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Posts Tagged ‘Madden’

Wagging Madden’s dog

Since Mrs. Liquid Architecture got me a Kindle for Christmas, I’ve been on a bit of a magazine article bender renaissance.  In case you missed them, be sure to check out this chilling article on Marvin Harrison’s gun rap from GQ of all places, along with their entertaining take on EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, post… whatever you want to call Tiger’s whole thing.

Wired’s always a treat to read and Chris Suellentrop dropped a gem in this month’s issue, exploring how gaming’s most successful franchise is also the best selling off-the-shelf  field simulator for a very specific group of employees – NFL players.  Suellentrop calls on a crystal clear illustration from a Bengals/Broncos game earlier this season to show how The Game (Madden) has come to influence the game.

He does a good job showing how EA’s crown jewel series has shaped this generation of NFL players, but I’m surprised Suellentrop didn’t explore how Madden‘s impacted the game itself, and the fan experience of how NFL football is covered.

Digital 1st down lines make the game more accessible to casual fans

For example, every NFL game (and most college football games) I’ve seen since the lat 90’s make use of a digital line to highlight the distance for a first down.  It’s become so commonplace, hardly anyone even talks about it anymore.  When the “virtual line” tech first debuted way back in 1998, I can even recall people saying how it was “just like in a video game.”  Would those handy little markers even exist without Madden?

Skycam apes Madden to show viewers the QB's options

SkyCam (and it’s other branded cousin, CableCam) more recently revolutionized coverage of the game.  It first debuted in the XFL (just like HeHateMe!), giving viewers a floating vantage point above the quarterback.  For the first time in a real live game, we got to clearly see the passing lanes and defensive set at the line of scrimmage, just like in (say it with me now) Madden!  Of course, the makers of SkyCam deserve a lot of credit for their ingenious system of reels, pulleys and cables that make SkyCam work.  But I have to believe the genesis for their entire operation was Madden’s primary camera, and aping that as close as possible in a living, breathing 3D space.

Of course, long time readers (all 3 of you) will remember yours truly covered how ESPN more overtly incorporated Madden into their NFL highlights show.  So Madden imitates life imitates Madden.

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42Today marked the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic first Major League Baseball game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Throughout the league, MLB teams honored Jackie in their own way, from a dedication at the new Citi Field to scholarship awards and Jumbotron retrospectives.  And every single player in every game today wore #42, with no name on the back of his jersey.

It was a class move that involved the entire league.  And yet, it didn’t carry over to either of the officially licensed baseball franchises,  MLB 2K9 or MLB 09: The Show.

Considering these games (and every major sports game, for that matter) get continuous roster updates and patches throughout the season, is it really too much to ask that this carefully planned, well executed salute make it into the digital version of our favorite pastime?

Sports games have led the way in verisimilitude for quite some time.  Madden brought in authentic rosters and 11-on-11 formations 20 years ago, and still adds a nifty trick or two each year to bring the game just a bit closer to reality.  A few years ago, they linked in-game weather conditions to the actual field conditions in each stadium in realtime.  This year’s NBA Live game features daily adjustments to player performance based on their real-life counterparts’ hot and cold streaks in realtime.81705570SL030_JACKSONVILLE_

For all of EA’s attention to the little things, even very recent editions of Madden missed the occasional detail.  Where were the Gene Upshaw memoriums in this year’s game?  No, their lack of inclusion shouldn’t (and hopefully doesn’t) impact anybody’s enjoyment of the game overall, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect these seemingly minute details to come through in the games.

I really hope Sony’s MLB: The Show team can get around to a pink bat update in time for the Mothers’ Day games.  Maybe they could even tie in a charity component with the Susan G. Komen foundation.  That’s DLC that really adds value to a game, and makes us all feel like we’re a small part of something much bigger.

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Earlier this week, EA held it’s quarterly call for investors, where they recap the previous quarter’s results and share their short- and long-term outlook for the future.

booorrriinngThese calls tend to be packed with juicy details on release dates, new IP,  and what platforms the developers are focusing on for the future.  They are also booorrrrinng.  You’ll likely never hear a developer come onto an investor call.  Sadly, that’s not the type of background investors are interested in.  They’re usually led by an investor relations director, with short presentations from the CEO, CFO and a few others.  Occasionally they take questions at the end, but even those are limited to investors, analysts, and press.

Just take a look at this doozy from this week’s EA call ” …starting with its fiscal 2009 results, the company began to apply a fixed, long-term projected tax rate of 28% to determine its non-GAAP results. Prior to fiscal 2009, the company’s non-GAAP financial results were determined by excluding the specific income tax effects associated with the non-GAAP items and the impact of certain one-time income tax adjustments.” Sexy!!!

irBut there is hope.  Rather than dialing in, I followed along with some of my favorite games journos, who were kind enough to Twitter throughout the entire call, hitting up the highlights in real time.  N’gai Croal, Leigh Alexander, Libe Goad and Stephen Totilo all added context and some much needed character to the preceedings.  While I can’t imagine legal and IR departments ever warming up to the idea, it’d be neat to see a company incorporate a side-by-side Twitter conversation into earnings calls in some official way.

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As nerds our people are wont do this time of year, daily games sites, magazines, and even some members of the mainstream press have spent the last few weeks compiling their “Best Of” lists and presenting their choices for game of the year.

Overall, the industry’s at a very weird place for awards season.  We don’t have one be-all end-all award like the Oscars or Grammys.  Some sites and magazines poll their entire editorial staff, but you still have the occasional lone wolf mainstream reporter that publishes his personal top ten.  And there’s really no way to weigh any of these objectively.

Most sites’ awards lists read like a console specific “must buy” list specific to each console.  That’s certainly useful for consumers, and even some marketers.  But I don’t think it recognizes the people behind the games as well as the Oscars or Grammys.  Of course, Spike TV’s VGA’s have been tinkering with that concept for the last few years, with pretty awful results.

The incomparable EDGE Magazine’s quirky, developer-focused awards hit the right spot, but I really thought the most useful wrap-up for industry types was Leigh Alexander’s Gamasutra piece on the year’s top dissapointments.  Every point really hits home, especially the part about the holiday glut.

Perhaps it’s just the competitive nature of gamers (and by extension, game developers), but I can’t understand why hardly anyone in this industry has the fortitude to release a big game in any part of the year other than the fourth quarter.  I understand a ton of games are bought around the holidays, but isn’t the industry mature enough by now to support at least one other hot season?

I don’t know any hardcore gamer that isn’t sitting on a huge backlog of games from the last 3 months.  I know I’ve still got a few retail discs in the shrink wrap, and a ton of games on WiiWare, LIVE and PSN that I meant to download but never had a chance.  The fact is, these games get short shrift for the simple fact that their publishers saw fit to drop them within a week of Gears 2 or Little Big Planet, simply because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Madden always has the shelves to itself in August, and there are plenty of gamers that don’t pick it up.  Why not give them a reason to go into the store in the summer as well?  Wii Fit launched in May and still managed to do killer numbers for Christmas.  Granted, Hollywood releases its strongest Oscar contenders in one big bunch at the end of the year, but what would July 4 weekend be like without popcorn bockbusters?  The industry is changing.  The audience is changing.  Isn’t it time to change the release schedules as well?

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I’ve wanted to cover the NPD Group report for quite some time, but the monthly reports are pretty matter-of-fact and there are a ton of qualified sites on the blogroll that can deliver that quick update every month.  The report they issued today on the year’s top sellers, however, actually holds a few surprises and raises some interesting questions.

Xbox 360 – No real surprises here.  GTA IV had a really big launch, and with the Xbox 360’s sizable installed base, you knew a lot of those copies went to Xbox owners.  I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say that this year’s Madden probably would’ve been in the #2 spot if the Xbox 360 version were a whole lot better than the one on PlayStation 3.  Keep in mind, last year’s Madden ran at double the framrate on the 360 than on the PS3, and we saw a huge gulf in sales as a result.  Army of Two was critically panned, but still moved enough units to scratch the top 5.  So maybe we’re seeing a more casual gamer migration onto the 360?  They’re the ones that don’t pay attention to reviews, after all.

PlayStation 3 – I love the Metal Gear series as much as anyone else, but even I’m a bit surprised to see just how many PS3 owners scooped up MGS4. Keep in mind, these charts aren’t tracking special editions or bundled SKUs – so ALL those copies that sold as part of the spring 80 gb PS3/Dual Shock 3 package don’t count.  We’re seeing console exclusives go the way of the dodo, but if MGS4 is any indication, they still move hardware and plenty of standalone copies.  Microsoft hasn’t been able to tee up many solid exclusives throughout the 360’s lifespan thus far, and Too Human is getting lackluster reviews all over the enthusiast press.

Wii – Believe it or not, there are a couple of bombshells here, or rather it’s what’s NOT here.  Guitar Hero III is the only third party title to crack the top 5 on the Wii, and this is the first GH game available to many Wii-owning casual gamers.  When a critical darling like Steven Spielberg’s Boom Blox can’t raise a flag on your system, something’s not quite right.

Don’t get me wrong – these are 4 terrific Nintendo-produced games, and every Wii owner should have them.  But when you see them all stacked up like this, it makes it really easy to see where some of the more vocal third party developers are coming from when they complain about the not-quite-level playing field on the Wii.  Couldn’t they space all these titles out a little bit more?  Or maybe cede at least one quarter out of each year to their third party partners?

Wii Play launched a few months after the Wii, and it still outsold AAA titles like Madden on the Wii.  What will all these casual gamers play when Nintendo can’t get another Mario game out?

Another big reveal here is the Wii audience’s appetite for peripherals.  4 out of these 5 come with a controller or accessory in the box, and Wii Fit and Guitar Hero III are both way outside of your average price point for a game.

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Just in case you missed it, ESPN add a cool little feature to this season’s NFL Countdown pregame shows: their in-studio talent interacts with player models from Madden ’09. Brooks Barnes captured all the gritty details in a NY Times piece earlier this week – it’s certainly worth a read.

ESPN has played a big part in Madden’s presentation the last few years (and likely paid handsomely for the privilege), so this isn’t an enormous deal for either party.  And I think I first saw live actors interacting with in-game models in Time Traveler way back in 1991.

What makes the NFL Countdown activation particularly exciting is that ESPN benefits from the experiment much, much more than EA.  This may be the only franchise in all of gaming that I can say, without a doubt, stands totally on its own, and gives an established force in media like ESPN a leg-up by simply sharing airspace.

The fact is, the NFL Countdown is already full of annual Madden buyers.  I think its a safe bet that anyone who tunes in and HASN’T bought the game in the last few years is kind of a last cause for EA.  But ESPN may be able to grab some eyeballs, and most importantly stop gamers from switching on their console for a bit, by throwing some of the familiar Madden ballers on the screen to interact with Berman, Keyshawn and Ditka.

Personally, I hope it works out for all involved.  After all, how cool would it be to see a virtual Zeterburg deke out Barry Melrose  during the hockey season?

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On Monday night, hordes of dedicated fans lined up outside their local Gamestops, Best Buys, and Wal-Marts to get their hands on Madden ’09, the 20th installment of EA’s powerhouse franchise.  This year’s version shipped on the 360, PS3, PSP, and weirdly enough, the PS2 and Nintendo DS.

I always get a chuckle out of how many systems get a visit from the Madden fairy each year.  I can understand releasing on PS2 – there are still plenty of active users, and EA just can’t turn their back on an installed base of that size.  But the DS? Who the hell plays Madden on the DS?  The same people that made Nintendogs and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise million sellers?  But I digress.

This year’s game is a big step up, and they’ve finally figured out how to take advantage of the PS3 and 360 equally.  Most importantly (at least for yours truly), the new Madden adjusts difficulty to each player’s Madden IQ, determined through a few in-game tests and then constantly adjusted after each match you play.

EA got some mileage out of the 20th anniversary, mostly in the mainstream press. It felt a little more subdued among dedicated gaming blogs, though.  Joystiq’s Kevin Kelly tried to manage a smile at the big Rose Bowl launch event, Kotaku covered a smaller, more low-key local event, and Deadspin’s correspondent, um…  basically had the worst time imaginable.  All in all, the launch just didn’t have that “Christmas morning” feel that we’ve had in past years.  In fact, it’s the first time in over a decade that I didn’t know anyobody that took Tuesday off work.

Make no mistake – Madden ’09 will still be one of the top 3 sellers this year.  It’s the most enduring franchise in gaming, and to EA’s credit, this year’s game really pushes the series forward.  But I think we’ve seen so many megawatt launches over the last year (Metal Gear Solid 4, Halo 3, Mario Kart Wii, Smash Bros. Brawl) that it’s tough to get too excited about one more.

We’ve come to normalize and even expect pretty frequent AAA releases.  As a fan and avid gamer, that’s great news.  We’re consistently seeing good games release throughout the year.  As a marketer, is a bit daunting.  Clearly, we’re all going to have to raise the bar.

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