According to VGChartz.com the latest entry in the Madden football series, Madden NFL 25, sold over a million copies from August 27th (it’s release date) to August 31st. This shouldn’t surprise anyone–due to football’s immense popularity in the US, the Madden games are annual sales powerhouses. They’ll sell millions regardless of what changes or additions EA brings to the yearly update of the franchise. Hell, if they only bothered to update the roster, EA would still ship a few million copies of Madden [Insert year here]. You can get away with that laziness when you’re the only NFL sim on the market.
Personally, I haven’t bought a Madden games since Michael Vick was on the cover… in a Falcons uniform. Yep, Madden 2004 for the Gamecube was my last Madden. I received it as a birthday gift when I turned 14. I enjoyed it, but nowhere near as much as I enjoyed the Sega-published ESPN NFL 2K5 the following year.
ESPN NFL 2K5 was the biggest threat to Madden’s throne. It introduced a fresh sort of campaign mode where you played through twenty-five great NFL moments, including “The Catch,” “The ‘Aints Biggest Choke,” and “The Heidi Bowl.” It offered trophies/achievements before they were required by gaming law. It sported (at the time) the most authentic broadcast presentation of an NFL game, complete with virtual Chris Berman giving halftime and postgame reports. It tweaked the overpowered running game in previous incarnations and boasted the best computer A.I. in the business (at the time). And finally, in case you still were on the fence, Sega went the extra mile and released the game a month earlier than Madden 2005 and for the day-one price of $20. Yep, twenty bucks on release day.
All these efforts enabled NFL 2K5 to sells 4.26 million copies across just PS2 and Xbox. That same year, King Madden sold 6.25 million copies between those two systems. To put things in perspective, ESPN NFL Football (NFL 2K4) sold only 920,000 copies to Madden 2004’s 6.83 million. In just one year Sega was closing closing the gap.
Then a bigwig at Electronic Arts said, “Hey, y’know what? I don’t like this. NFL 2K5 is knocking on our door, and we’re running out of ideas to improve our franchise.”
“Hold on,” another bigwig said. “Here’s what we can do. We’ll buy out the NFL license so that we’re the only company that can make NFL games in the near future.”
“Do it. And hurry. I hate the idea of having to make better games in order to compete with the 2K series.”
These quotes were taken from an actual recording at the EA offices. After the discussion, EA went bought out the rights to making NFL games and buried NFL 2K alive. Just like that. From 2005 onward, if you wanted to buy a new NFL videogame, your only choice had the word “Madden” on the box. And while plenty of people enjoyed Madden and didn’t bat an eye at the ejection of the 2K series, they payed the price in years to follow when EA sat on their laurels. With no competition to spur them, EA kept conservative for year, tacking on minor innovations like hit-sticks and QB vision cones. They added one or two changes per year and the American public still swallowed it up. EA only revamped Madden years later when they felt it had grown stale. Had NFL 2K# stuck around, we’d have two awesome football games to play each August. Instead we only have one half-inspired one.
After EA secured the NFL rights, I vowed to never buy a Madden game again–a vow I’ve kept for nine years now. Call me bitter, but it’s always been a matter of principle with me. If I don’t like Madden’s control scheme or feel, shouldn’t I have another option? I was a huge fan of the NFL Gameday series in the late 90s. NFL Gameday had an arcadey speed to it that made it more accessible than stiff ol’ Madden. When EA revamped Madden for the PS2/GCN/XB era, I hated the direction it went in. Playing Madden 2002 was like dancing with a manikin–everything about it felt forced, mechanical, and awkward. Needless to say, I needed a trip to the mini-bar once I realized I could’ve asked out the fun and fluid NFL 2K2 instead.
Madden 2002 ended up as the first videogame I ever traded in. I was left with $5 in store credit and no regrets. Meanwhile, my NFL 2K5 disc has started skipping after 9 years of fun. And in those nine years, I never regretted my decision to boycott the Madden franchise. Rather than blowing $50-60 a year on the latest football “update”, I’ve spent that $500 on other games–some good, some bad, some innovative, some hackneyed. Regardless of where the money went, I’m pleased to say it went toward something other than a roster update.