The evolution of sports video games

I was 11 years old when the original “John Madden Football” video game was released.
I can remember sitting around the game console with several of my friends as we marvelled at the single greatest game we had ever seen.
What wasn’t to love? It was NFL football and we had control of our favourite players of the day. Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Randall Cunningham—they were all there.
We spent countless hours playing that game until my buddy, Dave, discovered that it was impossible to stop Sanders if you called a sweep to the right.
It didn’t matter what defence you used to try and stop him, the result was always the same—six points Lions.
Despite the frustration of not being able to stop Dave and his annoying sweep right play, my friends and I were hooked. And apparently we weren’t the only ones.
“Madden” has grown into one of the most popular and profitable video game franchises of all time. Every year, fans circle the game’s release date on the calendar and wait with bated breath to see what improvements the designers have implemented.
This year’s edition marks the 17th installment of the game and based on early sales figures, it could be the most popular version to date.
According to the Orlando Business Journal, two million copies of the game flew off the shelves during its first week on the market. Those sales figures translate into roughly $100 million of profit for the game’s makers—Electronic Arts.
One hundred million dollars? In a week? Good grief.
To put those numbers into perspective, Mark Wahlberg’s latest movie, “Invincible,” was tops at the box office the week before last and grossed $17 million—more than five times less than “Madden.”
The overall numbers for the “Madden” franchise are even more staggering. According to MSNBC, 53 million copies of the game have been sold since its debut in 1989.
And while it’s impossible to put an exact dollar figure on those sales, the ballpark consensus on the Internet is that the number is somewhere in the billions.
That’s billions—with a “b.”
So with all the hype surrounding this year’s release, and its staggering first week sales, I decided to check it out.
Now it’s important to note that the last copy of “Madden” I owned was back in 1997. I got it as a Christmas present from my parents. And let me tell you, things have changed since I last played the game.
First of all, the designers at EA are producing the games on DVDs as opposed to CDs these days (in what I’m assuming is a move designed to produce better quality games).
But this is a problem for those of us without DVD drives on their home computers.
A quick trip to the store later and a half-hour spent installing my new drive (I’m not very quick with the computers), I was good to go.
My first impression: the detail in the game is practically overwhelming. I actually recognized some of the players in the game based solely on their looks.
Graphics certainly have come a long way from the days of generic, blocky figures moving around your screen.
The game itself also is incredibly detailed. These days, you can control everything from the obvious—play-calling, quarterback, running back—to the not-so-obvious—defensive alignments, blocking schemes, and coverages.
I’ve owned this game for a week now and it’s slowly taking over my life. It’s gotten to the point where last week I had a dream I was coach of the Chicago Bears and we were playing the New England Patriots.
Faced with a third-and-six situation on defence, I had to decide whether to stack the line of scrimmage to stop Corey Dillon from running for the first down or drop back into a zone to try and take away the short pass.
Yep, I officially have a problem—I’m dreaming about a video game.
The dream got me to thinking though about how this video game, and other modern sports games, are affecting the average fan. The games have grown so realistic they are now learning tools.
If you’d asked me 15 years ago what the difference between a “46 defence” and a “dime defence” was, I’d have stared at you blankly.
Not so anymore.
There is an entire generation of kids who are growing up with an incredible knowledge of the complexities and intricacies of sports based solely on playing the video game.
In fact, I doubt it’ll be very long until we hear a Super Bowl-winning coach announce at the post-game celebrations that the “Madden” video game was instrumental in his coaching development as a youngster.
So for all you kids out there, next time Mom or Dad yells at you for playing too much “Madden,” just tell them that you’re practising for your future career as a multi-million dollar NFL head coach.
You never know, it might even be true.

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