Monday, March 15, 2010

The Most Important Games of the Decade - 4


ESPN NFL 2K5
August 2004

Q: “What football game should I get, bro?”
A: “Madden”

For over 20 years, that conversation has been the same. For the next 20 years, it will probably remain the same. Sure, there was the first Madden year in the PlayStation 1 era where Madden '96 pulled back (decided too late to do 3D polygons instead of sprites and couldn't ship on time) and let NFL Gameday get a foothold, but Madden returned with a vengeance, running all over the playing field like Bo Jackson in the first good football videogame.

Yet in the early 2000s, Visual Concepts (the team that fumbled Madden '96) was making a pretty damn good football game on their own, the 2K series. Launching on the Dreamcast when EA snubbed the console, it was a huge graphical leap forward to the modern gaming era. I remember being in a Toys R’Us watching several people in line get confused over the game they were missing watching a 2K demo.

So when 2K5 rolled around, the Dreamcast was out of the picture, and Visual Concepts was beginning to get better critical praise than Madden on same system releases. And, in a bold move, were only charging $20, $30 cheaper than Madden and out a few weeks earlier. Could this game be the one to sway gamers and end Madden’s decade long dynasty? Nope, it was the game that made both the NFL and EA concerned enough (NFL worried about brand being cheapened, EA worried about a solid competitor) to forge and exclusive deal where EA alone got the videogame rights to the NFL franchise, cementing its juggernaut role in the sports market. This caused 2K to respond and get almost-exclusive rights for Major League Baseball games, for whatever that was worth…

Madden continues to be a top selling game each year, and helped solidify EA’s dominance in the sports game market, and help slam the door in the face of future competitors down the road. It would be an expensive proposition to create a football game engine to compete with Madden knowing you won’t have the NFL license available. Whenever the contract runs out in the future, EA will always have an advantage on actually being ready with a game engine to make an NFL game, creating a partnership now as linked as McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

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