Effective licensing can make or break a company. Electronic Arts, the world's biggest game publisher, has been very adept at acquiring the rights to some of the most coveted properties in the industry. As its rivals have found out, the strategy is not just limited to movies, books, or toys.
Longtime holders of the FIFA and NASCAR licenses, EA dropped a bombshell on sports gaming late last year when it announced that it had inked an exclusive licensing deal with the NFL.
The agreement was met with tepid response from sports gamers, who feared that the lack of competitive titles would water down the quality of the long-running Madden series.
Well, Madden NFL 06 was released last week. And how did gamers respond? By snatching up 1.7 million copies of the game.
According to EA, this year's edition of the gridiron game is proving to be the most successful in the franchise's 16 years. The total number of copies of Madden-branded games sold--internally tracked by EA--is now at more than 45 million.
Madden NFL 06 launched simultaneously on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, DS, and Game Boy Advance. A PC version hit store shelves yesterday, and a PSP version is scheduled for September.
EA achieved the industry equivalent of an NFL blowout, with NCAA Football 06 on top of the sales charts for July and now Madden's impressive first-week numbers. Todd Sitrin, EA's vice president of marketing, wasn't bashful about doing a little celebratory dancing in the end zone. "Every year we launch our product, and the types of sales numbers [Madden NFL 06 has achieved] is an indication of the level of consumer demand and the great positive reaction to this year's game."
With EA owning the licenses to the NFL, NCAA Football, and the Arena Football League, and new editions of existing franchises challenged with the task of outdoing their predecessors, it seems as though the publisher is competing against itself for football fans. Sitrin agrees--to a point.
"Our goal is always a difficult one. Every year we have to convince consumers that there is a reason that they should buy a new version of a sports game that they may already have from a previous year. Every year we're focused on bringing innovation to all our products so that [consumers] will say, 'Hey this is a tremendous upgrade from last year's version.' When you look at the market response to NCAA Football and Madden NFL, it's the clearest indication that we've been able to do that."
"In terms of [EA's football products], every game has its unique approach to football. And we've had that consistently with NCAA and Madden for years. We introduced NFL Street, which had more of an arcade gameplay, and Arena Football League is going to be a very different experience, because the indoor game is very different, and the approach we're taking is very different as well."
Next-generation systems are coming out soon, most notably the holiday release of the Xbox 360. If the company wants to keep the numbers rolling in, it's going to have to figure out a way to sell Madden NFL for the Xbox 360 to customers who only months ago dropped 50 bucks on Madden for the Xbox. Sitrin wasn't able to go into the company playbook, but he did outline the basic approach to enticing consumers to support the next-gen versions.
"Strategically, how we're approaching it is we're going to redefine what the sports gaming experience is with Madden NFL 06 on the Xbox 360. It's going to have a different approach to football, it will be different graphically, but it will also have gameplay changes and presentation changes."
There's no question that Madden is consistently one of the top-selling franchises each year. And with NFL exclusivity, EA has only one thing to worry about: itself. Is it time to use the word "dynasty?"