When thinking about iconic franchises in gaming, sports games aren’t the first ones that come to mind. Hardcore gamers tend to instead focus on game series that came directly from the medium itself like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter. But it would be disingenuous of us to ignore the fact that one of the biggest game series of all time is the football giant of the video game world, the Madden NFL series.
Beginning in 1988 on PCs at the time including the Apple II and Commodore 64, the original John Madden Football might not look like much nowadays, but at the time it provided a level of detail and realism not seen in other games like Tecmo Super Bowl. That’s not necessarily to say that it was better than that classic, but you did get the sense that if given time this series can be a contender one day. And lo and behold, the Madden is now one of the biggest gaming franchises of all time with over 30 games in the franchise (counting spin offs like the Head Coach) games.
With all those titles, there are going to be some things that the big man would want you to forget about the games. Some of those things are features that have been removed which fans to this day want returned. Other things would be the shady business practices that the publisher Electronic Arts has committed over the years. Read on for the 15 things that John Madden wants you to forget about the Madden games.
15. There Used To Be Some Crazy Teams
Have you ever had this thought while playing a Madden game: “yeah this game is pretty fun, but wouldn’t it be way better if I could play as monsters, mutants and a wide assortment of freaky characters?” Well then you could play Mutant Football League but FEAR NOT, Madden has you covered. Or at least it used to.
Some of the Madden games back in the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era had a system of “Madden Cards.” You would collect them throughout the game to unlock special abilities, cheat codes and all sorts of fun stuff. Part of that fun stuff was teams like the Sugar Buzz and the Monsters. How could you go wrong with a quarterback named Frank Enstein? The Madden Cards were eventually abandoned, but we demand their return!
14. There Was A Cancelled Game!
It seems like an impossibility that a Madden game would get cancelled nowadays. It is by far the biggest moneymaker for EA and the company has gotten the formula down so pat that they can churn them out like clockwork. But back in the mid 90s things weren’t quite so polished and as a result, the PlayStation version of Madden NFL 96 got the axe.
It’s a bit of a long story, but in brief we can chalk this up to the development team. Visual Concepts (yup, the same ones a part of 2K nowadays) lost three of their best workers and the game was placed into the hands of inexperienced developers. The team also were given about nine months to get the game out in time for Thanksgiving that year. It just wasn’t going to happen and the game never saw the light of day.
13. ESPN NFL 2K5 Was Better Than Madden 05
2004 was the final year that there was any real competition in the NFL video game world. That year Madden NFL 2005 took on its underdog challenger ESPN NFL 2K5. EA Sports had the advantage with a much bigger publisher behind them, but the ESPN game evened the playing field by only selling for 20$. But which game was better? Well, the consensus is to this day ESPN NFL 2K5.
With smoother gameplay, a more robust feature set, a superior and presentation that was miles ahead of Madden’s product, it was clear to virtual pigskin fans which was the better game. Unfortunately this would be the last NFL game ever produced by Sega (nobody cares about All Pro Football 2k8). We’ll see later what Madden did the next year…
12. There Was A Bloodthirsty Ambulance
When you see an ambulance, it should bring a sigh of relief to your face. Yes, the situation at hand may be bad, but ambulances have paramedics who will help you with bad situations. Not in John Madden’s world, though. In Madden, ambulances are savage machines who will destroy anyone in their path to save somebody who needs medical assistance. Wait, what?
In Madden 92, whenever a player would be injured in a game, an ambulance would take to the field in order to cart away the injured athlete. However, they wouldn’t wait for their teammates and opponents to get out of the way. Instead they chose to knock them off screen. Makes a Ray Lewis hit look like a left handed five-year-old girl punching with her right hand.
11. There Was A Game On The 3DO
For those who don’t spend inordinate amounts of times looking up old gaming consoles, the 3DO was a gaming console back in the mid 90s thought up by the founder of Electronic Arts, Trip Hawkins. In short, it was a ridiculously overpriced console that nobody bought because it was way too ambitious for its own good with no great original games. It did, however, have a Madden game in its catalogue.
Simply titled John Madden Football, this game made heavy use of FMV (full motion video) to make the presentation feel true to a TV broadcast but aside from that, it played basically like Madden NFL 94 with better graphics. The first fully 3D Madden game would finally come with Madden NFL 99, so 3D is a bit of stretch for this game.
10. John Madden Makes Bank From These Games
We feel fairly confident to say that there is an entire generation of fans that play the Madden video games who have no idea who the hell John Madden actually is. It doesn’t really matter actually and we’re pretty sure the 81-year-old Pro Football Hall of Famer doesn’t give a damn. He’s too busy cashing checks year after year.
According to a feature on CNN.com which was chronicling the 25th year of Madden video games, they shared an interesting fact about how much the man Madden makes per year. That would be 2 million dollars. That’s right, Madden makes enough money just licensing his name per year to buy your house. Let that sink in next time you hear the word “boom”.
9. Madden Got Their New Yorks Messed Up
The NFL, the MLB and the NHL all suffer from dual New York syndrome; they both have two sports franchises in one state. That shouldn’t cause much of a stir, there’s enough New York to go around, especially if you like apples. This double franchise situation however caused a little problem for one edition of Madden.
Early copies of Madden NFL 94 came with a bug that, while it didn’t affect the gameplay at all, might have ticked off some fans of both the New York Jets and New York Giants. For you see the rosters of both teams were swapped! Controversy, thy name is Madden NFL 94. This was fixed in later versions of the game and basically only Giants and Jets cared even a little bit at the time. But still for a series that prides itself on accuracy, this was embarrassing.
8. EA Fought Themselves One Year
Before EA swallowed the NFL license for themselves and refused to poop it out for anyone to take, there was a glut of football games on the market. Funnily enough, though, EA still managed to produce two separate football games for the same system one year.
Sega wanted a first party killer app for the Sega Genesis, but they didn’t know how to do it. As a result, they called up EA and asked them if they would be down to make their football game for them. EA said sure but they couldn’t let go of their mascot Madden so they not only made Joe Montana Football but they also made their John Madden Football as well. Maybe they figured if Montana and Madden had the same initials it would be easy? Beats us.
7. EA Had To Work For The NFL License
The Madden video game series and the NFL seem so intertwined now that it seems impossible to imagine the two separated. But there was a brief period of time in the embryonic stages of the series where the Madden series didn’t have the NFL license.
From the original John Madden Football back in 1988 all the way to John Madden Football 1993, the game had to rely on generic teams that were based in the same cities that the NFL teams were based out of. It was only until Madden NFL 94 that EA finally secured the league license. The following year they would snag the NFLPA license which allowed them to include the names of the players in the game. Not that it made much of a difference in the 16 bit era, but moving on.
6. The No Fun Owner Mode
The NFL has been dubbed the “No Fun League” by fans for many years. For the longest time endzone celebrations were ultra restricted and the fines for uniform violations were ridiculous. If that wasn’t bad, this crusade against has even extended into the video games.
In the owner mode of the Madden series, you are granted a lot of options on what you’re able to do. You can decide which players will be on your squad, you can trade players whenever you want heck you can even decide how much you can gouge your fans for popcorn. But something you can’t do anymore? Changing the colours of teams’ uniforms. According to a former producer on Madden, the NFL wanted uniforms to follow league rules. Damnit, no rainbow buccaneers!
5. There Is A Staggering Amount Of PS2 Games
The PlayStation 2 is the highest selling video game console of all time with only the Nintendo DS coming close to its over 155 million units sold. It was so successful that up until 2013 games were still being made for the system! Now that is staying power even Brett Favre can respect.
The first entry on the console is Madden NFL 2001. The cover star for that year? Eddie George of the Tennessee Titans. The final cover star during the PS2 lineage of games? That would be the cover star Peyton Hillis of the Cleveland Browns for Madden 12. Thinking about how much the league changed in those 11 years is mind-boggling, as is the fact that there are 11 games of the same franchise on the same console.
4. The Madden Curse
This admittedly is the most open secret about the Madden series on this list so if you know about this we apologize. If you don’t know, strap in for a tale of witchcraft, broken careers and devilish deeds. Ok maybe not witchcraft, but something was definitely up for a while.
Beginning with Garrison Hearst in the 99 installment, EA decided to make athletes the main focus on the covers instead of the portly former coach. While the cover stars get a nice bonus, a lot of NFL cover stars would have probably avoided it anyway because tons of these players would go on to have terrible seasons right after appearing on the cover. From Eddie George beginning a career downwards spiral after his appearance to Larry Fitzgerald AND Troy Polamalu both suffering due to their cover appearances on Madden 10, the curse is real and fans dread the possibility of their favourite player appearing on the cover year after year.
3. It Began An Empire
Love them or hate them, Electronic Arts is one of the most dominant gaming publishers on the planet. There’s not a genre that they don’t have their hands in and their EA Sports label is a consistent money grabber year after year. And you can thank the Madden series for kicking off this empire.
The original John Madden Football for various home computers in 1989 was the first ever sports game that EA ever produced. Before they secured the FIFA, NHL, and whatever other acronyms’ licenses they could, a lonely, unlicensed football game endorsed by a long retired coach was the only sports game in the EA catalog. So if you hate any of those franchises, this is where it all started.
2. There Is A Formula Behind Player Ratings
Nothing drives fans into dizzy more in sports games than player ratings. If their favourite player isn’t rated high enough or if their hated enemy is rated too highly, they will totally leave a comment raging about it. But the ratings aren’t just formed from the whims of EA. There is a method to the madness.
One man named Donny Moore at EA is known as the “Ratings Czar,” it’s his sole duty at EA to figure out how player ratings will work in Madden. In an interview with Five Thirty Eight, Moore revealed the lengths he goes to figure out the stats of each player. To dig into the nitty gritty, you should check out the feature in the link above, but just to say next time you see or make an angry comment about Madden stats, you should keep all the work that goes into it in mind.
1. They Crushed Their Competition
Like we discussed near the top of this list, ESPN NFL 2K5 was considered by many to be the superior title to Madden NFL 2005. It seemed like the much newer and less established 2K series was going to become a true threat to EA’s juggernaut. This didn’t last very long unfortunately.
In December of 2004, just months after 2K5 was released, EA announced that they had secured the exclusive rights to the NFL license. This effectively killed off any competition inside the football video game market and granted EA a monopoly that continues to this day. No matter which game series you preferred, it’s always good to have competition inside a marketplace. The 2K series was the team EA played every year and they snuffed them out. It remains a sore spot with football video game fans to this day.
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