It’s a little past midnight on a Sunday and I’m transfixed by my computer, watching a YouTube video of two complete strangers playing a game that will not come out until late August. It’s a ritual I take part in every year, as the post-E3 Madden NFL video explosion is the Thanksgiving to the release of Madden NFL’s Christmas Day. Surprisingly, I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot. The Madden NFL forum at Operation Sports, a sports-gaming website and messageboard where I found these videos, currently has almost 200 people viewing it.
I look at the clock. It’s 12:15 AM now.
Despite my yearly purchase of Madden NFL, I still feel compelled to watch the videos. I generally know what I’m getting with every year’s purchase, but that doesn’t stop me from spending almost as many hours interacting with Madden outside of playing the game as I do playing it. Actually, my Madden play cycle mirrors the actual NFL season. Tons of planning and scheming, followed by short bursts of action, then a long period of inaction at the end of the NFL season. If you calculate the total time I spend involved in the universe of Madden NFL, it would be a staggering number, with a small amount of that time being spent on the field.
Again, I’m not alone. There are now 3 E3 video threads on OperationSports, with an average of almost 5,000 views per day between them since the first set of videos went up on June 3rd.
That’s one view roughly every 20 seconds.
And that’s just three threads on one board in one corner of the internet.
Another video down, this one 44 minutes of Patriots-Giants footage that resembles the Blair Witch Project.
It’s 1:30. Time to go to sleep.
There are Madden fan sites everywhere, so many that EA decided a few years ago to institute a community-outreach program titled “Game Changers,” where selected members of the community are chosen to be emissaries for Madden fans, interacting with developers, and getting exclusive access to the game. It’s a win-win for both EA and the community members, as they are able to filter information through these “Game Changers” that can then interact with fans using their own words (read: not representing EA). It’s smart PR, and the gamers who want to have the prestige of being in this exclusive club are more than willing to provide users with information including these videos that I’m watching now.
There are about 25 hours of video available to watch right now, and many users (including me), have seen a great deal of the video available, with some even having seen all 25 hours, 10 minutes at a time. Think about what it would take for EA themselves to release that much video. The time and the bandwidth necessary would be untenable for pretty much any one company to handle, but by crowd-sourcing their coverage, EA Sports has created a massive marketing machine, with the hardest of the hardcore at the forefront of it.
Still, it’s not enough. It’s Monday night, and my house is dark and quiet, except for my office, where I have my headphones on, taking in the latest videos from the day.
I look at the clock. 2:15 AM. Guess it’s Tuesday morning at this point. Go to bed.
The funny thing about Madden NFL is that it’s simultaneously one of the most popular franchises in gaming, but also the most divisive, even among its own fans. I have been a member of OperationSports for nearly 10 years, and watching the community grow to what it is now has been amazing. However, there has been a certain negativity that has spread throughout the threads, and it’s a combination of two different problems that extend from the same incident.
In 2004, 2K Sports released their final licensed NFL game, NFL 2K5. After the 04-05 season, EA and the NFL agreed on an exclusive license agreement that would effectively freeze 2K Sports out of the football gaming business altogether. Understandably, many gamers were upset, as their choice as consumers was suddenly (and some would say unfairly) taken away by the company perceived to be the schoolyard bully when it came to sports gaming. This resentment has festered for a while, and it has only grown as Madden’s profile as a game has grown.
The second problem is one that’s more relevant to gaming at large. Sports games, like many other games, suffers from the problem of the uncanny valley. As the visual fidelity of the games has advanced to the point where Madden NFL (like other sports games MLB The Show and NBA 2K) has implemented camera placement that is accurate to TV, meaning that the broadcast angles are exactly the same as what you’d see on CBS, FOX, ESPN, or NBC. This year, they implemented Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, and, in what is the smallest of small details, ensured that each of their rendered images appears in the correct place both in the stadium and in their broadcast booth. At this point, the game of Madden NFL could fool a casual passerby into thinking it was a real game. Upon closer inspection, however, the game has some problems with player interaction and movement, resulting in a game that looks real but doesn’t move real.
EA has attempted to mitigate some of that problem this year by introducing a physics-based collision system into the game, but time will tell if the legions of us that stay up late and obsess over this series will be fooled by it.
Well, there’s one way to find out.
Watch more videos.