‘Madden NFL’ video game crosses 25-year goal line – USA TODAY


The video game franchise that carries John Madden’s name is set to celebrate — Boom! — 25 years of success.
With nearly 100 million copies sold since its 1988 debut on Apple II, the Madden NFL video game observes its silver anniversary when it goes on sale Monday night. Ironically, the Super Bowl-winning coach of the silver-and-black-clad Oakland Raiders whose name is on the game is now perhaps most well-known as a video game mogul.
The former broadcaster says that for years after his NFL career, people still called him “Coach.” Then gamers started calling him “Madden.”
“Now I would have to think the ‘Madden’ part is so doggone much bigger,” he says.

In 1986, when Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins wanted to create a computer football simulation, the former NFL coach was a CBS announcer who also taught a college course about football. Madden imagined a computer program he could use for teaching. If it was good enough, perhaps other coaches might “put a play in and put a defense against it and kind of predict the success of the play,” he says. “Our thoughts weren’t on video games, because there weren’t any video games.”
Fast forward to today. The Madden NFL franchise remains an MVP for the nation’s No. 2 game publisher, Electronic Arts. Each year, a new edition with all-new rosters — and new high-tech features — arrives a week or so before the regular NFL season.
Madden is no longer the company’s best-selling game: That honor goes to soccer game FIFA 13, which has sold more than 14.5 million units, thanks to its global appeal. But the workhorse isn’t slowing down. Last year’s model sold faster than 2011’s, eventually selling about 5 million. The game generates about $240 million for EA, says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.
The game remains relevant because it has continued to evolve, from the blocky Space Invaders-looking players in the original to today’s near picture-perfect rendition of real TV football. “Madden has been the backbone of Electronic Arts for many years … (and) has been held up as the gold standard of video game development,” says Digital World Research analyst P.J. McNealy. “EA would make a ton of money on Madden, which would then fund the development of five to 10 new potential games.”
For the release of Madden NFL 25 ($60, for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, all ages), retailer GameStop will host midnight kickoff events at nearly 3,000 stores nationwide where customers have been able to play the game on Sony PlayStation 3 systems since Friday.
The game became successful by appealing to fans and real NFL players. “It gives them a way to look at a team and see what (their opponents) do,” Madden, who is 77, said during a recent telephone interview. “The players love to keep their skills sharp in the game. Obviously, it’s not like practicing and it’s not like watching game film, but it is being involved in the game. It gets your head in the game and makes you think.”

Just as NFL players now play the game, so did players back in 1990 when Madden first hit video game consoles on the Sega Genesis. “It was just neat and cool to be on a video game that so many fans loved that really captured the game,” says Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, who won an online contest to be on the cover of Madden NFL 25. “It was the first game that really gave you an inside look into the professional game. The terminology and, basically, the sophisticated playbooks of all these coaches was part of this game.”
While Madden no longer serves as a commentator in the game, he remains active in its design. This year’s edition had to address the rise of the Pistol formation, run by quarterbacks such as the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, he said. “You have a lot more plays out of (that formation) with the quarterback up (closer to the center) and the backs are behind.”
The ex-coach and commentator says he is constantly impressed by the improvements in the game. In the new edition, he says, “It’s amazing the things you can do with your running back; you can really make moves.”
Madden is particularly proud that the linemen also move more realistically. “You’ve got the real blocks, the double-team, the kickout, the whole thing.”
The EA Sports game design team meets with Madden throughout the year. “He has a great way of breaking football down into words and terms and ideas that are simple to grasp,” says Cam Weber, EA Sports’ general manager of football games. “A lot of times our guys will get down into the weeds of all the details and Coach has a great ability to see the big picture,” he says. “That’s probably what makes him a good commentator. He spoke about football in terms that everyone could understand.”
Certain milestones helped the franchise evolve, Madden says. “My big thing was to get 22 guys on the field,” he says. “To get that many figures in a computer game was a job in itself. It was a real stumbling block, and I wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have that. To see the game come out with linemen and defensive linemen and linebackers, that was a big one.”
While at Fox, Madden remembers a meeting in which then-Fox Sports chairman David Hill said that ” ‘We want our presentation on TV to look like the video game,’ and I thought, ‘We’ve come full cycle here.’ “
Then in 1998, the game designers found a way to make the running back’s lateral moves match its speedier north-south moves. “If he went off-tackle and across, he would go real slow, and if he went straight up (the field) he went faster,” Madden says. “That was a big thing.”
With new consoles the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One coming this fall, players will be able to play an even higher-fidelity of Madden. With additional computing power for improved visuals and more realistic player behaviors, McNealy says that “Madden should be at the forefront on the sports franchises for looking great.”
Adds Madden, on his longtime involvement: “Each new advancement is big and memorable because you think, ‘Geez, I didn’t ever think we’d ever get to this.’ “
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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