I gave myself the unenviable task of defending this generation of Madden and making a case that it has been a success.
Yeah, I am THAT crazy at this point.
But before I explain why I think Madden has been a success, I think it's best to define success. In other words, whose success are we looking at in this case?
If you look at it from EA's point of view, your definition of success would be entirely different from a fan's idea of success. The point of view I will be using changes the tone of my defense, so let me phrase this as best and as clearly as I can in the next paragraph.
The success of the Madden series is based on more people playing Madden year over year because, at that point, both EA and the consumers must be happy -- otherwise the sales would be decreasing.
Regardless of what anyone else might say, if a yearly video game release is selling better and better every year, then it's doing something right for the people who continually buy the game.
You could make an argument that consumers can be duped into buying a game once every couple of years based off of name recognition alone. But when a title is released each year at the same exact time, and more people are playing it each year, then it may just mean that users are not tired of it. In fact, it might just mean they enjoy the series for what it is.
Sales figures in the video game industry are not 100 percent reliable, but from the (suddenly) ultra-secretive NPD numbers to the (usually) ultra-unreliable VGChartz numbers one thing is clear: Madden continues to see strong growth in sales each year.
This year might mark the first time the pace of sales is flat or even falls, which will be huge news and (admittedly) a huge hit to my thesis. Although I could make the argument that with total industry software sales down by well over 35 percent over the last couple of years, Madden breaking even in that environment is still impressive.
But up until this point, gamers keep buying into the Madden machine. The game is in more places than ever before, and you see and hear of it more often in pop culture than in the past -- the game is a marketing phenomenon.
It seems that, for the masses of casual gamers that make up the majority of Madden's sales, EA has found a very successful formula that gamers flock towards year after year.
We could debate the merits of where the gameplay could be compared to where it is, but where we feel the gameplay or modes should be and where they are is another type of debate. In terms of quality, Madden is far from perfect, but it's also not close to being terrible either.
Let's not discount the fact that the series has markedly improved since its debut on current-generation consoles back in 2005. A casual playthrough of Madden 06 and Madden 11 will reveal completely different yet somewhat related games; think of them like they are distant cousins rather than twins. The gap year to year is definitely small, but if you lengthen the time line, you see the improvements being made year over year.
Roll back the clock to previous generations, and you see the physics, movement and interactions between players are quite a step back. There are some things the old generation did to mask its defects, but the two most recent generations are only as comparable as Tecmo Super Bowl and Madden 99 would have been.
Nevertheless, Madden has basically given gamers six years of evolution rather than revolution, and for long-time fans and hardcore fans that is just not enough. What Madden has lacked this generation is the revolutionary mode that sets it apart from its previous generation of titles, which I feel is a big source of the bad reputation for the game.
A revolutionary feature and new identity (or preferably both) is what Madden needs to really please its dissenters. But until that happens, I don't think a lot of the simulation fans will be appeased -- even if those "other" fans are quite content.
Either way, the game continues to see an increase in sales year over year. Perhaps EA feels that its formula of keeping the playbook close to the vest is what will work, and it just might. From EA's most recent earnings report, Madden NFL 11 was among EA's best sellers, and it seems the company is happy with how it has done this year, which does make sense given the much weaker overall market.
If that is the case, we return to the original problem. Determining whether Madden is a success on the current generation of consoles is difficult because different people define the term in different ways.
To EA, the game has been a big-time success. To consumers (as a whole), the game has been successful enough to bring in more and more of us each year. To OSers, I think the answer is a mix of yes and no -- most likely depending on the length of time you have played the series.
So like Cubs fans always say, "there's always next year."
For EA, next year seems to be based on trying to win over the hearts and minds of hardcore simulation fans while simultaneously watching the lines grow longer and longer at midnight releases for its iconic American sports title.