On August 10th at midnight, Madden NFL 2011, the newest edition of the Madden series, was released to the public in North America.
When the Madden series began in 1988, it did not even include NFL teams or the names of NFL players.
Now, the game is a phenomenon, with over 85 million copies sold since the series' inception. Electronic Arts has made over $3 billion in sales from the series alone.
The Madden NFL series is undoubtedly a cash cow for EA. But is it a good thing for the sport of football?
The answer is a resounding yes.
The first reason that the video game has a positive impact on football is the perfectly timed release date.
The game is always released early in August, just following the Hall of Fame game, the start of the NFL preseason.
August is a transition month for American sports. Baseball is in midseason, but beginning to gear up for the stretch run. Theoretically, it is the final month of the year where "America's Pastime" has sole control of the country's sports consciousness.
Preseason football is not exactly incredibly exciting, from a quality of play standpoint. The outcome is meaningless, and the games are played mainly with backups.
Yet, the most recent Hall of Fame game between the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals drew the highest television ratings for an NFL preseason game in six years. The ratings also blew away a Yankees-Red Sox game on ESPN that night.
Apparently, football is taking over much sooner than ever before.
Madden's August release, combined with the start of preseason, has become the unofficial start of football season. The hoopla of pre-order deals, endless marketing, and a barrage of press in newspapers and magazines helps bring football to the forefront of the sports world weeks before the actual regular season begins.
The Madden series has also entered the national pop culture consciousness.
The so-called "Madden Curse" has gone from fantasy football curiosity to accepted albatross. The respected TIME Magazine even ran a story on the curse and analyzed its legitimacy.
2010 cover player Larry Fitzgerald apparently spent the season terrified that he would be the next victim, after watching cover-mate Troy Polamalu get injured in the first game of the season.
Ironically, he was the first player in years to not experience an injury or significant drop-off in production in the season following being placed on the cover. Still, fears of the curse linger within fanbases.
The release of Madden player ratings has turned into an anticipated day for football fans as well. T.J. Houshmandzadeh famously boycotted the 2010 version of the game because he was unhappy with his 91 rating.
The culture of professional Madden competition was even turned into a reality television show aired by ESPN, called Madden Nation.
Despite the ridiculousness of some of these examples, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Madden injects the game of football further into the national media environment, and often during periods of the calendar year when professional football is not actually being played.
However, the biggest reason why the Madden series is a boon to football is also the most obvious reason.
The games themselves are fantastic.
If Electronic Arts continuously released mediocre football simulations, the series would be a poor reflection on the sport and fail to attract converts to football.
Instead, according the critic-compilation website Metacritic, no Madden game on a major home console over the last five years has received a lower total score than a 74.
And while it is impossible to tell whether Madden has turned some gamers into football fans, considering the massive sales figures, it seems likely.
It is telling that the 2010 edition reached 6.18 million copies sold, and that was considered disappointing.
In addition, research from Neilsen has found that NFL games have 44 percent higher ratings amongst video game households compared to non-video game households
The high sales of Madden are likely feeding America's addiction with the NFL.
The Madden series has aided the sport of football in becoming a pop culture phenomenon, and draws more attention to the sport.
A positive impact? No question.
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