Thanks to fans and foes


This is one of the most important weeks of the year in

videogaming. Next Monday night, thousands of men across the country will wait

for midnight to arrive so that they could purchase the newest edition of

Electronic Arts' Madden NFL football game before anyone else.

In its 20 years of existence, Madden has caused millions of

men to ignore their spouses for weeks at a stretch, been the subject of massive

drunken bets and consumed countless millions of hours of effort. It's the most

popular videogame in the United States by far.

There are websites devoted to mastering the selection of

plays, facilitating bets for cash between strangers and online forums where

players exchange their thoughts and tips. One could easily spend $500 or more

for online Madden schools.

And, in years past, I've been an avid consumer of the Madden

game. I've built playbooks, practiced the art of the short screen and taken the

sport's worst franchises to Super Bowl glory.

I've lived through the good times (Madden 2005) and the bad

(the unusable and ill-fated passing cone scheme of Madden 2006). I've stuck

with the franchise, shelling out $50 or $60 bucks every August like clockwork.

I've even been in the motley crew of devotees who waited

patiently in front of Gamestop in order to purchase the game at midnight and

then stayed awake until dawn playing it over and over again.

But not this year. For the first time in a decade, I'm

taking a break from Madden.

For years and years, the arrival of a new Madden game has

been accompanied by a massive wave of hyperbole promising some new drastic

innovation in gameplay. And the gaming press, year after year, goes along with

the hype campaign and touts this year's game as being the best ever.

And, up until this year, I bought into it, realizing one sad

fact: I've been buying the same videogame, over and over, since 2003. If, in

fact, you were to place Madden NFL 2003 side-by-side with Madden NFL 11, the

biggest difference would be in the graphics. The core gameplay is pretty much

the same.

The in-game advertising is gaudier and more omnipresent than

ever. Paying $60 to hear an announcer remind me every few minutes that

"tonight's game is brought to you by Snickers" is not necessarily my idea of


In a lot of ways, the series has regressed in the past few

years. It's harder to play a friend online; the menus have become clunkier and

more difficult to navigate' and the franchise mode, where the devoted spend

hundreds of hours building the perfect team, has been plagued by game-killing


After playing this year's demo of Madden, it feels almost

exactly like last year's. Both have the same animations, the same canned

commentary and the same feel. There's no innovation, aside from a streamlined

playcalling process that most veteran players will turn off immediately.

And John Madden himself has long been gone from providing

commentary on the game; his only contribution to it is lending his name and

collecting the royalties. The new batch of commentators serves to annoy the

player more than anything else.

The failure of the Madden series is emblematic of the

problems and pressures facing the entire gaming industry, which is in somewhat

of a slump, having failed to find the kind of massively deep and successful

games of the mid-1990s. It's interesting, but aggravating, that having better

hardware in the Xbox360 and the PlayStation 3 hasn't necessarily translated

into having better games.

It's not just with Madden; other game developers have failed

again and again in matching the fun level that the PS2 and the original Xbox

generated. The success of the Wii comes from adopting the same tactics (and

pretty much the same hardware) of the games that were popular five and six

years ago.

Combine all of that with a slumping economy, the fact that

many software development businesses have gone bankrupt or been gobbled up by

bigger fish and the result is the stagnant and drearily predictable video game


So I understand why game retailers are excited about the new

football game — it's one of the few games that generate pre-release

excitement and buzz — but there's ample reason to pass on this year's

model of Madden.


Recommended for you