FIFA soccer series generally spike when that event is being played. But EA still has to face video game reality that includes a 17% drop in software sales through the 2013 holiday season -- when two new consoles and a slew of new titles should have given the industry a boost.

Meanwhile, the NFL and NFLPA have made it clear that they're listening to offers for their video game business. Each has dabbled in apps and games for mobile devices in recent years and neither seems willing to tie themselves down unless absolutely necessary. EA can't be happy with all of the settlement money it's been shelling out, but it must still enjoy having a guaranteed Top 10 title such as Madden NFL in its stable each year.

The gamers want options, the NFL and its players' union want to get paid. Does EA want to commit enough resources to the latter to prevent the former? Until EA and its partners huddle up and make a decision, it's anybody's game in 2014.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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