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Video Game: Madden NFL
aka: John Madden Football

The definitive football franchise. The game that brought video football into the 21st century.

John Madden Football, later shortened to simply Madden NFL, is the namesake of announcing wunderkind John Madden, an American Football game based on the National Football League that has, since 1988, been released annually, and always falls among the top sellers of gaming each year. It's praised for its realistic level of play, to the point where the latest edition is frequently used to predict the outcome of big games up to and including the Super Bowl.

Still, the franchise has some detractors (mainly because, by this point, they've run out of things to add, so the latest sequels are more like roster updates). The most notable incident happened in 2005, when it was announced that the Madden games would be the only football games allowed to use current NFL players and teams for (at least) the next few years. While many people blamed EA for buying out the license because they couldn't handle competition, the truth is that the NFL was going to give one franchise or the other exclusivity; the venerable Madden franchise simply won the bidding war.

Also of note is the Madden Curse, which has felled some of the great football players of the last decade, and is famous enough to have its own page on this wiki.

These games contain examples of:

  • Announcer Chatter: Well, it is named for one.
  • Artifact Title: John Madden no longer appears on the cover, nor does he do the in-game commentary. In 13, however, he returns as an Ink-Suit Actor as the coach of the Canton Greats all-star team.
  • Artificial Stupidity: There's been good amount over the history of the franchise. A few particular examples:
    • The QB Kneel (the "Victory Formation") has two running backs stand next to the QB so that in the event he fumbles, they can quickly dive on the ball and retain possession. However, the AI gives these guys blocking assignments, so that when the ball is snapped, they quickly run to the sides to block edge rushers. That's right: On a play where their entire role is to stand still, the AI still goofs it up.
    • In the earlier half of the decade, that year's Madden's Franchise Mode would hold on to players like they were made of diamond-encrusted gold, and free agency would mean slim pickings all around. They apparently overcompensated in the latter half because in Madden 2007's Franchise Mode, there exists a phenomenon that can only be called "Roster Musical Chairs".
      • Signing free agents in Franchise Mode is chock full of AI stupidity as well. For example, you are given the option to re-sign soon-to-be free agents from your own team before they hit full fledged free agency. One option for keeping them is to use the "Franchise Tag," which prevents the player from reaching free agency by forcing a 1-year, fully guaranteed contract onto him (which is equal to the average salary of the top 5 players at that position or 120% of the player's previous years salary, whichever is higher.) It is actually possible to get the player to agree to a 1 year contract for significantly less money than the Franchise Tag would be worth, something a player worth tagging in real life would NEVER agree to. (They would much rather have the fully guaranteed franchise tag contract or the massive amount of guaranteed money they'd get for signing a long-term deal with a new team.)
    • The newspaper feature present from 05 to 08 had predictions for the next game. However, who is picked to win seemed to be pretty much random. It would usually be the home team, no matter who they were playing. It would occasionally make hilarious claims like describing a team that is still undefeated 3/4 of the way through the season as being "in shambles".
    • Since historically the NFL draft allowed only limited (and often impractical) means of evaluating potential draftees, the player could ask the AI for advice. Occasionally, the advice can result in a gem, but 99% of the time, the AI will recommend a punter or kicker. Even in the first round, and even if the team already has the best punter and kicker in the league. That said, this one's reportedly been getting better over time.
    • In 13, a bug in the AI's play selection leads to teams making brainlock decisions in crunch time. More than one AI team has driven down the field in the final seconds, only to run the ball up the middle on the final play rather than kick the game-winning field goal or throw the hail mary.
  • Ascended Meme: Madden NFL '12 includes an achievement called "Put Da Team On My Back" for scoring a 99 yard touchdown with Greg Jennings. Broken leg optional.
    • Gus Johnson's commentary track also includes his (in)famous line "He's got gettin' away from the cops speed!"
    • Several fans like to use image editing programs to replace the cover with their own creation, spotlighting their favorite player. When Brett Favre un-retired and returned to the Jets in the year he was the cover athlete, EA released their own Photoshop job of Favre in a Jets jersey for players to use instead.
    • After a video that showed a glitch that featured Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Christian Kirksey reduced to 1'2" in size went viral, and said linebacker tweeted it, EA made the "Tiny Titan" part of an Ultimate Team Weekly Challenge. note 
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Many plays in the playbook take too long to develop or rely on trickery that doesn't fool anyone (see: The Computer Is A Cheating Bastard), so they never get used.
  • Bowdlerise: Madden's soundtrack usually consists of rap and heavy-rock songs, most of which usually contain a lot of profanity that cannot be used in an E-rated game. Thus, some songs get a lot of lyrics deleted, leaving a lot of awkward pauses, most notably in Madden 09's use of Hollywood Undead's "Undead".
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Lampshaded Trope. In 13 and onwards, there are fake Twitter feeds from real ESPN analysts in career mode. If a player has a truly absurd performance, one of them may tweet something about it being straight out of a video game and hashtag it #fourthwall.
    • After a successful field goal, the stadium jumbotrons will show an animation incorporating the video game's kicking meter.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: A couple of ways:
    • Madden Ultimate Team mode essentially turns team creation into a collectible card game, with all the pros and cons that entails.
    • Several editions of the game allow the player to unlock various "tokens" (for various achievements) which - if used strategically and correctly - could virtually ensure victory for a player before the first snap. Most of these were rather routine (e.g., disabling a pass-receiver's abilities, giving the team a good spot on short-down situations, or holding teams to three downs per series), but a few of the more inventive have included such things as "unlimited challenges for any reason" (which could be used in combination with another token that would allow favorable verdicts each time).
    • The Xbox 360 version of Madden 13 has an achievement for calling an audible with the Kinect add-on, which is of course a separate purchase.
    • Coach Glass is an add-on app available for the Xbox One which gives you a great deal of information about your opponent's tendencies mid-game, but it requires a tablet to use.
  • Cameo: In 11, the Super Bowl-winning team will be shown receiving their jersey from Barack Obama. Amusingly, this cutscene plays no matter how many years you play your franchise for.
  • invokedCanon Discontinuity: The developers are pretty candid that Madden 06 was the worst of the franchise.
  • Character Customization: Prior to starting up Franchise Mode, you are free to edit the rosters to your liking. You can even create your own new players or add your favorite players that were left out of the game for one reason or another.
  • Christmas Mode: The game will update throughout the year with appropriate decorations. October gives you breast cancer month ribbons and pink-wearing crowds, the holidays puts Christmas lights on the scoreboard, etc. In a more direct connection, both this game and NCAA Football have a partnership with the Weather Channel wherein the game will try to simulate the actual weather at each stadium.
    • It can get a little outlandish during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where a user-created coach will be shown wearing an all-pink business suit.
  • Cold Open: Possibly the first ever for a Sports Game franchise - Upon first launching the game on the XBox One or PS4, the player will be dropped into the NFC Championship game as Cam Newton and the Panthers, with one last chance to score a TD on the Seattle Seahawks and go to the Super Bowl.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The AI players will often react to things they shouldn't be able to see, meaning many plays which rely on that deception don't work in the game they way they should in real life. The player, at least, gets to see things from 20 or 30 feet above the action.
    • This YouTuber has several examples in which the AI cheats in Madden 2010 - to varying degrees (from "mind reading" AI to "magic trick" ball recovery).
    • On the higher difficulty levels, the computer will have almost always have called a play that was specifically designed to counter whatever you just called.
    • Players don't suffer many injuries in played games, but if you decide that there are a few games on the schedule that you don't want to bother with and let the computer simulate them, your roster will start to look like a hospital ward. It is possible to invert the trope, however, if you play out all your own team's games.
  • Crutch Character: Usually, there will be a few players who, for whatever reason (age, injury concerns, off-the-field concerns,) were not signed by a team in Real Life but are available in Madden as free agents in franchise mode. Usually these players still have relatively high overalls (80+) compared to those you can typically find as free agents in-season in franchise mode, so signing them will give your team an extra boost. However, if the player is older he may retire after only 1 season or, if not, will see his physical stats deteriorate as he ages. If he is oft-injured, he may not play many games for you before getting hurt. This was much more common in the late-90s/early 2000s Madden games as they lacked the ability to receive roster updates via the internet. More recent games (from the late 2000s on,) will receive roster updates throughout the year to clear out players like this, but it still happens.
    • Disc One Nuke: When one of these "crutch characters" is a particularly good player. After Steve Young's and Barry Sanders' relatively surprising retirements, EA left them in the game but simply added them to the free agent pool, available for any team to sign. There's nothing like adding Hall of Fame players with ratings in the 90s to nuke the competition. In more recent games with online roster updates available, these types of players are usually removed, but instances still occur. (Like Brett Favre in 2008 "retiring" from the Packers, only to then sign with the Jets. As that year's Madden games had already shipped, Favre was still listed as a free agent until the first roster update.)
  • Department of Redundancy Department: In the newspaper feature, there will occasionally be an article with the title of something like "Giants at 6-2" and the entire article will be a single sentence restating this information.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: The AI refs are deliberately designed to make mistakes occasionally, in order to allow you to challenge plays.
  • Game Mod: For the PC version, which was discontinued after Madden 08. A team of dedicated modders releases reasonably accurate roster updates complete with player portraits and coaching staff changes every year so that they and their PC-playing brethren can continue to enjoy the game, even if EA isn't interested in bringing back the PC version.
  • God Modders: Extremely common in tournament play.
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: If two teams are tied for a playoff berth at the end of the season, Madden can on occasion screw up the tiebreaker rules and award the playoff berth to the wrong team. It's right a vast majority of the time, but more than one player has Rage Quit their online franchise when they got screwed this way. To a degree, this is forgivable as it is a rare scenario and the NFL rules for breaking ties are complicated, with no fewer than 12 criteria for doing so. (#2 on the Conference tiebreak side is where Madden usually screws up.) However, it isn't completely consistent between different iterations of Madden either, so you never know what will happen if your team is going into the playoffs tied with another team.
  • Guide Dang It: Did you know you can audible on kickoffs? The manual writers sure didn't!
    • The manual also doesn't say how to scramble anywhere, instead phrasing the ability as "toggle on/off WR icons". When put that way, it sounds like they just mean turn off the icons underneath your receivers.
    • "Playmaker" controls were introduced to great fanfare in Madden 2004, allowing a player on offense to essentially control two players at once. However, in the last several years there have been no mention of them in any official documentation, even though they remain active.
  • Hatedom: Fans of the Take Two line of football titles, which were forced out of the market when the NFL sold the exclusive license to EA.
    • And then there's Backbreaker which, unlike the 2K series, doesn't even have any sort of legacy or what not associated with it. Thus resulting in a series with 15+ years of experience, technology, time, and budget being compared against a series with none of that and expecting the latter to be the former 'but different'.
    • More than a few fans of NFL Blitz were upset as well... though the disappearance of that franchise is arguably more due to Midway's bankruptcy than anything else. The NFL also leaned on the makers of those games to make them more kid friendly, which killed the spirit of the game.
      • And now, NFL Blitz is back. Complete with the violence. It's being made by EA this time around, so the "dueling games" problem that Blitz had in its previous incarnation won't hurt it.
    • Forget players of other franchises, what about Madden players on the PC (and Mac)? There have been no PC editions since Madden 08.
    • The Hatedom of EA reached its apex in 2013, when they settled two massive class action lawsuits regarding their football franchises. One, concerning the use of student athletes, killed the NCAA Football franchise for good, while the other forced EA to pay out millions for supposed price-fixing after NFL 2 K was forced off the market by the exclusivity deal.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Madden allows players to mix-and-match a team's uniform elements. Considering some teams have radically changed their colors over franchise history, this can lead to some horrendously ugly combinations. In Madden 25, the game even includes blogger Paul Lukas to mock you if you do this.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: The players and coaches, obviously. 13 adds polygon versions of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, as well as finally rendering the big man himself.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Several.
    • The "Madden Moments" feature in various iterations challenge you to replicate some of the greatest feats in football history. Of course, the reason they were memorable in the first place is because they were so ridiculously improbable. One of the most infamous is Madden 2002's recreation of the Heidi Game from 1968, which was pretty much impossible. You control the Oakland Raiders, down 39 - 29 (even though the real-life game was only a 3-point deficit) to the New York Jets - the team that would go on to win that year's Super Bowl - with only 1:05 left on the clock. Fortunately, you have all three timeouts. Still, you have 65 seconds to score two touchdowns and grab an onside kick. Nintendo Hard doesn't even come close to describing it. (Note: the Raiders won the actual game by the score of 43 - 32 with the help of a 43-yard touchdown and a fumble return on the kickoff.)
    • Also impossible was the final game in the Great Games series, which featured the Atlanta Falcons' 30 - 27 overtime win in the 1998 NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. You have to stop arguably the best kicker in history (Morten Andersen) from making a rather routine 38-yard field goal. Good luck blocking it - even lowering the AI's ability to kick field goals doesn't help. Arrrrrgh.
    • Another was bringing the Indianapolis Colts back from a 31 - 17 deficit against the New Orleans Saints in Madden 2011. You have the ball, 4th and goal from the 5 in Super Bowl XLIV. Two timeouts and 50 seconds to work with. Have fun. (Unlike the two above entries, the Colts failed to do this in real life, making it all the more impressive if you are able to pull it off.)
  • Logic Bomb: Proven possible by's "Breaking Madden" series which uses player creation settings (5'0" 400 lb. QB "BEEFTANK"), roster settings (a team of all Tom Bradys) and unusual play calling (only punts and fake punts) to get the CPU "clearly so fed up with my silly adjustments that it stopped trying to create a realistic simulation." The results: lopsided scores and Hilarious GIFs of players hit in the head by balls, giving piggy back rides, leaving for Gatorade mid play, and even having their head spin (vertically).
  • Madden Curse: Trope Namer. The real-life examples are listed above, but it is interestingly inverted in the game itself, where the cover athlete is nigh-unstoppable. 2004 Michael Vick was nearly a God-Mode Sue, possessing one of the highest speed ratings, throwing power ratings, AND accuracy ratings all in one. Essentially, the Falcons were a Game Breaker. Deploy five wide receivers and call a Hail Mary. Vick will either throw an unerringly accurate 60-yard bomb or he'll scramble past the flat footed linemen and linebackers for a huge gain.
  • Made of Plasticine: Poor, poor Bob Sanders. After several years of season-ending injuries in Real Life, he was given a "Durability" rating in the 40's. When he appeared in the Madden 11 demo, it was rare for him to finish the game even with quarters shortened to two minutes.
  • Male Gaze: Recent additions include TV-style bumpers for halftime and the quarter breaks. These include the traditional cheesecake shots of the cheerleaders, including the pan-up from the knees to the OH MY GOD THEIR FACES!
  • Milestone Celebration: The 2014 game (released in August 2013) was titled as "Madden 25", celebrating the franchise's 25th anniversary. note 
  • Mission Pack Sequel: The criticism that each new year is "just a roster update" essentially boils down to this. The developers actually do try to add new modes and gameplay features each year; how this criticism is received is inversely related to how well that year's new features were received.
  • Multi-Platform: One of the biggest multi-platform sellers of the 21st century. Since 2001, it's been multi-generation as well, as every Madden since then has been released for both the current consoles and at least one Daddy System.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: To the great chagrin of the hardcore community, height and weight mattered very little with regard to how well players blocked or shed blocks - only the ratings mattered. This was shown when one player shrank an entire offensive line to 5'6, 150 lbsnote  and they still blocked as effectively as before.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: The AI can do things the player is prevented from doing. Most notably, they can audible in the Wildcat formation.
  • Nerf: There are almost always some from year to year that try to correct imbalance issues from the previous years.
    • The Wildcat formation was nerfed in 12 by removing the easily-abusable option plays from it.
    • The QB Vision Cone, added for Madden '06, was an attempt at one, but backfired spectacularly. The tiny vision cone for Quarterbacks with low awareness could actually be used to "look off" defenders, causing them to adjust their coverage to the wrong receiver. Elite Quarterbacks with high awareness, like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, wouldn't be able to do this. (The cone was removed two years later.)
    • A number of near-game breaker level plays have gone from abused to impractical over the years, though this could be more to do with improved AI and technology rather than an intentional attempt by the developers to nerf them. One example were the nigh-unstoppable "play action" plays in the early 2000s. Safeties, even those with maxed out awareness, would almost always bite on the play fake. This left the receiver one-on-one with the cornerback deep down the field. Racking up NFL records in points and passing yards, even on higher difficulty settings, was not unheard of when abusing this play.
    • To stop players from manually breaking the AI to create unblockable blitzes, defenders will automatically return to their designated spot in the formation if the player moves them and then switches to another pre-snap.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Madden draft classes used to be randomly generated, but in Madden 10 and onwards, they were specifically created. This leads some to notice similarities between the athletes you can draft and real college players (whose names they cannot legally use. A few of these are supposed to be Shout Outs to the NFL Head Coach series some of the programmers worked on as well.
  • Obvious Beta: Many, many glitches abound. Some of them are alarmingly obvious, making one wonder what they pay their testers to do all day. For example, in Madden 10, the clock doesn't stop when a tackle animation begins in bounds but ends out of bounds, despite the fact that 09 correctly implemented the clock stopping on such plays.
    • Many of these elements can be attributed to the franchise's production schedule. They come out with a new version every year, and the title must be released when the football season starts. This means that there is only a fixed window in which bugs can be fixed and features iterated, and the vagarious possibilities in any software development mean that some things get lain by the wayside to make the ship date. Their testers have to crunch hard, but they only have so-much time to find bugs and have the development team correct them that some things inevitably fall through the cracks.
  • Old Save Bonus:
    • Most versions (prior to 13, which removed the feature for legal reasons) allow you to import rookies from the corresponding NCAA Football title.
    • Madden 09 let you import plays from that year's NFL Head Coach title.
  • One Stat to Rule Them All: Although it varies by just how much it rules in the game from year to year, Speed has been the most important stat throughout the history of the series. It is common for speedy but otherwise mediocre players in real life to become game breakers in the game itself due to the emphasis placed on speed.
  • Product Placement: An enormous amount in recent installments. Culminating in "Patrick Chewing" being available as a draftable rookie. Patrick Ewing appears in Snickers commercials with that name, and Snickers is a major advertiser in the 2010 edition. Madden 11 took it even further by having product placement in their achievements.
    • Leon Sandcastle was Deion Sanders' alter ego in a Super Bowl Special ad for the 2013 Super Bowl. Within a month, he had been added to Ultimate Team as a playable character.
  • Rage Quit: So you picked the game up with only a cursory knowledge of football? I hope you like seeing the other team merrily intercept your passes and carry them for touchdowns with no help from the game on how to stop them.
    • You may want to pick up a few extra controllers if you plan to play on the All-Madden difficulty. Have fun as poorly rated defenders intercept your elite franchise QB and 3rd string running backs bowl over your elite linebacker who has a maxed out tackling ability rating.
  • Revenue Enhancing Devices: Madden 2010 has begun selling things like One Time Stat Boosts and vintage uniforms that used to be free rewards for in-game success.
  • Rubber Band AI: And how. Bill Simmons of ESPN coined the term "No F***ing Way game" for the times when the computer makes an unbelievable Miracle Rally while your own players become inept clods.
  • Script Breaking: On writer has a weekly series called "Breaking Madden," wherein he creates wildly unrealistic scenarios to see how the AI handles it. Often times, the game doesn't know what to do with the absurdly overpowered humans he creates, including one scenario where punter Pat McAfee was made so absurdly strong that he would have booted the opening kickoff out of the stadium if he hadn't hit the invisible sky wall.
  • Serious Business: Every year when the Madden ratings are released, expect at least one real NFL player to publicly gripe about their ratings. This was even mocked in old commercials. Sometimes it can get downright insulting. Take DeMarcus Ware, who showed up in Madden 08 with a single-digit "Intelligence" rating on a 0-99 scale.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the sponsors you can get for your team is the "Michael Scarn Paper Company", Michael Scarn being Michael Scott's Marty Stu character.
    • The "Midway Monster" Achievement in '09 is a reference to Mutant League Football.
  • So Last Season: Happens in Real Life because of this franchise. The used games market value for Madden titles runs like clockwork as people rush to trade in last-year's release in anticipation of the new year's release. The quantity of old titles drives their price down very consistently, and a store which does not carefully police the number of titles they take in will find their shelves crowded with almost unsellable old Madden games.
  • Sports Game
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Madden 12 includes some of the staffers as Joke Characters, including women. In-gameplay, the women are completely indistinguishable from the men, unlike fellow EA franchise NHL Hockey
  • Take That: Some of the Achievements in Madden 10 and 11.
    • The Madden 2010 Achievements mostly involve abusing a real player, and the titles of them are usually at the players expense. For example, the Achievement for forcing a fumble from former-stockboy Kurt Warner is "Go Bag Some Groceries."
    • They also included a Take That to themselves in Madden 2011. In Madden 2010, if you scored an unbelievable amount of points, you would receive a message saying to stop scoring before you 'break' the game. The achievement unlocked for beating another team by at least 59 points in Madden 2011 is named "Did I Break It?" note 
    • Another Take That is against the Pro Bowl, the NFL's utterly meaningless All-Star game. You get an achievement called "Thanks for coming" just for playing it.
    • In Madden 25, they introduced the concept of a "Legacy Score," which would track your character's success as a player, coach, or owner. Achieving a score of 2, which basically requires failing so hard that they boot you off the team as a rookie, earns you the "Blaine Gabbert Legacy Award."
  • Unperson: Occasionally when an athlete has found himself in legal trouble, he'll get totally removed from the game until he's reinstated. This most notably happened to Michael Vicknote  and Ray Rice note 
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: In Ultimate Team mode, if you play exceptionally poorly or quit a lot of games you can run out of players (who are limited to a certain # of games) and be unable to replace them with fresh ones. It is possible to spend real money to get out of this situation.
  • Up to Eleven: For years the highest player rating was 99, but in Madden 08 they handed out a single 100 ratingnote . This has not been repeated due to the general reaction from the fans.
  • What the Hell, Player?: In older versions, trading or releasing a star player (or locker room leader) will cause morale to drop dramatically. Players are not above asking for their own ways out; some will even call you out in the paper for it.
  • Worst Aid: In the original version, when a player was severely injured an ambulance would come out on the field to help them, and in doing so it would clobber all the players in its path..
    • In recent games, getting up from a knee injury so severe that it forced the player to retire and walking towards the sidelines.

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alternative title(s): Madden; Madden NFL; John Madden Football; John Madden Football
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