The History of the Madden Franchise
Gaming was once a hobby that was banished into the deep, dark corners of a basement. Nerds and geeks would sit, huddled around a television making bleeps and bloops as they guided Mario through 32 levels of action on their Nintendo. However, gaming would soon break into the mainstream. The John Madden Football video game series took gaming out of that basement and brought it into living rooms across the nation.
The series has seen widespread success in the recent years – according to Electronic Arts (EA) reports, the 2006 version sold 1.7 million copies in the first week of its release. The 2006 version was released on many different systems – the Playstation 2, the GameCube, the XBOX, the XBOX 360, the Nintendo DS, the PSP and the PC. However, the series has not always enjoyed the wide success that it does today.
In 1984, the original Madden Football game was commissioned by EA Founder Trip Hawkins and was originally set to run on an Apple II computer. Madden, however, rejected the initial build of the game and refused to endorse it – there were only seven players able to be shown on each side of the ball due to technical limitations. However, the issues were eventually worked out and the game was released in the late 1980s and did not do well at retailers. EA was not ready to give up on what would soon become its most well known game, though.
In the early 1990s, EA went out to seek the help of Scott Orr, who had founded a company known as GameStar that produced top-selling sports games for the Commodore 64. The Sega Genesis, having gained popularity in the early 1990s, was a ripe target for the series’ second shot. The game was released in 1990 on the Genesis using EA’s well-known cart design – an oversized black cartridge with a yellow tab on the top. This time around, fans fell in love with the realistic simulation of football and snapped up copies of the game. Throughout the mid 1990s, the game would continue to come out on the Genesis and also the Super Nintendo. A new version of the game would release each year with roster updates, potential additions of new teams and small gameplay changes. The yearly update system was soon adopted by other EA Sports games and each game started to add a two-digit year onto the end of the game such as Madden ’92.
The first big change for the series came when the first 3D capable systems released – the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn. Both systems used CD-based media instead of cartridges and this allowed game developers to create more realistic player models and, more importantly, take the game into three dimension. The first 3D version of the game was released in 1996 – it came out on both the Playstation and the Saturn that year. The Nintendo 64 also had a version that was released in 1997, shortly after the Playstation and Saturn versions. That year was also the last one that a version was released for the 16-bit (Genesis and Super Nintendo) systems, closing the door on the system that brought the series into the forefront of football games. 1997 was also the last year the game would be released on the Saturn, though that was due to the system having low sales in the US and dying out.
2000 was the next big year for the series for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was the first year that the game released on a next-gen system – the Sony Playstation 2. The year after, it would also come out on the XBOX and GameCube. However, an arguably bigger innovation in the series took place with the 2000 game (which was Madden 2001) – the start of the cover player and what would soon become known as the Madden Curse.
The Madden Curse became known when some gamers noticed that each year’s cover athlete had an important play go wrong, had a bad season or was injured for most of the year. While some argue that Barry Sanders was the cover player in 2000, most disagree with that since he wasn’t the only player on the cover. However, he did play into the curse by retiring before the start of the season, leaving the Lions without their star running back that year. Most recognize the curse as starting with Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans on the Madden 2001 cover. George’s fumble that was run back by Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens for a touchdown in the playoffs that led to the team losing that playoff game was the start of the ‘curse’.
The most notable of the curse victims is most likely Michael Vick. Vick, featured on the Madden 2004 cover, was out for 11 games after his leg was injured in a preseason game. The Falcons would go 5-11 in 2003 and not reach the playoffs. Two other players have been injured during their tenure on the Madden cover – Daunte Culpepper missed 5 games in 2001 and Donovan McNabb missed 5 games in 2005. Neither of their respective teams made the playoffs in the year they were injured.
The most recent development in the Madden series started in 2003. Madden 2004 featured the PlayMaker tool, allowing players to change many aspects of a play without having to audible into a different play. If your running back was set to run outside of the right tackle, for example, you could shift that over to the left tackle. This would set up developments for future years, too. Madden 2005 introduced the hit stick, a feature that would allow the player to flick the right analog stick to lay out a big hit on the ball carrier – you’d either totally whiff the hit and be out of the play or nail the player and have a high chance to cause a fumble. Madden 2006 featured the truck stick – this one let the offensive player try to bowl over or evade a defensive player charging at him. The truck stick and the hit stick from Madden 2005 added an extra dimension to the series.
EA Sports also made a major purchase in 2005. In January of that year, they purchased exclusive rights to the NFL (terms of the deal were never released but rumored to be in the $300 million range). This killed all NFL football game competition and forced other developers out of the market or into creating games with fictional teams and players (see Blitz: The League for a prime example of this). Whether this will be a positive for the series still remains to be seen, though the 2006 sales of the game in the first week did go up for 400,000.
Overall, the Madden Football series has been one that gamers have truly enjoyed over the years. The games have grown as time went along and technology improved. From the 2D original with fake teams to the fully licensed, ultra-realistic 3D version that we all play today, the series has no doubt been successful. With another generation of gaming looming over the horizon, the Madden series will have to continue to evolve. Only one thing is a guarantee – gaming isn’t just a hobby for nerds and geeks anymore.