Microtransactions and the decline of franchise mode have changed Madden significantly since its peak popularity.
By Cosmo W. Macero
Football has been synonymous with American culture for more than half a century.
And one man who was synonymous with the game of football - John Madden - helped create one of the most influential video game franchises of all time.
It took only five years from the first moment that EA founder Trip Hawkins approached the legendary Oakland Raiders coach for the first "Madden" video game to be launched. In 1989 "John Madden Football" first dropped for the MS-DOS and Commodore computers. EA (Electronic Arts) is now worth over $33 billion. Hawkins transitioned out of the company in 1991 to launch other successful ventures.
Eventually Madden Football was updated to the Sega genesis in 1990. It would be the start of a trend for major sports leagues and even college sports to release their own video games. During this early period the Madden games were very pixely and definitely a product of the times. The only football video game that had ever gained popularity before John Madden Football was something called Tecmo Bowl. This was an arcade football game released in 1987, and then released on the NES. It was the closest thing Madden had to real competition until the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
Madden during the 2000's
Madden 2001 really served as the start of the new era of football video games due to it coming out on a new generation of gaming consoles like the Ps2, Xbox, and Gamecube. The graphics were significantly better and the game felt easier and more fun to play. Some of the highlights of this era included Madden 2004. This game is legendary for one reason: it’s cover image of athlete Michael Vick. Vick is considered in sports video gaming circles as one of the most "overpowered" video game characters ever created. His assigned speed rating of 95 basically meant that all you had to do was call a bootleg play and it was a touchdown every time. Vick was so overpowered by the game designers that the next year's Madden cover athlete was Ray Lewis - a move specifically designed to make the game more defensive oriented with a function called the "hit stick." Towards the end of the 2000’s the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 came out. This sparked a dark era in the overall quality of the Madden games. There were a few gems in there like Madden 08 and Madden 10 to a certain extent, but after that Madden hit a low point in terms of quality. Even still, the sales were through the roof.
The NFL 2K Game series and the war with Madden
During the Ps2 days Madden wasn’t the only NFL licensed game on the market. NFL 2k released on the Sega Dreamcast on September 9th, 1999. The game was exclusively on the Sega Dreamcast for two years until NFL 2k2. Madden still was selling better than 2k but many critics and people who preferred 2k over Madden liked 2k. However when Madden 05 was released the market price for it was $49.99. NFL 2k5 in order to sell more copies of the game was $19.99. Madden still outsold NFL 2k5, however 2k had clearly made a better game as it is widely considered one of the best football games of all time. It was clear that the next year a lot more people would buy NFL 2k in the next cycle of games. In order to avoid this EA went to the NFL and struck a five year deal with the league to have exclusive rights to the likeness of the players, teams, coaches, and stadiums of the NFL, This contract has continued to be renewed ever since - and Madden has been the only such game on the market for the past 18 years. The gaming company 2k would come out with a football game called All Pro Football 2k8 in 2007,which was met with critical acclaim. However they only had the likeness of some NFL legends, and the game simply did not sell very well. As a result 2k has since focused on their highly successful basketball series along with their wrestling games.
NCAA Football Series History
In 1993, as the success of Madden was growing another legendary football coach was approached by EA to grace the cover of their game. The first game that was released was entitled "Bill Walsh College Football." He would stay on the cover for two years and the game's name would be changed to College Football USA for two years as well. But in 1998 the NCAA officially released their licensed teams. These games were personal favorites for many gamers. Some take the position that any NCAA video game is better than any Madden. Hugely popular selections include: NCAA Football 06 and the last college game ever, NCAA Football 14. Youtubers playing NCAA Football 14 generate millions of views by playing it for their followers (And the game is 9 years old). The NCAA would continue to partner with EA sports to make video games all the way to NCAA Football 14. However in 2013 the beloved college football franchise was halted due to a lawsuit by former college athletes and EA. EA was not allowed to use college athlete likenesses in their video games because for many years the NCAA did not allow college athletes to profit off of their likeness. It was only recently when college athletes were allowed to generate income from their likeness, name, and notoriety. EA used a loophole in their video games by making the players look exactly like these athletes and giving them ratings similar to how good they were in real life. But the lawsuit’s result ended up in a settlement between both sides and halted EA’s college football series.
In 2021, EA announced that College Football would be coming back in the near future much to the happiness of College football fans. It will most certainly be met with great anticipation and excitement.
The Modern Madden games
Experienced gamers consider the Modern Maddens to be post Madden 25 because this was when they switched from the old generation to current gen consoles. It also began the era of "microtransactions" - a revenue model that require the purchase of credits or "coins" to improve your team.
This era of Madden Football also stripped down the game's franchise mode. Madden had a very in depth and creative mode where you take control of a team and try to build them into a dynasty. It was however completely stripped down in the current era of Madden.
The reason the shine has dulled on Madden for many in the modern era is the "copy-and-paste" feel of the games ever since the exclusivity deal from 2004. When Madden had competition like the NFL 2k games they had to be creative with how they made games. Ever since the deal made in 2004, Madden has not had to be as creative in the development of their games. This has been especially true in the modern era of Madden’s. The games have seemed more like roster updates and a change to the layout than real new games. There also have been social media campaigns to fix parts of the game as well. Last year a hashtag was started on social media called #fixmaddenfranchise which called for madden to fix the franchise mode. It got so big that Madden designers actually said they were going to fix it for Madden 22. But they didn’t really fix anything, they just changed some things around.
The planned release date of Madden 23 is August 19, 2022.
Cosmo W. Macero is a student and sports video-gaming enthusiast from Massachusetts. This piece was adapted by Mr. Macero for American Household News on Newsbreak.