Getting Hit By The Madden Hype Machine

Operation SportsCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2008

Somewhere, deep inside EA's corporate headquarters, marketing executives have my picture framed on the wall. Or at least I think they do, as it seems every advertising decision designed to fuel the Madden hype machine targets my individual weaknesses. It's like they ask, "What will Roark fall for next?" and then stick that on the front of the box.

You see, each year since 2005, I've sworn I wouldn't get the new Madden. After all, I was still enjoying the great NFL 2K5, and was going to cast my vote against license exclusivity by withholding a purchase of EA's football juggernaut. However, each year since 2005, Madden's found its way into my home and onto my TV. Like my weaknesses for a good milkshake or piece of Batman memorabilia, I can't seem to avoid the spell a virtual John Madden casts.

Part of it is the updated rosters. There's something about getting "official" rosters that trumps the homebrew versions needed to keep 2K5 fresh. I like seeing the new draftees, complete with player photos and correct (usually) body types and playing styles, or checking out how traded players look in their new uniforms.

Also, I am a sucker for the list of new features, despite the legendary practice of removing them temporarily. Superstar mode? Ate it up the first year. The weapon system? I liked the clean and clear way to view mismatches -- despite the effects on gameplay. Even the radio guy was somewhat unique upon first playthrough. I guess I like trying new things, and when new features are listed as a number -- like this year's 85 -- I feel I must try them all. It's like a checklist and I don't want to miss one.

Friends have also convinced me to buy the game in the past. Last year, a friend (finally) got an Xbox 360. His first game, of course, was Madden 08, so I bought it so we could someday play online. He forgot to mention that he didn't have Live, or even broadband Internet in his new house.

I think most of all though, it's the "shiny new car" aspect of each new Madden that makes me buy in: the new cover athlete, the special editions, new modes, slick graphics. I get swept up by following coverage on Operation Sports, viewing trailers or full games, and playing the demo. Each of these feeds my appetite for a new football game, and the machine rolls right over me as I lap up each piece of information. And then, annually, like a recovering addict, I fall back into the old routine, until I am mindlessly standing at the video game counter with Madden in-hand. And, like so many vices, it's consistently left me feeling empty and disappointed.

Back in the fall of 2005, I grabbed Madden 06 for my new Xbox 360. It was my first sports game on the new console, and I couldn't wait to see virtual football in high definition. It also had my favorite player on the cover, so it couldn't be bad, right? Like the 2005 Eagles season, the game was a disaster. It was like an extended tech demo -- it impressed friends who came over, but had little replay value, especially outside of the multi-season Franchise mode.

Madden 07 was a similar negative experience; however, last year was the worst, as I had high hopes for an improved experience. For the first time, I went to the store on launch day; I even contemplated picking it up at midnight, which was extra crazy considering only months before I had (once again) sworn off Madden for good. After throwing and picking a combined nine interceptions in one half, I had finally had enough. This was it, the final time, never again.

Yet, here we are again, in the midst of full-speed, all-out Madden hype: countdown clocks, Broadway Brett trailers, feature lists, and forum buzz. That exec must have looked at my picture when he pushed for improved presentation, adaptable AI, improved graphics -- all things sure to make me cave in once again. Throw in the special, ultra-premium-20th-anniversary-new-and-improved-collector's edition -- "Now with NFL Head Coach!" -- and my wallet hand is trembling.

However, thus far cooler heads have prevailed. I haven't pre-ordered it. And I have no plans to get it this week or next. After all, I've been burned enough by the unexpected glitches, missing features, and half-finished presentations. The free homemade rosters for 2K5 look pretty good this time out, and none of my friends are pressuring me this year.

So, to Mr. Executive, I say "tear down my picture!" I've learned my lesson (x3). Your gimmicks won't do it this time.

Well, until more impressions start rolling in from the community; followed by a phone call from my Internet-less friend...