Year in and year out, Madden is an event unto itself for EA Sports. The game is a constant chart topper in the US and it's one of the rare kinds of video games in the console space that even "non-gamers" will pick up at Walmart or Best Buy. For hardcore gamers and diehard pigskin fans, the Madden franchise hasn't brought much new to the table in recent years, and EA fully admits that, which is why this month's launch of Madden NFL 13 is so important.
"I do believe that Madden did not have the level of innovation that some of our other franchises have had," EA Sports boss Andrew Wilson told GamesIndustry International recently. "I think they were still doing great things, they were great playing games and they were significantly more than roster updates."
"I look at the budget, time and hours going into making those games. I look at the team this year and they made a concerted effort to put Madden right up there with FIFA, NHL and Fight Night Champion. They want to leave no doubt with fans that this is the most amazing Madden ever built. Based on what I've seen from the reaction I'm seeing from press, I think they've come very, very close to sealing that. Certainly by the time we launch, when we finish with the polish and all that, we'll have delivered."
"I believe that Madden will grow internationally off the back of being a great game, as NHL has done"
Wilson would not provide a budget figure, but when we asked him if it's been the largest investment in any Madden game to date, he replied, "Hand's down. Without a doubt."
He added, "What I can say is that the core gameplay team is 50 percent bigger this year than it was last year. So as one touch point, and there is a lot of investment that goes outside of core gameplay when you think about connected-careers, everything about online seasons and cross-platform play, but the piece that changes how you play the game, that 11-on-11 twitch football, is a 50 percent bigger team. That's a big increase."
Pre-orders, as of EA earnings announcement last week, are already up 25 percent over last year for the new Madden. That's got to feel great for Wilson. He wouldn't commit to a number on sales expectations though. But he does believe that EA's big investment in improving Madden for this year will pay off.
"We recognize a need to fundamentally innovate in Madden. We have a brand new leadership team; Cam Weber, Roy Harvey and these guys. Roy Harvey did a fantastic job with NCAA; he made it the best football game on the market at the time. I think he did it this year with Madden. Everything from the Infinity Engine to Connected-Careers, to cross-platform play to the new presentation with Nantz and Simms, I mean it is an amazing achievement in what they've got in the game this year," Wilson enthused.
"Our expectation is that when you focus on building great games for the consumer, everything else takes care of itself. In all honesty we haven't spent a lot of time yet looking at our financial expectations, what are our targets and objectives? The entire team is focused on building the best Madden ever. Our expectation is that if we do that, everything will take care of itself. So coming out of the close for the development cycle of Madden, I think we will be pleasantly surprised by the uptick of Madden this year and I think the team deserves all the recognition for the great game they've made. I look forward to them celebrating just how many millions are playing the game by it is all said and done."
In addition to the all-new physics in the game, one of the interesting additions to the Xbox 360 version of Madden (as demoed by Joe Montana on stage during E3) is the integration of voice commands and play calling with Kinect. EA's been pleased with the voice recognition in Madden, and it could be something to look forward to in other EA Sports franchises. As Wilson notes, shouting and sports are an obvious combination.
"We looked at sports gamers. We watched how they played, and we watched how we play and we spend a lot of time yelling and shouting at the screen. It's the nature of what we do. So we harnessed that screaming and shouting as a control scheme. I love the implementation, I think it is cool and people are using it; casual and core gamers alike. Depending on how that plays out, we're going to look at how we can further advance that and see what products it will make sense to put in," he said.
If you live in Europe and you've read this far, you may be one of the few who actually cares about American football. Whereas FIFA has garnered a large following in the US, the NFL still has a ways to go before it ever catches on internationally, but Wilson remains hopeful that will happen one day and that Madden will be right there to push things along.
"So there are two things that grow a sports game in any given territory. One is the popularity of the sport in that territory and the other is the quality of the game in that territory," he said. "FIFA in North America enjoys the perfect storm of tremendous growth of soccer in this country, whether it is watching the World Cup, MLS, Premier League and Women's Soccer with what Hope Solo did with her team. There is an explosion of growth of soccer in the US, and FIFA is a 90 rated game."
"What we are also seeing is a growth of hockey in territories that don't even have ice rings. I grew up in Australia; I played NHL there because it was a great game. I didn't even know what ice hockey was. The fact that I refer to it as ice hockey tells anyone who knows anything about hockey that I'm a complete lunatic. I played the game to great extent because it was a great game.
"What I believe we're going to see with Madden, even though the NFL continues to grow in Europe and they have events in Europe every year, selling out each time... I believe that Madden will grow internationally off the back of being a great game, as NHL has done," Wilson concluded.
Madden NFL 13 ships in about three weeks on August 28.