With apologies to Marc Antony, I come here not to bury Madden NFL and Call of Duty, but to praise them. There’s no middle ground with these two series. Gamers love them or hate them. Do they deserve this hatred?
Sure, both owe a large portion of their success to leading genres that 18-34 year old males love dearly. Is it really fair to hold that against them? It’s not as if the money used on them came from the budget of that Beyond Good & Evil sequel you’ve been longing for.
Let’s deal with the Madden NFL stuff first. Much of the hate stems from the method EA used to get the exclusive license. Challenged by the now legendary NFL 2K5, EA opened up its wallet and made the pro football license exclusive. They won the battle by outspending their rival, not outperforming them. Monopolies aren’t good, I agree.
Still, some gamers have carried the bloody corpse of NFL 2K5 onto the message boards of every Madden review since 2005. People seem to have forgotten this, but 2K Sports put out another football game. All Pro Football 2K8 brought Hall of Fame players onto the field, but they couldn’t save the dated graphics and gameplay. This eternal groundswell of support for NFL 2K5 didn’t amount to sales, and there was no All Pro 2K9, or 10, or ever again.
One of the main reasons NFL 2K5 sold so well was a price point of just $20. Could it have competed with Madden at $60? We’ll never know. It was my hope that other publishers would try the $20 model. 2K Sports didn’t even bother to keep it up. EA didn’t block them anywhere else, and I’d happily take a $40 discount on next year’s WWE game.
Sports fans that know this history are waiting for 2K Sports to ride in and save the day. The biggest argument against that happening is the current state of its games.
MLB 2K has been an embarrassment. Bleeding money and respect, the series limped off the field like the Chicago Cubs at the end of September. 2K execs blame the baseball license, but Sony is doing just fine with its MLB: The Show games. If you build it, and it doesn’t include game breaking glitches, they will come.
NHL 2K went away because it wasn’t good enough to compete with EA’s hockey games. Again, there’s an argument that the sport isn’t popular enough to sustain the second best game on the market. That’s especially true if you’re in such a distant second you can’t see the design team in first.
2K’s crown jewel is the NBA 2K series. The publisher is tearing that down pretty effectively right now. So Madden’s critics argue 2K Sports would best EA after not making a football game in seven years? I’d sooner bet on the Cleveland Browns to win the 2015 Super Bowl.
I believe consumers would support a non-licensed football game if it was well done. Sadly, no one has produced a game that tests this theory. Efforts such as Backbreaker and Blitz: The League wouldn’t have sold if Barry Sanders personally delivered them to players’ homes. Madden NFL 25 may be only an incremental upgrade over Madden NFL 13. But comparing it to any recent competitor is comparing the New England Patriots to the winless 2008 Detroit Lions.
Complaints about Call of Duty are similar to the ones surrounding Madden NFL. Critics call it the same game annually, with only incremental upgrades. But this assumes all wholesale changes are positive. One of the things I didn’t like about Call of Duty: Ghosts was its changes to the Pick 10 loadout system. It was nearly perfect the way it was before, and many reviewers agree. This is one of several reasons Ghosts sold less than Black Ops 2. This was the ideal place for an incremental upgrade.
Still, I ended up giving Ghosts a B. Yes, its story is more ludicrous than normal and Riley the dog is its most memorable character. I am having a blast with its multiplayer and Extinction mode is a fun addition. Those are the things that really matter to me.
You know who would love an incremental upgrade? Battlefield 4 players. They’re being forced to deal with a game worse than its predecessor in the most basic ways. Little things like being able to finish games, not having their computers locked up or not taking damage from the same bullet twice have been taken for granted. In fairness, they should be. These are all things your military shooter should do without a problem.
But if you looked at the message boards, you would think it it is COD that has these issues. I’m not seeing folks blast the “braindead” Battlefield players on stories that have nothing to do with the game.
I will not pretend that Call of Duty is flawless. But it gets to the shelves every year. The recent failures of everyone else in the shooter genre remind us that’s an accomplishment. Sure, Ghosts didn’t put my jaw on the floor. Battlefield 4 has, and not in a good way.
I’m in the business of critique. Thus, I’m aware releasing a game that doesn’t suck on a regular schedule shouldn’t be the standard of excellence. But the saying “The first part of success is showing up” is especially true in video games. Madden’s competitors stopped showing up. COD’s biggest competitor really shouldn’t have shown up this year. Battlefield’s problems could have been fixed with more time, but EA was deathly afraid of ceding more market share to Activision. In their haste, they may have lost it permanently. There’s a certain irony that EA is on opposite sides of these equations.
Madden NFL has run every other competitor off the field. COD is dangerously close to doing the same. An objective look at the facts yields only one conclusion. They have earned their obscene sales numbers by beating their competition annually. You might not like how they got there. You may wish they didn’t play it so safe. But you can’t deny they’re the best at what they do.