Every August, without exception, a new “Madden” video game arrives. It’s been this way for over 20 years.
But it almost wasn’t.
“Making football into a franchise coming out every year was something nobody wanted,” Electronic Arts co-founder and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers told game website Polygon in a recent interview. At the time — the late 1980s — the concept of making sports games into sequelized franchises was unheard of.
“Everybody thought it was impossible. If you turn back time, there was zero per cent of people who were market researchable who thought there should be a second ‘John Madden Football,'” Gordon said.
EA was only convinced to annualize “Madden” by a fantasy football game, played on paper cards, named “Strat-O-Matic.”
“These guys would stay up all night and open their new [Strat-O-Matic] cards. We looked at each other and said, it’s a new season, there’s new players and new rules. We’d buy it. And so we built it,” Gordon explained to Polygon.
That decision flew in the face of market research, which not only told EA that branding the game with John Madden’s name wasn’t worthwhile, but that making the game into an annual franchise with regular sequels wouldn’t work. “All the market research said, no, you can’t sequel sports games. The retailers like Toys ‘R Us said, ‘We won’t even buy it from you. All you’re going to do is obsolete our old game.’ They said, ‘What, you’re going to make us return this stuff? It’s selling fine.'”
Of course we all know how that story ended: The annual release of “Madden” is an event both for dedicated game players and more casual folks as well. “Madden,” alongside “FIFA,” is one of EA’s crown jewels, one of its most important franchises, and assuredly EA’s most well-known franchise here in the United States.
“Madden 16” — the next game in the franchise — arrives, as usual, this August for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. And yes, there will be another next year.