Madden NFL 2005 to get online leagues

New EA Sports Premium Pass will let subscribers create their own leagues, playoffs, and tournaments and will provide them with other benefits.

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With the budget-priced ESPN NFL 2K5 topping the charts, Electronic Arts is adding another incentive for gamers to pick up its own footballer, Madden NFL 2005. Purchasers of Madden will be given free access to the EA Sports Premium Pass, a new feature set for Xbox Live users or PlayStation 2 gamers who play online.

Despite its name, the Premium Pass is free, thanks to a sponsorship by Dodge. "We are excited to be working with Dodge to bring the largest interactive football community (800,000 strong) an online experience that is second to none," said Chip Lange, vice president of EA Sports Nation. In exchange, the Dodge brand will be heavily promoted on the Premium Pass' various features. "Companies can't sustain feature development without a sustaining business model beneath it," said Lange. "This is a new business model and that model is a sponsorship model."

Foremost among those features will be a league system similar to that of ESPN NFL 2K5. Although it won't be available until later in the year, the league system will allow online Premium Pass subscribers to create their own version of the NFL, by creating their own leagues and teams and scheduling their own playoffs and championship. "A lot of the Madden guys asked for a special place to compete," said Lange in a conversation with GameSpot. "The spirit of the PP is to design a group of users who are more serious than the average gamer."

The Premium Pass will also introduce other features during the course of the season, including enhanced Web tournaments, which will allow players to set up tournaments and follow their progress online, and Hall of Fame Web leaderboards, which will give subscribers their own leaderboard separate from the Madden Overall leaderboards.

At launch, Premium Pass subscribers will receive several benefits immediately, including a reputation rating boost, highlighted names, personalized career pages, expanded leaderboards, a customizable streaming sports ticker, an EA Sports calendar, exclusive Premium Pass message boards, and special "members only" medals (not to be confused with "members only" jackets). Subscribers will also have access to Madden University, an updated library of Madden tips and tactics and expanded customer support. They will also be able to register early for the Madden Challenge, the 32-city competition that determines the best Madden NFL player in the country.

For more details on the Premium Pack, go to the official Madden NFL 2005 Web site. The game is set to ship August 9 for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, and PC.

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