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Editorial | In Defense of the Madden Franchise

The following editorial is the first in a series of articles based on popular, long-running video game franchises that also seem to draw a lot of negative attention and undeserved “hate” from the gaming community.

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We chose to begin this feature with EA Sports’ Madden series, because it seems to be one of the most popular (and consistent) targets for vocal groups of nay-saying, self-defined “hardcore” players.

OverHated Games - Madden Logo

There is no other way to put it; in many past debates about video games among friends and fellow game-loving peers, the fact that I enjoy the Madden series always seems to raise questions about my status as some kind of serious, “hardcore” gamer with respectable taste – just as my apathy for Guinness draws endless ire from hipster beer snobs with stupid facial hair.

OverHated Games - Madden 25 Years

I find this pretty ironic, almost like the self-identified “nerds” want to bully the “jocks” that enjoy such senseless, capitalistic drivel as video games based on “playing sportsball.” Over the past decade or so I have probably logged more hours of solid playing time among the various Madden games than countless titles that I might say were “better” or more “sophisticated.”

Nothing about my eclectic gaming tastes can deny that I have invested hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours to a franchise that so many of my fellows absolutely love to hate.

Granted, I have friends that play Madden – even some that are intensely dedicated to the game, even if they don’t own the most recent version. I observe a lot of Madden fans playing aged versions of the game – more than you might assume.

OverHated Games - Madden 94

Sure, I admit that I personally enjoy the game, but I can also set aside that “bias” to address some of the hate with a voice of reason. I reviewed many of the past Madden games, so taking an objective perspective and exploring the countless tweaks and features over several seasons actually revealed plenty of flops and shenanigans. All that time with the series also debunked its most annoyingly popular critique – “Madden is the same every year,” or the second-most annoying, “The new Madden is just a roster update.”

If you actually believe that the only difference between any of the Madden games from one year to the next is an updated roster, you are not just factually wrong, you’re an idiot without a clue about how big business works.

OverHated Games - John Madden

Whether or not EA and EA Sports are the evil corporate dickbags people like to claim is a different argument, but also relevant: these are huge companies that ideally would like to make huge profits. It would only be in its best interest for EA Sports to demand a bit more from a milking cow like Madden. 

There have been some releases with fewer obvious differences (09 & 11 come to mind), but the same thing can be said about so many video game franchises – it’s unfair to use as the basis of all the hate against Madden. Not to roast a sacred cow, but I find it harder to spot the mechanical differences between some of the Mario Kart games.

If you want to see indisputable progress between releases, skip just one or two seasons of Madden, and then play a quick game in both an older and newer version. They won’t feel or look the same, and might not even have the same features or game modes to play – actually, the rosters will be up-to-date, because EA Sports has offered current roster updates in previous versions of Madden for several years now, so let’s officially kill off that conversation.

OverHated Games - QB Vision

Sometimes the major changes were actually great (Hit Stick, Connected Careers), sometimes they definitely weren’t (Ultimate Team, Kinect voice commands). Perhaps the most botched season of all was when Madden 06 launched alongside the Xbox 360 without any commentary, no Franchise Mode, and sporting that stupid “QB Vision” cone. A lot of progress happened between that game and the most recent installment, Madden 15, which was actually quite close to my idea of the “perfect Madden game.”

The tweaks to the gameplay last season were intuitive and made the simulation feel more accurate without taking away from accessibility. I may not have been the biggest fan of the menu system, and I still think “Ultimate Team” is one of the lamest modes in any Madden…but the on-field gameplay was the strongest in the series for the past decade, and the production values stepped up quite a bit on PS4 & Xbox One.

OverHated Games - Madden

Look, I can understand not liking Madden because you don’t like the NFL, or you don’t like football, or simulation sports video games, or sports in general. Those who don’t care for the “sportsball” naturally won’t care for video games depicting them.

Just don’t ever try to blame it on “EA Sports making the same Madden as last year.” At that point, I would firmly call bullshit before asking when you last touched a Madden game.