When EA Sports got the exclusive rights to the NFL, football fans around the world soon realised that the deal was a huge mistake. Many of us remember the days when we could play alternative NFL related titles such as NFL Game Day and Joe Montana’s Sports Talk Football, but after EA muscled out the competition, our choice was severely restricted. In the dark days of 2D gaming, our imagination was king. Big blocks of crude color kind of resembled the teams that we were trying to control, and the game play was far from realistic, but we didn’t care. At the time, each successive release was a step up in game play and graphics. Even though it was all bad, it was all good.
When the 3D games started to come out, we all had a lot more to enjoy. The graphics kept getting better, and with the introduction of both the PS3 and Xbox 360, we saw a massive increase in quality. Better consoles allowed the designers to increase the game play value of our football games while still maintaining improvements in the graphics. The early 2000s saw a panoply of good football titles and even though Madden was king, pretenders to the throne were making their presence felt. Unfortunately, in 2004 the competition was dealt a lethal blow with the signing of the exclusivity deal.
Madden NFL became the undisputed leader of all NFL football games because it was the only one that had all of the teams and all of the players. Gamers that wanted a slice of NFL Sundays had nowhere else to go, and so we became unwilling subscribers to the franchise. The alternatives were available at first, but soon Madden was all that there was. Most gamers soon found themselves going along for the ride, and the official licenses, along with the yearly innovation, kept us clucking.
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The innovations in game play and graphics were always improving. Early cartridge consoles had basic graphics as you might expect, and the PS1 games naturally gave us big improvements. Game play on the PS2 and Xbox versions took the experience to another level with Superstar and Franchise modes, so when the PS3 and Xbox 360 releases were announced, fans were excited for the future. The new consoles promised so much in terms of graphics and game play for all games, so we were all devastated when Madden 07 came out. For PS2 and Xbox owners, the franchise continued to improve, but the PS3 and Xbox 360 owners found that a lot was missing. By the time that Madden 10 hit the shelves, most of us owned a PS3 or and Xbox 360, so all we knew was the product that had been put in front of us on our chosen platform. Madden 10 looked better than anything that was ever on the PS2 and Xbox consoles, but the game play, namely the franchise mode and other features, was severely lacking. Even three years after Madden 07, the features still hadn’t caught up to where they were on the previous console generation.
This funk carried on longer, and many fans expressed their issues on public forums. The anger amongst gamers erupted into liturgy when a class action suit was brought against EA Sports. Gamers claimed that EA had a monopoly and that they could thus hold their customers to ransom. While it was certainly true that gamers had no alternatives to the Madden franchise, EA admitted no wrongdoing. They did, however, settle out of court and they offered a cash pot for gamers to apply to in order to reclaim some of the money that they had spent on the games that they believed to be sub-standard. The case name was Pecover v. Electronic Arts, Case No. 08-cv-02820 CW, and the total cost, including lawyer fees, totaled $ 36 000 000.
EA seemed to take the suit seriously because the Madden franchise began to improve. By Madden 12, the game play and features had finally reached the level that they were at before the change to the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation of consoles. The NFL experience was almost flawless, but there still seemed to be a feeling amongst gamers that unless you were playing online, the game play consisted of playing a game, getting back to the home screen, and then starting another game. Madden 13 changed all that with the introduction of an experience point feature which gave the player more to do between games. That and other small features showed that the franchise was finally back on track.
The future of Madden looks to be bright. While EA developed through the dark early days of PS3 and Xbox 360, they learned some valuable lessons. Nobody is perfect, but in a world where you own the exclusive rights to one of the world’s most marketable sports, you’d better be right most of the time. It is uncertain whether the PS4 and Xbox One versions will suffer the same regression of quality, but we should try to be optimistic. The original exclusivity deal that was signed in 2004 was extended in 2009 to carry on until 2013, so there may be an end in sight. With luck, the market will be broken wide open in the future, but remember, EA has a lot of power. We may have to carry on being unwilling subscribers and keep on clucking.