I make absolutely no secret about the fact I think EA’s exclusive license to make NFL video games has stagnated football games in general and lets EA just load up on profits from Madden without ever really doing more than tweaking it from year to year. Face it, EA has gotten very lazy, Madden is a cash cow and without competition there’s very little incentive to improve the game.
Now, some of you are already saying, “hey wait, I love Madden.” And that’s great, I prefer EA’s NCAA football games a little more personally, but I’ll grant you that they make a solid game. But that’s it, just solid. Let’s not bend over backwards to effusively praise the series either. Since hitting PS2, honestly, has the game changed that much? A little adjustment here, a small update there, but there hasn’t been an overhaul in about a decade. When you open next year’s Madden, it’ll be just like playing last year’s except for a few aesthetic updates, a roster change and some new way to utilize the right joy-stick.
This year’s Madden will be no different. Just like last year’s biggest update was the ability to meet the president after a Superbowl win, this year’s big, jaw-dropping update will be the inclusion of concussions. That’s right, now when you use the hit stick that is so joyously advertised to decapitate a receiver or blindside a back, the tackled party (or even the tackler) may become concussed and perpetual bore-jockey Cris Collinsworth will launch into a pre-recorded diatribe about the dangers of head injuries. That should get old about… the second or third time it happens. You know EA isn’t going to record more than one or two bits of long-winded commentary about head-shots and it’ll drone on at you piously at least a couple times a game.
Don’t get me wrong, I think educating on the dangers of concussions is fantastic. I’m glad Madden is employing this into their game. I just think it’s a little ironic that Madden is a game that still does openly celebrate bone-crushing hits at the same time, and that this is being lauded as the big improvement to the franchise this season.
That’s the type of improvement that most game’s just quietly include. It wouldn’t make the back of the box in most videogame franchises but somehow for Madden, it makes a headline on the front page of ESPN.com. If you think I’m missing the point, maybe you’re missing mine. It’s fantastic that Madden wants to deal with the concussion issue. But the fact this is being heralded as a big deal just reiterates the point I made at the beginning of this article. Madden is stagnant, but because of the exclusive license EA can just spoon-feed football fans mediocrity as if it’s gold. A headline on ESPN talking about Madden’s big new feature just serves to reinforce the fact EA has everyone to the point where they’re willing to accept less just because “it’s Madden.”
In 2005 Sega released NFL 2k5 at a price point of 20 dollars. It wasn’t a better game than Madden, who was doing it’s own self-congratulatory 15th year anniversary cycle in 2005, but it was pretty close. And at 20 dollars to Madden’s 60 dollar tag (70 if you wanted the collector’s edition) you can see why by Christmas time Sega’s game was beginning to dramatically increase its market share. Like I said, Sega’s game wasn’t better. But it was close, and it was a much different experience than Madden. They experimented with more concepts, controls felt different and the overall presentation (commentary and camera work in-game) was ahead of what Madden was offering at the time.
Rather than going back to the drawing board and coming out with a game that would best Sega’s the next year, EA took the easy way out and just bought exclusive rights. Thus the NFL 2k series died and EA went back to resting on its laurels. The real loser was football fans, who now are given a choice between Madden or not playing an NFL game at all. The exclusive license runs out after 2012. That can’t come soon enough.