To call Madden big is both an understatement and an overstatement. It's an understatement because the Madden brand is more powerful than any other in North American video gaming history; it represents the triumph of one of the industry's richest publishers, as well as the potency of good licensing. It's an overstatement because though John Madden is not a little guy, he would have to be 10 stories tall, stomping through New York City taking bites out of the Chrysler building and crushing taxis with his feet to be half the monster his video game franchise has become in the past 20 years.
That's right, with the release of Madden NFL 09, John Madden Football is turning 20. So what better time than the present to look back at all the things that made Madden Football one of the most powerful forces in gaming? Of course, 20 years is a long time, so rather than go too far in depth and provide a feature that might take two decades to read, we'll provide you with some striking sales figures, our signature Then and Now image comparisons, and a video outlining the series' greatest innovations.
But first, you can't talk about the brand without talking about the man. After all, back in the late '80s when Electronic Arts was first developing John Madden Football, it was Madden the man who insisted that the games had to be 11-on-11. According to Scott Orr, who oversaw Madden titles from 1992 to 2000 for EA, John Madden had a huge amount of input on what went into the games, taking their realism and authenticity very seriously. When we interviewed him recently, Mr. Orr told us that the design team would visit John Madden three or four times a year and that "Spending time with John was like a graduate course in football strategy and tactics...We made the game easy to play and fun; John made it the standard that it still is today."
Back in the '80s and early '90s, focus tests told a different story. According to Bing Gordon, the chief creative officer at EA, marketing research found that people were 30 percent more enthusiastic about the brand name "Electronic Arts Football," than "Madden." But EA stuck with its man, and now Madden is one of the most powerful brands in the world.
This is due in large part to the potency of another brand: the NFL. People don't think of Madden as licensed software in the same vein as Harry Potter or James Bond, yet its annually updated rosters full of real NFL players on real NFL teams are a big part of what makes the series irresistible to gridiron fanatics starved by the long summer months for their football fixes. John Madden Football picked up the NFL license in 1993, as well as the rights to NFL player names in 1994, and enjoyed a substantial increase in popularity. But the success of the series didn't go unnoticed, with several other publishers and developers attempting to cash in on the allure of the NFL to line their own pocketbooks with the sales from rival football games.
NFL Gameday and the NFL 2K series were Madden's chief competitors, the latter even going so far as to offer its final installment, ESPN NFL 2K5, for 20 dollars. With the power of ESPN's brand on its side, as well as a price tag half the size of Madden's, 2K looked like it might steal some of Madden's bacon. Then, in 2004, EA announced it had acquired the sole right to publish video games using NFL team and player names. Madden became the official video game of the NFL and utterly demolished its competition in one devastating power move.
The rest has been a recent history of analog stick tweaks, franchise options, licensed soundtracks, and massive, massive sales figures. According to EA, Madden has sold millions of copies. Take Madden NFL 08; to date, it has sold 6.7 million copies in North America. That's 1.4 million more than Halo 3, 2.2 million more than Grand Theft Auto IV, and 3.7 million more than Super Mario Galaxy. The only game that really trounces it is Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, which has sold 9.2 million copies. But Madden comes out every single year on platforms all across the industry. Using our own NPD data, we've been able to account for the sale of 40 million copies of Madden. We're only missing one minor detail: the entire 1990s. Fortunately, EA graciously filled in the gap; they claim to have sold 70 million copies, give or take a hundred thousand. Of course, when you get into numbers that large, everything loses perspective.
To weigh matters on a smaller scale, let's look at handheld games. Since 2001, The Advance Wars titles have been some of the most popular games to play on the go, selling approximately 1.2 million copies across four titles, averaging scores of 89/100. Madden, over the same period of time, has sold 1.1 million units across all handhelds. Wow, kind of impressive, huh? After all, Madden isn't exactly popular among portable gamers, yet it can hold its own with a truly respected franchise. Except for one thing: That 1.1 million figure isn't really Madden's overall handheld sales--it's just Game Boy Advance sales.
Even Madden's afterthoughts can sell a million copies. For even more perspective, let's look back through the years at Madden Then and Now.