One of the unforeseen side effects of the current NFL Labor dispute has been that Electronic Arts has received a one year extension of their exclusive license to produce NFL videogames. That means that Madden will be the only show in town for another year.
While Electronic Arts is actively working on Madden NFL 12 they are also planning for the potential of no NFL season. EA’s chief financial officer, Eric Brown, said, “In terms of the NFL, I can tell you that our base assumption going into the plan is a very conservative one … we’ve baked in, at least in our thinking, the most conservative assumption, meaning no season. We’re optimistic it can be better than that and generate further upside.”
This is great news for fanboys of EA Sports’ most popular video game series, but lousy news for the rest of us. While I respect the Madden franchise and all that is has meant for both football and video games, the games have become stale and lackluster over the past few years. In 2005 Sega released NFL 2k5, and underappreciated game that legitimately challenged Madden and threatened their profits at a price-point of just 20 dollars. EA wasted no time in buying exclusive rights to make NFL games, effectively killing the NFK 2k series and in turn becoming complacent with their own.
Before any of you get on me, I was born and raised a child of video games, my first game was one of the first ever John Madden football games on the Super Nintendo. For years I didn’t miss a release, it peaked on PS2, I still remember being amazed that the player models actually blinked when they got hit.
All of that innovation and impressive development came to a rapid halt when the competition stopped. Instead EA continued to re-release pretty much the same exact game year in and year out with small graphical tweaks and roster updates. The gameplay of Madden 11 wasn’t that dramatically different from the game play of Madden 2001 (the game with Eddie George on the cover). The graphics are tighter (after all, it’s the next generation of game systems) and things have been tweaked slightly, but it’s still the same game.
The only key difference in 2011 is the game has now been dumbed down. In the wii-age where accessibility reigns over complexity, Madden followed suit. For instance, long gone are the days when a player decided when to use his burst to hit the hole or to break away from a defender on a long run, now the computer decides when to sprint for you. Hell, you don’t even have to call your own plays anymore, the computer can just dial them up for you. The game is much more accessible now. It takes less skill than ever to play and almost no knowledge of football.
I was kind of hoping that the 2k series could make a return to the NFL as soon as possible. Even if they don’t make a better game than EA, they’ll force EA to drastically improve a stale formula. And you can understand why EA wanted exclusivity to begin with. NBA Live, EA’s basketball franchise used to dominate the market. Now the NBA 2k series is so popular (and EA grew so complacent with their own Live series) that this year after changing the name of their entire franchise from “live” to “elite” EA just outright cancelled the basketball game. It couldn’t compete anymore.
Fortunately, they don’t have to worry about being competitive with the Madden franchise until 2013.