One Game Franchise I’ll Never Understand: Madden NFL


Every year, there’s a lot of hype about the new Madden NFL game, and thousands of gamers reserve their copy for the Xbox or PS3.  There’s become almost something of a subculture of Madden players, zealous gamers who wear NFL jerseys and compete in tournaments with other gamers from around the country.  With no real alternative to playing realistic football on a video game console, EA’s Madden has a virtual monopoly on football video games.  Yet, no one really seems to mind.  A new Madden NFL game comes out every single year with only incremental changes from the prior year’s version of the game, but Madden fans nevertheless come out in droves to purchase the game immediately.  Simply put, I don’t get it.


To be honest, the thing I’m most interested in every time a new Madden game comes out is who’s on the cover of the box.  The “Madden Curse” is an eerie theory and, to me at least, more interesting in whatever minor changes have been made to the game.  And let me be clear – I don’t suck at Madden.  It’s just that I have a big problem with shelling out around $60 for an expansion pack masquerading as a whole new video game.  For that reason, I stopped buying Madden NFL games a few years ago, although it’s quite obvious that I’m in the minority of those deterred by EA’s practice of churning out a new game every year.

And let’s face it – every new Madden game is in actuality an expansion pack for the prior year’s version of the game.  The changes made from year to year are so minor that it’s hard to imagine that the additions couldn’t be available as downloadable content.  The gameplay is just about identical from year to year, and although the game improves graphically each year, it’s certainly not a leap forward by any means.  I mean, if I showed you screens from Madden ’09 and Madden ’10, would you be able to tell the difference?


Madden ’09 or ’10?  Pretty negligible differences if you ask me.

Even assuming that the games undergo a significant visual improvement from year to year (and I believe that they do not), those visuals are reserved for replays and not the actual gameplay.  If you’ve played one Madden game, in a sense, you’ve played them all – there’s a simple, overhead view centered behind your quarterback.  Because the view is from far away, there’s no new detail to notice in the players or even in the field and stadium.  It looks the same, and I highly doubt anyone is playing Madden for the replay graphics.

Of course, people don’t really play Madden for the graphics.  But that brings me back to my original point- all the changes made every year are pretty much negligible that it’s hard to justify repackaging the additions as an entirely new game.  So maybe this year, EA added a training camp feature.  Maybe a few years ago, EA introduced the “hit stick,” enabling your defenders to really smash your opponent’s ball-carrier.  Or maybe now the defensive lineman have a swim move in addition to a spin move.  Regardless of what the changes are – and the examples I’ve given are all indeed actual changes – it just seems silly to me to buy a whole “new” game for the changes, let alone reserve a copy and buy it the day it comes out.  Again, these changes could easily be thrown into, say, the Xbox Live, but then EA wouldn’t make much money.


NFL rosters change every season, but this, too, is something that can be addressed via online play and downloadable content.  Shouldn’t someone with a copy of Madden ’07 be able to play against someone playing Madden ’10, if all the team rosters are updated?  I think so, but instead, those without the cash for the newest copy of Madden will be stuck in franchise mode or will be scouring game lobbies for the remaining Madden ’07 players.

If I was in charge of EA Sports, I’d keep on cranking out new games, so I don’t expect this trend to stop anytime soon.  The shame of it all lies in the fact that many of these “updates” could likely be accomplished via downloadable content, and these “updates” are really quite minor anyway.  Ask yourself – how much has the Madden franchise really changed in the past 5 years?  Were it any other video game franchise – Metroid, Halo, Metal Gear Solid, etc. – nobody would stand for it.  But with Madden games, repetitive, repackaged products have become the norm and nobody seems to really give a damn.

Even if all the add-ons couldn’t be acquired via Xbox Live (and many of them, such as updated rosters, undoubtedly could be), would Madden fans really be happy with a new-yet-redundant version of Madden, or would they prefer a new game every few years, with major, noticable changes?  For most franchises, it seems fans would prefer the latter option.  Maybe Madden is just different.

Madden games are fun, but to me, they’re essentially all the same.  Truth be told, I’d take Tecmo Bowl on the NES over Madden any day of the week.

What do you guys think?  Do you buy a new Madden game every single year?  Why or why not?

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  1. Hell no. The game is fun, but c’mon now…

    I thought the pinnacle of improvement on the Madden franchise was 2003. After that, it was all just graphical improvements or minor gameplay tweaks and I just coudn’t bring myself to shell out the $50 to buy, as you so put it, an expansion pack. Every odd-so year I’ll trade for the newest one or something.

    But as much as one every two years or something would make sense, EA just makes too much money on these to consider doing that.

  2. It’s all about the players. Everyone wants to play the NFL version of the very last season they saw. For example, Chris Johnson, running back for the Titans, was a rookie last year so he wasn’t in Madden ’08. Furthermore, in Madden ’09 his stats were that of a “good” running back. Now here in the NFL 2009 season he’s about to become only the sixth running back to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing. So, if you want to just run rampant over your opponents courtesy of Chris Johnson then you will have to wait until Madden ’11. Which to a lot of people is worth the price of the game per year.

  3. @ ComfortableMadness

    That makes sense…but then again, isn’t that something that could be addressed via downloadable content? Updated stats for players? Seems simple enough.

    And boy is Chris Johnson good.

  4. @Madison

    I suppose that’s true. Just make an updated game every like 3 years or so and just download new player stats after every NFL season. Makes sense to me.

    And yes he sure is. I expected him to be good but never expected the absolute domination he displays every single week.

  5. The obvious answer to all of the points you raise Madison is of course they could do it with DLC. However, as you also point out they never would, because EA likes to be able to print money every fall with each new release of the franchise.

    I’m a PC gamer, so Madden hasn’t been a blip on my radar for years though. I like the Madden games because they seam to be a good football simulation. My only gripe with them for years is that they seam to require a level of football knowledge that is far beyond my casual knowledge of the game. Especially on defense, where it feels like you pick a play and then hope the computer players do well enough to make a play. I miss the simplicity of Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Superbowl. I know that is more a result of my lack of knowledge then anything else, but I also think that it is a shame that I feel the barrier of entry for a player as casual as I is so high.

  6. @ the ButterFly

    Yes, of course this is all about money, and if EA can keep charging $50-$60 a pop for the new Madden, there’s no compelling reason for them to stop.

    I’m actually a pretty big football fan (more college than pro, but still), and I also think there’s somewhat of a barrier to entry. So it may just be getting to know the game than actually following football.

    Remember Blitz? That was more fun for me.

    Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate and enjoy a good Madden game – but I feel like a sucker if the game I buy is going to be pretty much obsolete in just one year, you know?

  7. @ Madison

    I do remember Blitz quite fondly. That was a great and fun game. It took what was I feel the essence of football (hard hits, long bombs and the like) and distilled it down to a very accessible package. I think this to is why I’m such a fan of the Tecmo games as well.

    I certainly can’t fault the Madden games for their focus on the more hardcore tactics and the “chess game” nature of football. I actually really appreciate these aspects of football, and wish that I understood them better. I am constantly amazed by the amount of strategy that goes into the game of modern football. I just read an article in Sports Illustrated about the “A Gap” blitz package (or something like that) and found it so fascinating the way that different defenses are designed to create different problems for the offense. I think that one of my hopes when approaching a Madden game is that playing them would give me a better understanding of why different packages are more effective and used in different situations then others, so that I would be able to better appreciate the games I watch on Sundays. I actually find it to be quite the opposite, with the game expecting you to have this knowledge before hand. I’ve never wished I had played football in highschool instead of running cross country more then when I am trying to decide what defense to pick in a Madden game. I realize that the games are designed to be very realistic simulations of a very complex game, but wish that they could find a way to incorporate tutorials into the game so that I know why this package or that package is better. As I think it would not only improve my enjoyment of the game, but also help me to understand what I watch on Sunday as well.

    I can understand what you say about feeling like a sucker for having to stay on the Madden treadmill every year. It is sadly a no win situation for gamers. I imagine the only thing that could remedy the situation would be if EA did not hold the exclusive rights to the NFL properties and there was room for competition from rival developers. It is really the only thing I could see that would spur any drastic innovation in game play that might make you feel like less of a heel for shelling out your 60 bucks each year. There of course is also the inherent problem that there maybe a finite amount of innovation that is ultimately possible in a sports game that prides itself on being a realistic simulation of the game. I guess in EA’s favour they do try to implement new features each year, but ultimately football is football and if you try to innovate the game to much you would run the ris of undermining the simulation aspects and making the game no longer appeal to the hardcore.

    So tell me what sort of innovations would you want to see that would make you less hesitant to part with your money on a yearly basis?

  8. @ TheButterFly

    I think all the new innovations are good enough that they’re worth adding just not in clusters every single year.

    I suppose a good franchise to compare it to would be the Mario/Zelda/Metroid franchises. Take Metroid, for example – the difference between the NES version and the SNES version is really just graphics and sound due to the newer system. But gameplay and design is largely the same. However, Nintendo took a big chance with Metroid: Prime and turned the game into a FPS…and people loved it.

    And that’s the type of change I’d like to see in Madden. Of course, you’re limited in a football game, but that doesn’t mean EA can’t try out totally new innovations. I mean, how cool would it be to see the field not from overhead once the ball is snapped, but from the quarterback’s first-person point of view, complete with the facemask somewhat obstructing vision. Calling plays on Madden feels like you’re the OC, not the QB, and that’s just one type of giant change that could be awesome if EA took a few years and worked on it. I think it’d be pretty sick.

  9. I have to agree with this article, but to me it seems as though MOST people who buy Madden don’t mind because they are only buying sports games. This doesn’t apply to everyone but the people I have known to buy the game obsessively were HUGE football fans and not really gamers.

    Gamers wouldn’t put up with developers re-releasing the same game, especially franchises we know and love, but the audience for Madden are NOT gamers, simply put.

    I think it’s completely unfair for EA to charge the same price every year with little to no changes. I mean, look at what happened when Left for Dead 2 was announced. IMO that actually had enough changes to warrant buying a whole nother game.

    I also think it’s absolutely ridiculous and unfair too that EA kind of has a monopoly on the NFL. It boggles my mind that no one else has done anything to try.

  10. @Ashweee

    I think your point on L4D2 is well made. I to think Valve gave gamers enough to totally justify the price of a new game.

    As far as EA’s strangle hold on NFL games. A few years back they signed an exclusive deal with the NFL ensuring that only EA had the right to use the NFL trademarks and player names in video games. Before this deal there actually were a few other football franchises on the market. One in particular NFL2K I believe was often pointed to as the better of the two games when compared to Madden. However, once EA locked up the NFL rights that pretty much killed any competitive development because any other developer would be forced to use made up teams and players.

  11. Well I’m a gigantic madden head and pretty much dominate all of my friends…i unfortunately dont have the internet and have to use it at work so i cant test my skills with the online guys…im a football and madden head and can read defenses and offenses both in real life and in madden…im usually able to call plays before the ball is even hiked both on the console and the real game…with that being said i buy madden every other year…that to me seems to be more realistic since the changes are so minor ill agree with you on that one madison…and i know im going to get shit for not having internet from someone but unfortunately take your pick….struggle living on your own in a sweet one bedroom apartment downtown in pu$$y central or live at home in a cramped two bedroom apt with mom and dad…..i rest my internet case

  12. @ theButterfly

    I know they signed a contract and all and I remember there being a bunch of football games out when I was younger, I never played them but I watched my brother play them, and I remember some of them actually looked fun but Madden has no appeal to me at all.

  13. I do agree with you. I’m waiting for the year when they realize that there is nothing more than can improve on, no more features to add. There is a ceiling somewhere for Madden. I can’t really explain why I go out and buy it almost every year. I usually go for a new one every other year so there are more considerable differences. I wish that ESPN 2k NFL series still existed as they gave a real fight to EA which benefited all the gamers. Some things about the game just baffle me. For example there are only about twenty custom team logos for the created teams. They have been exactly the same for three years or so now. The last gen Maddens had somewhere between 75 and 100 custom logos, not to mention the use of regular team and classic logos. There is actually tons of room for improvement noticeable to any person that notices the nuances of the game. Most of them would not even require much work, like fixing the commentator/Madden voice overlap whenever a person uses ask madden but skips the video of players standing around in between plays. I can’t really explain what the draw is but every new madden just seems better than the last. Even though it never is a huge difference, those of you playing Madden 09 know you are not playing the best version, and that is simply un-American.

  14. it was (or is) the same thing with football (soccer you call it). fifa soccer needed a real competition (pro evolution soccer) to start rethinking the gameplay and not just update roosters und kits.

  15. I completely agree all madden games are the same thing! and what really annoys me is that all big madden fans are indenile about this they cant accept the fact that they are the same i mean really if somebody knows that much about football are they really a real gamer/game designer probubly some hardcore NOOBS studies show that each game only changes 10 percent at most EA sports is just cheating not that bright wannabe gamers out of 50 to 60 dollers pathetic!

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