As Super Bowl LIII fades into memory, the buzz will now move on to the current NBA and NHL seasons as well as professional baseball's Spring training right around the corner. But if you're a Madden fan, there's a good chance that the NFL won't be disappearing from your TV anytime soon, as gamers are still racking up the playtime on last summers's Madden NFL '19— and likely will continue to do so until next season's installment hits.
The Madden video game series has been around for over thirty years and has long been one of the best-selling franchises in gaming history. Initially conceived by Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, the earliest development phases of the first installment can be traced back as early as 1984 when Hawkins first approached legendary coach and commentator John Madden about lending his name and expertise to what was to be the most realistic sports game possible at the time. After four years and a lot of ups and downs, John Madden Football was finally released and would soon change the course of sports game history— as well as video gaming in general.
Needless to say, a lot goes into making a sports game on the scope of Madden, especially when you consider that EA not only puts out a new installment every single year but often does so for a half dozen or more platforms at a time. Honestly, even narrowing down this article to 25 entries was difficult, as there are enough interesting bits of trivia behind the Madden series to fill a list the length of several football fields.
It's been ages since the Madden franchise has been associated with any one platform, but in the early-'90s, its Genesis versions were considered the "main" entries with the rest just being ports. Because of that, a lot of people mistakenly believe that John Madden Football, released for the Genesis in 1990, was the series' debut entry.
In reality, the franchise actually got its start two years earlier, when the very first version of John Madden Football hit the Apple II. Though the basic foundation was there, it was very rudimentary and didn't make much of an impact, not achieving mainstream success and finding its legs until it made its 16-bit console debut.
Beginning with Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, EA has run an AI vs AI simulation in each year's Madden installment with the two teams playing in the big game, seeing if the game can "predict" the winner of the upcoming Super Bowl.
After picking the correct winner in its first four attempts, Madden began to start getting some wrong, and their accuracy has gotten worse over time. With mistakenly betting against the Patriots this year and last, the overall standings come to 10 correct and 6 incorrect predictions for a 62% success rate, down from 71% before their two recent whiffs.
To millions of people, John Madden is primarily associated with the video game franchise that bears his name. "Madden" has been shorthand for video game football for so long that it's hard to imagine ever being without it— but we almost were.
Trip Hawkins' first choice to front his new football game was quarterback Joe Montana, but he was out because he had an endorsement deal with Atari at the time. Hawkins then decided to seek out a coach, and talked to then-UC Berkeley coach Joe Kapp, but moved on when Kapp said he'd want royalties. Finally, Hawkins moved on to his third choice, John Madden, and third time was the charm.
While Bethesda is most well-known for RPGs like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, the company actually got its start developing the Wayne Gretzky Hockey series and a little-known football game called Gridiron!
The game that eventually became John Madden Football started with EA hiring Bethesda to create a follow-up to Gridiron! Bethesda did just that, but the game they developed was never released. A little later, John Madden Football hit store shelves without any credit given to Bethesda, with the developer claiming that the game contained physics systems and other code that they created. Bethesda went on to sue EA for over $7 million, but the results of the case are not publicly known.
Madden is one of those franchises that seems to automatically come to any available device that can run a video game. As of now, the Madden series has appeared on over 30 different platforms, including consoles, computers, handheld gaming systems, and mobile devices.
It's easier to talk about the platforms that Madden didn't come to then try to list all the ones it has called home. CD-i, Virtual Boy, Neo-Geo, and Atari Jaguar are among the short list of platforms that didn't have a Madden game. In addition, Madden has yet to come to Nintendo Switch, and EA's complete avoidance of the Dreamcast meant no Madden games for Sega's final console.
Even once Trip Hawkins finally got John Madden interested in helping to create a football video game, Madden still had some demands for the gameplay. One of Madden's biggest stipulations was wanting the game to feature teams of 11 players each on the field, something that simply wasn't possible yet when the game was first being planned.
Insisting that you need 11-man teams in order for it to be real football, Madden was out until that goal was achievable. It took a couple of years, but Hawkins and his team finally figured out how to have 22 players on the field at once, and Madden was officially back on board for his video game debut.
Madden has been an annual franchise since its console debut, switching to year-based titles beginning in 1992. The franchise also typically doesn't take very long to make its debut on a new platform, often being released within the launch window.
Things got a little complicated for Madden in the transition to the PlayStation, however, with the first PS1 Madden not hitting until the summer after the console was released in the U.S. Developer Visual Concepts was far too ambitious with their plans for the first PlayStation entry, and things just didn't come together for Madden '96 for PS1, leading to the tough decision to just cancel it altogether.
From the very beginning, Madden set itself apart in its realism— but even though it spent its first handful of years as the premiere video game football sim, it was missing a pretty crucial piece to the puzzle: player names.
The NFL license and the NFL Players Association license are two separate entities, and a deal needs to be reached with both in order for a game to have both real teams and real players. Tecmo Bowl, for instance, only had the NFLPA deal which is why that game had player names but generic team names. Madden, on the other hand, had real teams but not players until Madden '95.
Sega felt that Joe Montana had more cache than John Madden— which Trip Hawkins initially thought as well— and having a deal in place with Montana by the time EA and Sega were working together, Sega wanted John Madden Football to be turned into Joe Montana Football.
Then, EA had an idea: why not both? The company decided to go ahead with Madden for EA, and also develop Joe Montana Football for Sega... to be released in direct competition for the 1990 Christmas season. Of course, they made Madden the better game, and combined with Joe Montana missing its Christmas deadline, Madden was the victor and Joe Montana never received a follow-up.
Obviously, EA wouldn't pump out new Madden games each and every year, as well as make sure the series come to as many different platforms as possible, if it wasn't profitable for them to do so. The entire Madden series has sold over 130 million copies, which equates to over $4 billion in sales— so, yes, Madden makes EA plenty of cash.
Things show no signs of slowing down, either. In fact, the most recent installment, last year's Madden '19, saw the best first-month sales in the history of the franchise. Madden is also one of only 18 other video game franchises that are currently part of the 100 million+ copies sold club.
Consoles don't immediately stop getting new games once their successors are released, especially when it comes to sports titles. EA is good about letting fans who haven't yet plunked down the cash for a new system still have new Madden games to play for a few more seasons into a new console generation.
As odd as it seems that Madden '98 still came to SNES and Genesis, that is far from the latest Madden release for a mostly-retired console. The Madden series continued on the PlayStation 2 through Madden '12, and on Xbox 360 through Madden '17, giving each of those consoles 12 annual installments— the most of any other platform (besides PC, of course).
Madden has been the only real contender for video game football for so long now that it's easy to forget a time when it had legitimate competition. But there were indeed a couple of franchises that Madden didn't immediately shut down and actually gave EA's series a run for its money, with PlayStation's own first-party GameDay series perhaps being Madden's first real, ongoing threat.
GameDay actually stuck around for ten straight installments, more than any other Madden rival. Unfortunately, while GameDay had earned strong critical and commercial success during its PS1 years, its lackluster PS2 debut in 2001 really tainted the brand, and it never recovered despite hanging around for four more years.
To hear Robin Antonick tell it, he was the primary programmer on the original John Madden Football and worked on the game's code for three whole years. Initially, EA gave him due credit, with his name being the only one on the game's box other than John Madden himself... but that didn't last.
Antonick asserts that his work was put to use in the Madden games for years, but he stopped receiving any monetary compensation in 1991. Around 2011, Antonick took EA to court seeking over $10 million in royalties, which he says he is owed for his work having been used through at least Madden '96. As of this writing, the case is still ongoing.
John Madden has been rewarded handsomely for his work on the Madden games, far more than he ever made coaching or doing television commentary. In addition to the $150 million deal with EA to use his name and likeness in perpetuity, he also earns millions more in royalties from the series each year.
That said, he could've banked even more. When EA's stock first went public, Madden was offered the chance to buy stock for only $7.50 a share. Seeing it as EA trying to milk money out of him, he declined— which he later called the "dumbest thing [he] ever did in [his] life" when EA's stock price rose to $70 by 1999.
As with MLB and the NHL, New York has two teams in the NFL, which creates a unique rivalry that sees the locals picking sides and actively rooting against the other team. This situation made things tense when the first copies of Madden '94 were shipped and saw the rosters of the two teams completely flip-flopped.
Sure, mistakes can happen, but this seems like the kind of error that should've never went passed all the people it would've needed to go through before the game was finalized. Fortunately, EA rectified the error— which was oddly said to only have affected the SNES version— and corrected the rosters for subsequent pressings.
We mentioned before how Madden doesn't tend to come to short-lived consoles that haven't yet proven to have an established fan-base, but there are a few notable exceptions. The ill-fated 3DO Interactive Multiplayer surprisingly had its own Madden game, but there's a pretty obvious reason why.
Trip Hawkins, formerly of EA and one of the main people behind Madden, was essentially the creator of the 3DO— so it's not hard to figure out how he was able to pull some strings and get an exclusive Madden game for the pricey platform Essentially an enhanced port of Madden '94, the simply named John Madden Football had improved on-screen graphics and extensive use of full-motion video footage.
Sound design is extremely integral to an immersive video game experience, and it's one of those things that most of us don't directly pay attention to but are extremely aware of it on a subconscious level. The Madden series, especially in the modern era, has done a stellar job at replicating what it must sound like to be on an actual NFL field.
It stands to reason that Madden's sound effects were accomplished by recording players tackling each other or banging actual helmets and footballs around. Surprisingly, the audio of recent Madden games was entirely the result of clever Foley work, with the sounds coming courtesy of things like Tupperware, metal spoons, grills, and suitcases.
When you pay big bucks to promote your game series on the fame and expertise of John Madden, it makes sense that you put him front and center in marketing the game. To be sure, Madden himself was the primary cover star— though sometimes with various players in the background— of every Madden game for the first 13 years of its existence.
But that all changed with Madden 2001 when Titans running back Eddie George was the sole cover star of the game and John Madden himself was relegated to a small seal of approval-esque appearance in the corner. This would become the new normal for the series.
"All my memories are of pain." This is how Joe Ybarra, one of the main designers of John Madden Football, remembers his time on the series— and he's hardly the only one.
Many of the people who worked on Madden over the years say that the endless crunch of producing a new installment year after year affected their feelings on not only Madden but football in general. Scott Orr, a designer on the series going back to the original Genesis version, didn't touch a Madden game for over a decade after leaving the team in 2001. And Ybarra said he couldn't stomach watching NFL games for a year after his time on the original game.
When the Sega Genesis launched in the U.S. in 1989, it was seen as a long shot to compete with the upcoming SNES. While Nintendo would eventually win the 16-bit war in North America by a narrow margin, the Genesis was the #1 console of that generation for a good chunk of it— and Madden was a big part of the reason why.
Though Madden eventually came to the SNES, it was after a period of Genesis exclusivity, and the games always played better on Sega's console. This, in addition to a hot new mascot named Sonic the Hedgehog, really helped the Genesis to gain significant ground on the SNES in the early-'90s.
For much of Madden's existence at this point, motion capture has been used to create the realistic animations of the players on the field. This means that any time you see a player in Madden do an impressive diving catch or take a bone-crunching hit from a linebacker, a human being had to actually perform that move.
While every effort is made to make things safe for the athletes and motion capture performers who do the moves that we see in Madden games, things can sometimes still go badly. Just ask motion capture performer Chris Robin, who ended up in the hospital for a week with a ruptured spleen from a Madden mo-cap session.
It seems like a daunting task, having to give ratings to every single player in a Madden game, but such is the attention to detail that the series is famous for. One of the reasons for bringing John Madden on board was to be the one to give players those ratings, only he didn't get it done in time for the original game and EA employees did the job themselves.
Fast forward to a very upset wide receiver who confronted Madden in person over his receiving a low rating, much to Madden's confusion. After that, Madden decided he'd better make sure to do the ratings himself going forward, and he did so for many years.
Even in the early days, when speech wasn't very common in video games, the Madden series had John Madden's voice audibly delivering basic lines like "Boom!" and "Heck of a play!" As technology improved, Madden's commentary in the games got more complex, to the point where he was doing almost full color commentary alongside partner Al Michaels.
For Madden '10, Madden's and Michaels' days as color commentators for the games came to an end when they were replaced by Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond. According to Madden himself, this wasn't his choice and he wasn't happy about it, saying "I feel that something is being taken away from me."
No franchise ever truly made EA as nervous in the football arena as Sega's NFL 2K series. Many claimed that it was superior to Madden, an assertion that was mostly irrelevant to EA while Sega was still only making games for its own platforms.
Once the Dreamcast was discontinued and Sega went multiplatform, NFL 2K could finally take on Madden directly. When Sega made the bold move of offering NFL 2K5 at a budget price at launch, it finally cut into Madden's sales— which led to EA signing an exclusive deal with the NFL to be the only company that could make officially-licensed NFL games, effectively getting rid of all of Madden's competition for good.
When Madden 2001 cover star Eddie George ended up having a weak 2001 season, nobody thought much of it. But after Dante Culpepper's career took a hit following his appearance on the Madden 2002 cover, rumblings began over a possible "Madden curse" that was affecting players' careers following being given the honor of appearing on a Madden cover. It came to a head with the issues that befell Michael Vick shortly after his spot on the Madden '04 cover.
Those examples have been the exception rather than the rule, however. And a few, such as Calvin Jonhson, Ray Lewis, Richard Sherman, and Odell Beckham Jr., actually had especially remarkable seasons accompany their Madden cover appearances.