Last night I found myself absolutely livid, fuming with the intensity of a 19th century steam engine, and screaming obscenities that I can be sure the majority of my neighbors awoke to. Bright red complexion, sweaty, looking for something to smash like a suppressed mental patient…so, yeah, I may take video games too seriously.
I was playing a game of Madden NFL 25. My eyes, bloodshot from maintaining a uniform three inches from the screen for the better part of four hours. I had just lost a heavily contested bout at the hands of a far less skilled opponent, (he used Seattle…) and could really use a breather before I suffered a rage-induced stroke. It got me thinking…this didn’t happen back in the good ol’ days of virtual football. Back when you ragged on your buddy for busting off an 80 yard touchdown with Clinton Portis. The prime age of digital football came quite some time ago, and it appears that it may never return to its former glory.
I have distinct memories of Madden 2005. That was the year Ray Lewis graced the cover, and fans went bananas over the new “hit stick” feature. I played some instant classics on that old Playstation 2, typically topped off with a last-second drive orchestrated by Tom Brady. Since then, I have always been an avid fan of virtual sports titles. And as an owner of every Madden release over the last ten years, I can outline the ups and downs, lefts and rights, twists and turns, and when EA Sports went off the deep end.
Digitally produced football took a huge jump as a title release with current gen systems. The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Madden Football could do so much more. The players looked sharper, stadiums had every minor detail, and gamers could feel the crowd from their couch. But like a New York Jets’ routine blocking scheme, the gameplay eventually fell apart. The new hardware allowed for a huge upgrade visually, but developers bit off more than they could chew. The presentation was too much to handle, and the mechanics suffered. Madden became laggy, glitchy, and chock full of incredibly irritating animation mistakes.
Now, obviously a new game will have glitches, no one is denying that. But it is how the developer reacts and fixes these glitches that make the franchise a well-respected gaming company. Normally, the incentive to create a smoothly run game stems from customer satisfaction. The more satisfied consumers are with a game, the higher the demand will be for later editions. In 2005, 2K games released “ESPN NFL 2K5” which, to some people, is still regarded as the best football game to ever be on the market. The game was brilliant. Graphics were top notch (for 2005 anyway), plays ran smoothly, all coaches and stadiums were detailed and crisp, and the commentary was unparalleled. Along with the gameplay, 2K5 featured a “My Player” mode in which users could buy a house, collect trophies, and get tattoos, really anything an NFL player could do with their spare time. The replay ability of 2K’s release was unreal, and that year Madden suffered quite the drop in sales. So what did EA Sports do? They responded with cash.
Following the release of 2K5, EA Sports knew they would have to work their tails off to keep improving their game year after year, and could easily be driven to bankruptcy. So instead of allowing fans to decide which game was better, giving each company incentive to make better versions for the years to come, they bought the NFL license through 2014. What did this mean? It meant that, as long as EA Sports owned the NFL license, they owned the rights to use official team logos, players, and coaches. Oh. And they were the only ones that were legally allowed to do it. See, by that point EA was simply a larger and more profitable company. Madden still sold extremely well, and had been for nearly 15 years by that point. But 2K had the potential to really put a dent in EA Sports’ profits. So instead of dealing with natural competition and relying on customer satisfaction, they created a monopoly.
At first, this didn’t seem so bad. Many of the current gen glitches were fixed over the next few years, and the game ran smoothly. Even online head to head felt great! But after so many years without competition, companies get lazy. They have zero incentive to create a better game. Madden NFL reached its absolute peak in 2008, with the release of Madden 09. The graphics were unreal. The gameplay was fantastic. The customization was as detailed as ever. That same year, 2K games released All Pro Football 2K8, a knock off game with fictional teams made up of retired players. Sure, it felt like 2K5, and played extremely well. But it just didn’t cut it without legitimate NFL rosters and teams. The game tanked in sales. Since the release of Madden 09, the game has been at a standstill. Developers have obviously given up, and are noticeably making the game worse in order to use recurring “improvements” made in years past. An example, Madden 13 focused on realism and presentation, including real quarterback voices and cadences. Guess which game had that? Madden 06. The newest release of Madden 25 featured brand new skill sets for running backs. Which game specified running back finesse and power moves? Madden 08. EA Sports is intentionally dive bombing their game into the ground, and have literally no reason to stop because people will keep buying it year in and year out. It’s their only option.
Yes. I’m one of those gullible people that buys Madden every summer. Is it because I enjoy the worse than ever gameplay or depleted graphics? No. It’s because theres no other choice. EA Sports took a cheap and straight up evil way out of creating a decent football game. Meanwhile, 2K sports has created a monopoly in the basketball game market. But they didn’t have to buy the rights to the NBA; they simply created a game that was so good, EA Sports couldn’t compete. With a new generation of systems upon us, 2K Sports is creating the most realistic sports game imaginable with NBA 2K14, while Madden 25 looks like just another roster update. 2K would 100% dominate the football gaming industry. Madden has gotten so dry and repetitive, and the easiest fixes could be made in an instant. But EA Sports won’t do it. I guarantee that they purchase the license again for another ten years, and all football fans hoping for another 2K football game will be disappointed once more. I despise the fact that I’m going to buy Madden 15 this August. I would love watching EA Sports go bankrupt as NFL 2K15 dominated it in every aspect. But hey, one can dream.
Madden can try to take a step forward with this next gen hardware, but it won’t even touch the thousands of leaps backwards they’ve taken over the last five years. And unless some miracle allows 2K sports to create another football game, I’ll continue to whip my controller across the room at the sight of my team losing on a glitch or crappy animation defect. Stay classy EA Sports.