With the release of Madden NFL 25, series owner Electronic Arts is celebrating 25 years of a football gaming dynasty. Named after Hall of Fame coach and sports broadcaster John Madden, the Madden NFL games have been had a yearly release since the first game of the series, John Madden Football, debuted back in 1988. As of February of this year, Electronic Arts reported that total sales of the Madden series was roughly 99 million units.
In celebration of Madden‘s milestone, we’ll look at the first game in the series, John Madden Football. Before the Madden series had a juke rating, before the official teams and players and even before Madden himself provided the commentary, it began as a young man’s desire to create a computer football simulation game.
When he was a kid, William “Trip” Hawkins created a football game based on the paper-and-dice Strat-o-Matic games. While in college, Hawkins would create a football simulation for the PDP-11 minicomputer. In 1982, Hawkins founded Electronic Arts after leaving Apple, and soon set out to make a computer football game. Hawkins first approached Joe Montana to sponsor the game, but he couldn’t because of a prior deal with Atari. Hawkins later reached out to then University of California coach Joe Kapp, but that deal feel through because Kapp wanted royalties.
In 1984, Hawkins approached Madden for his project, and Madden agreed, the caveat being that the game had to be as authentic as possible. Along with programmer Robin Antonik, Hawkins and Madden begin work on the game that would eventually become John Madden Football.
The game was developed for the Apple II series of computers, which gave programmer Antonik some gauntlets to run. Due to the Apple II technical limitations, the game originally was supposed to feature only seven players on the digital field for each team, but Madden insisted that the game support the standard 11 players. This proved to be a difficult demand for Antonik, who found that the gameplay became very sluggish with eleven players to each team. Despite this, the final version of the game includes eleven players for each team.
The development time for Madden was unusually long; it took three years to make whereas other titles took about a year and half. Finally, on June 1, 1988, John Madden Football debuted on the Apple II. Unlike future entries in the Madden series, John Madden Football featured none of the actual NFL teams and players of its time, which was due to the game lacking licenses by both the NFL and the NFLPA (National Football League Player’s Association).
The game has several customizable features, among them options to set the weather (which, despite not being visible, can hamper players during a game), change the quarter length, edit plays, and even customize an entire team. The game tracks several statistics (such as total yardage and number of fumbles) and came packaged with both an offensive and a defensive playbook, each of which were modeled after actual NFL plays. However, games can only be played one at a time as there is no season mode, but there is an option for multiplayer gaming.
Madden would later see release on the Commodore 64, the Commodore 128, and MS-DOS systems in 1989. In 1993, the series was licensed by the NFL and the NFLPA, and has been ever since.
Here’s to twenty-five years of a legendary franchise. For more information on the first Madden title and the series as a whole, do check out Patrick Hruby’s 2010 article “The Franchise” on ESPN. Until next time.
Edit: The images for this article come from Moby Games.