An Ode to Madden NFL: The Video Game Series That Changed How We Play Sports Forever

Throughout the annals of time, there have been video games that have changed the course of the industry forever.

Pong and Tetris opened the eyes of developers as to what was possible in this exciting new world, while Mario Kart was a shining example of the demand for – and love of – multiplayer gaming.

Resident Evil proved that you could replicate cinema screen scares in gaming, while Metal Gear Solid was an iconic release that redefined first-person shooter titles… for the better.

As far as sports games are concerned, designers found it very difficult to reimagine the high-octane world of sport on a console initially, but that all changed with the release of the Madden franchise.

In the early days, it was known as John Madden Football and made the most of what early ‘consoles’ such as the Commodore and the Amiga could offer.

But as the years went by and technology improved, so too did the capabilities for the series – now rebranded Madden NFL, and today it has been suggested that NFL coaches, staff and players use the database and the playbook of the EA Sports franchise in the real world, such is its power and attention to detail.

So how did this game-changing franchise come about in the first place, and what was its process to become one of the most realistic simulations in sports gaming today?

If It’s In the Game…

John Madden is a Hall of Fame football coach and broadcaster, and his life could have been much different had he not suffered a career-ending knee injury in his rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles.

A lover of the game, Madden was determined to stay in football and so turned his hand to coaching – first at college teams and then in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Starting out as a linebacker coach, he soon worked his way through the ranks to the position of head coach and by 1977 he had won the Super Bowl with the Raiders.

He retired from coaching in 1979 and turned his hand to matchday commentary, before an intriguing offer to lend his name to this exciting new development called video gaming came along.

John being John, he didn’t want the game to be purely about entertainment – he saw the Madden franchise as being a development tool for the pro game, a place where plays could be tested and strategies refined. It was that demand for professionalism that meant the original iteration – released in 1988 for the popular Apple II PC – took four years to reach completion.

The series got its first console release in 1990 on the Sega MegaDrive (known as the Genesis in the US) and the SNES, and sales continued to increase to the point that Madden became a must-buy game by the mid-90s.

EA Sports took development in-house for 1997’s release, and the franchise has never looked back. Today, it features 10 million unique lines of code and has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, and EA’s ‘if it’s in the game, it’s in the game’ tagline is never better used than in reference to Madden, which has been lovingly curated by its name-bearer for more than three decades.

Receiving critical acclaim to go with its huge sales, the 2006 edition of Madden has featured inside the top-10 of the greatest sports games of all time, while the 2003 iteration has been awarded a MetaCritic rating of 95 out of 100.

The 2022 edition will feature Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes on the front cover, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs teams respectively are the two favorites in the Super Bowl LVI American football odds. One of those quarterbacks will be celebrating just as Madden fans are rejoicing with the launch of the latest addition to the game’s family.

Some video games disappear without a trace, whereas others enjoy a legacy that lasts a lifetime. Madden is well and truly in that latter category, and for good reason.

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