How Madden Became King of the Gaming Gridiron


The Madden NFL collection has introduced in additional than $three billion in income for EA during the last three a long time. In that point, the sport has transcended each the online game trade and even the person who initially lent it his identify. “Madden” to most individuals nowadays just isn’t a legendary head coach and colour commentator – however a online game.

Even John Madden himself admitted as a lot manner again in 2002 in an article within the Los Angeles Times

Madden was in a lodge room in San Francisco when a Philadelphia Eagles participant walked in asking, “Where’s Madden?” 

Everyone else within the room pointed to the then Fox commentator.

“No, not that Madden,” the participant stated. “I want the game.”

The story of how Madden NFL turned one of many best-selling online game franchises of all time begins, oddly sufficient, on an Amtrak prepare.

All Aboard

It’s effectively established that John Madden has a worry of flying. So it must be no shock then that when the soccer big sat down with Trip Hawkins and Joe Ybarra of Electronic Arts in 1984 to debate what would develop into John Madden Football, the dialog passed off on a prepare touring from Denver to Oakland.

EA founder Hawkins, an avid Strat-O-Matic soccer participant, had lengthy wished to make a practical soccer sport for computer systems. With the latest success of the Apple II and different mass-market {hardware}, there was lastly a platform that would make that dream a actuality. But with a purpose to really obtain a practical sport, Hawkins wished a soccer thoughts on his crew. He wished John Madden.

Madden had signed a contract to endorse a sport for EA by this level, however there was nonetheless debate over what sort of sport was going to be made. Hawkins and Ybarra laid out their sport plan. They wished to take advantage of reasonable sport potential. Real playbooks and formations with perhaps seven gamers on all sides…

Madden referred to as timeout instantly.

“If it’s not 11 on 11,” he stated. “It’s not real football.”

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Hawkins countered {that a} decrease participant depend on the sphere would enable the sport to run at a quicker body charge, however Madden made it clear there could be 22 gamers on the display screen or there could be no sport.

The sport was in growth for 4 years, largely due to authorized bother with Bethesda Softworks, an organization that had made an identical soccer sim and was at one level beneath contract with EA to assist develop the Madden sport. When that didn’t pan out, the businesses parted methods and EA launched John Madden Football by itself in 1988. It did certainly function 22 gamers on the display screen, but it surely additionally suffered from gradual efficiency and a restricted function set because of this.

Still, the playbooks had been deep, and when Sega was searching for a soccer sim for its new Genesis console, it took discover of EA’s accomplishments and, after signing a deal for a Genesis model of Madden, additionally signed a take care of EA to create one other unique sport beneath the Sega model.

Madden vs. Montana

The Sega and EA partnership stays to at the present time one of many strangest within the historical past of the trade. Sega was searching for a brand new first-party title for the Genesis, however as a result of they lacked the assets to make it, the corporate outsourced the sport to the developer that was already making a competing sport.

In hindsight, the end result was to be anticipated.

Sega’s sport, referred to as Joe Montana Football, because of a partnership with the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, ended up being inferior in each method to Madden. And that was no accident. EA began with Madden as its basis, however then stripped the playbook and reduce the realism of the graphics. Madden ended up being the superior product, however each video games had been on best-seller lists that vacation season.

The unusual rivalry and gross sales success of each titles helped the 16-bit period of gaming take off. The Sega Genesis had been in competitors with the Super Nintendo, and previous to the discharge of the soccer titles, Nintendo was the clear market chief. Nintendo had first social gathering titles that Sega’s franchises couldn’t sustain with on the gross sales charts.

Further Reading: 25 Underrated SNES Games

But with the success of each Madden and Montana franchises, the Genesis shortly developed a status as being the perfect console for sports activities video games. The market expanded. High college and faculty jocks who would usually be extra prone to taunt somebody who recognized as a online game nerd all of a sudden discovered themselves taking part in for bragging rights on all-night classes of Madden.

Future editions of Joe Montana Football had been made at one other developer, liberating up EA to focus on solely Madden. The rivalry between the video games continued and have become particularly heated in 1992 when Sega was the primary firm to acquire an official NFL license. Real uniforms, stadiums, and logos left Madden within the mud. EA struck again onerous in 1993 with Madden NFL ’94, the primary to function totally licensed groups and an all-star assortment of earlier Super Bowl squads. The very subsequent yr noticed the addition of a license from the NFL Players Association, which allowed EA to incorporate the gamers’ actual names. It took some time, however the really reasonable sport first envisioned by Hawkins was now a actuality.

Bringing the Game to Life

The transition to the 32-bit period of video video games demonstrated how Madden might push innovation within the trade, even when it wasn’t on prime. The first 32-bit Madden was really on the 3DO, a doomed and short-lived console launched by Hawkins after he left EA. But the sport served as a take a look at drive that ready EA for later years. The sport featured life-like graphics and full movement video of the gamers.

Madden NFL ’96 is a infamous title in franchise historical past. This was to mark the debut of the franchise on the Sony PlayStation, however Visual Concepts, the developer EA was working with on the sport, bit off greater than it might chew and the sport was delayed for thus lengthy that EA threw within the towel and once more launched a 16-bit model.

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Sony capitalized by releasing a 32-bit first-party title referred to as NFL GameDay and a brand new annual struggle akin to the Joe Montana Football days was born. EA went all out with Madden NFL ’97 in a bid to get again on prime, firing Visual Concepts and partnering with Tiburon Entertainment to create the sport once more from scratch. The sport was successful, however the AI was sloppy and GameDay remained the sport of alternative for lots of PlayStation homeowners. The following yr, Madden stepped up its AI complexity, solely to observe as GameDay moved to full 3D forward of Madden.

There was no love misplaced between the 2 rivals. Sony’s Kelly Flock as soon as remarked to a gaming journal that “if you wish to play subsequent yr’s Madden early, purchase this yr’s GameDay.” Ouch.

EA was again on prime by the point the 1999 season rolled round, which marked the debut of Madden’s franchise mode, one of many sport’s bread and butter sport modes to at the present time.

Sega Strikes Back

While EA and Sony had been duking it out, EA’s outdated sparring accomplice Sega was backstage engaged on its comeback plan. 1998 noticed the discharge of the Sega Dreamcast, the primary console of the brand new technology. Sega initially tried to get EA to construct a sport for them once more, identical to within the 16-bit days. Details are murky, however an settlement was by no means reached and EA determined to carry out for Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 2 console.

Sega then acquired Visual Concepts, the identical firm that didn’t launch EA’s ’96 title on time, and put them to work on the NFL 2K collection. The first sport on Dreamcast was an enormous success, and upstaged Madden NFL 2000. The backwards and forwards continued with EA’s help for Sony’s console being a contributing issue within the demise of the Dreamcast. The PlayStation 2 was clearly the superior machine from a graphics perspective, and the Madden titles for the PS2 milked each final drop of energy out of the system.

Even after it was out of the console race, Sega refused to surrender. The firm’s NFL 2K collection would reside on, releasing towards Madden on PlayStation 2, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’s Gamecube. The ESPN license allowed Visual Concepts to create a TV-style presentation that was beloved by avid gamers.

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Sega was aggressive with its pricing, at one level providing its yearly launch for half the value of Madden. Unfortunately for Sega, Madden’s builders continued to push the envelope. The sport’s revolutionary hit stick, launched in Madden NFL 2005, helped hold EA on prime of the gross sales charts, though the 2K collection developed a passionate following.

Sega’s aggressive advertising and marketing techniques could have given EA a scare, and the corporate set out to ensure it wouldn’t occur once more. EA signed an unique take care of the NFL that primarily made Madden the one reputable sport on the town. With no different firms allowed to make use of the official NFL logos or uniforms, the NFL 2K collection shut down.

Some sporadic competitors has popped up in ensuing years, with Visual Concepts even making a return with a sport referred to as All-Pro Football 2K8 that featured imaginary groups and uniforms, however the battle was primarily over. Madden had secured its place as the perfect and solely soccer sport available on the market.

The unique contract rubbed some avid gamers the mistaken manner. Gamers appreciated the fixed innovation that they seen as a direct results of EA battling it out with different firms and had been a bit skeptical as as to if EA would proceed to push for brand spanking new options in future editions of the sport. It’s onerous to say if issues could be completely different with out EA’s unique contract, however a fast have a look at assessment scores exhibits that reception to Madden video games since EA’s unique contract was signed has remained largely optimistic.

Status Symbol As Madden turned extra reasonable with every passing yr. First within the 16-bit period after which past, the sport turned a staple in NFL locker rooms. Players started to brazenly marketing campaign for a greater participant rating from Madden and EA. Today, EA even has a director of athlete relations, Sandy Sandoval, whose major duty is to area requests like this from the gamers.

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Sandoval advised ESPN that quarterback Byron Leftwich pushed him the toughest for a greater rating when the 2 met up at a quarterback problem occasion. “Dude, how can Carson Palmer be faster than me?” Leftwich requested a number of occasions. The common rule, based on the scores gurus at EA, is that if the gamers are proud of their ranking, it means they’re overrated.

The NFL is stuffed with alpha males, and Madden has develop into only one extra measuring stick they’ll use to compete with one another. Players can develop into the toast of the locker room if they’ll handle to snag a replica of the present Madden earlier than its public launch. Palmer and Chad (Ocho Cinco) Johnson are among the many gamers who’ve hit up Sandoval for an advance copy.

Players recurrently play one another at Madden earlier than and after observe, however the one gaming session each participant needs to be a part of is the Madden Bowl. The Madden Bowl takes place over Super Bowl weekend within the host metropolis. It is a single elimination match the place the perfect Madden gamers within the NFL are invited by EA to come back and do battle towards one another. The match is meant to be enjoyable, however many gamers take the video games critically, because the winner will get not solely a trophy but in addition in-game recognition within the subsequent installment of the franchise. Since 2011, the Madden Bowl has used the sport’s Online Team Play function to do battle in teams of three for the trophy. 

A Blessing and a Curse

While NFL gamers attempt for private glory within the Madden Bowl, the general public at massive has taken discover of one other occasion that takes place throughout Super Bowl week: The EA Super Bowl simulation. Every yr since 2004, EA has run a simulation of the Super Bowl utilizing the 2 groups that will probably be taking part in within the precise sport, utilizing essentially the most present model of the Madden franchise. The sport’s end result has been right in all however 4 years and even a few of the scores have been eerily comparable. EA additionally releases a full abstract of the sport prefer it’s a information report from the Super Bowl.

The outcomes:

  • 2004: Patriots 23, Panthers 20 (Actual rating: Patriots 32, Panthers 29)
  • 2005: Patriots 47, Eagles 31 (Actual rating: Patriots 24, Eagles 21)
  • 2006: Steelers 24, Seahawks 19 (Actual rating: Steelers 21, Seahawks 10)
  • 2007: Colts 38, Bears 27 (Actual rating: Colts 29, Bears 17)
  • 2008: Patriots 38, Giants 30 (Actual rating: Giants 17, Patriots 14)
  • 2009: Steelers 28, Cardinals 24 (Actual rating: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23)
  • 2010: Saints 35, Colts 31 (Actual rating: Saints 31, Colts 17)
  • 2011: Steelers 24, Packers 20 (Actual rating: Packers 31, Steelers 25)
  • 2012: Giants 27, Patriots 24  (Actual rating: Giants 21, Patriots 17)
  • 2013: Ravens 27, 49ers 24 (Actual rating: Ravens 34, 49ers 31)
  • 2014: Broncos 31, Seahawks 28 (Actual rating: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8)
  • 2015: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24 (Actual rating: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24)
  • 2016: Panthers 24, Broncos 20 (Actual rating: Broncos 24, Panthers 10)
  • 2017: Patriots 27, Falcons 24 (Actual rating: Patriots 34, Falcons 28)
  • 2018: Patriots 24, Eagles 20 (Actual rating: Eagles 41, Patriots 33)

The followers of the crew that comes out on prime within the simulation have a tendency to assert that their crew goes to win now that they’ve been blessed by the Madden gods. 

Superstition surrounding Madden doesn’t cease right here. Another superstition surrounding the sport that has fairly a adverse historical past is that of the Madden cowl curse.

Since the primary launch of the sport as John Madden Football by means of 1999, the sport’s cowl featured the previous coach and broadcaster on the quilt. But for the 1999 PAL model of the sport, EA used a picture of NFL participant Garrison Hearst. After making the quilt, Hearst broke his ankle and missed the subsequent two seasons.

In 2000, EA expanded the idea and put working again Barry Sanders on the North American model of the sport. Sanders then abruptly retired, ending his profession with out taking a shot at breaking the all-time profession dashing yards file, a feat he might have simply completed if he had performed. Dorsey Levens was on the PAL model that very same yr, his crew missed the playoffs and Levens was launched the next yr.

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The thought of the Madden cowl being a curse started to essentially take maintain within the 2001 season when Tennessee Titan Eddie George was on the quilt. The Titans misplaced within the playoffs after George bobbled a cross and had it picked off and returned for a landing by the Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis, costing the Titans the sport.

This historical past has continued with one thing adverse occurring to the quilt athlete nearly yearly, both by means of an damage or a major lower in efficiency.

In 2007, San Diego Chargers followers brazenly campaigned for EA to not put LaDainian Tomlinson on the quilt that yr, which had been rumored on the time. Tomlinson finally declined the provide, although supposedly only for contract causes.

In 2009, EA positioned two athletes on the quilt for the primary time, with an image of Steelers security Troy Polamalu overlaying Cardinals huge receiver Larry Fitzgerald. When Polamalu suffered a foul sprain within the first half of the season opener, Fitzgerald is alleged to have been upset and nervous in regards to the curse.

Officially, EA has stated they don’t consider within the curse, declaring that when an athlete makes the quilt, it’s often after a profession yr and so some regression the next yr is perhaps anticipated.

Turning 31

This yr, the franchise turns 31. More than thirty years in, Madden stays on the prime of online game soccer.

It must be famous that EA’s unique contract with the NFL was renewed for a “couple more years” again in 2014, so it does not appear probably that some other soccer sport will swoop in to take Madden‘s crown any time quickly. If historical past is any indication, Electronic Arts and Madden will discover a method to stay king of the gridiron for a few years to come back.

Jason Gallagher is a contract contributor. Read extra of his work right here. 

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