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Madden: Why Such a Big Deal?

James Brightman explains a true video game and American pop culture phenomenon

In the first of a series of regular articles, James Brightman, editor-in-chief of our sister site IndustryGamers.com, breaks down the Madden phenomenon, how it dominates US leisure time and has earned its place in American pop culture.

Football. The very utterance of the word elicits strong feelings from sports fans on both sides of the Atlantic, but we're talking about two vastly different sports. While the rest of the world gets their literal kicks out of what we Americans (rightfully) call soccer, professional football in America is as big a business as it gets. During the late summer, millions of Americans get psyched for the fall NFL season. A good percentage of these fans immerse themselves in the action through one of America's favourite video game franchises: Madden.

The very first John Madden Football was released back in 1988, and for more than 20 years now, the franchise has built up one of the most passionate fan followings imaginable. The series has sold 95 million units worldwide and generated over $3 billion in revenues for EA. It's also a very American franchise, with 90 per cent of sales or more coming from this side of the Atlantic.

There are US consumers who buy Madden every year and very few other video games. But what's the big deal about this EA Sports franchise that seemingly has so many addicted? Well, for one, it's worth noting that baseball, although still popular in US culture, is no longer the true national pastime. Football dominates the networks.

I chose John Madden because he was a known brand and I wanted EA Sports to stand for authenticity

Trip Hawkins, Madden franchise creator

"The success of Madden can be attributed to two parallel rising tides, over the past 10 years," explains EA Sports' director of marketing Anthony Stevenson. "First, the sport of football has undoubtedly surpassed baseball as this country's national pastime. You see it in the TV ratings every single week and you see it in how popular fantasy football has become. During that same time, the popularity of video gaming has gone from a more core fan base to an absolute mainstream audience that includes moms, dads, young kids, you name it.

"Madden NFL is the perfect cross-section of the football fan and gamer, both hardcore and mass," he added. "NFL players love it, which further entrenches the game into the social fabric, and it's 100 per cent relatable to the casual football fan. It's really the perfect storm."

Madden franchise creator Trip Hawkins, who now heads social/mobile developer Digital Chocolate, attributes much of the Madden mania to American culture. It's a phenomenon you won't see anywhere else, although other nations certainly show similar passion for other sports.

"Every person, and every country, has a certain number of LEGO connectors into which they can fit additional LEGO pieces. This applies to entertainment media, celebrities, hobbies, games. For example, in Europe and the US we play chess, a classic game with a European medieval theme. But in Japan they play Go, in part because there's only really room for one pure strategy game like this in a culture and for the additional reason that it's theirs, whereas chess is of European culture and origin," Hawkins observed.

"Meanwhile, we don't obsess over Go in the West. Similarly, some American sports like our American Football are redundant in any country that is already obsessed with traditional football. They are both 'war simulations' in which the ball marks the battle line and you 'win', or score points, when you control the entire field as exemplified by moving the line the full length of the field until you control the entire territory, proving it by putting the ball into the goal, or end zone).

"I chose John Madden in particular because he was a known brand who authentically knew the sport and I wanted EA Sports to stand for authenticity, and knew that he could help me do it. We then built games that delivered on this promise, which is why they beat out competitors in each sports category."

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James Brightman

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James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.

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