Although the criticism was expected, after EA snagged the exclusive NFL rights the dev team at Tiburon took it to heart and made sure the industry knew that the next Madden would get the treatment it and its fans deserved, competition or no. The hard work seems to be paying off, as Madden 06 is off to a very hot start.

Although official August numbers are not yet available, all signs seem to indicate that Madden NFL 2006 is a monster, even by Madden standards. EA released a statement just one week after 06's release, stating that the previous seven days represented "the biggest week one launch of a Madden NFL Football game in the franchise's sixteen-year history."

The fact that EA's financial clout allowed them to snatch up exclusive rights to the NFL, NCAA, and Arena Football licenses certainly accounts for some of Madden's sharp increase in sales this fall, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Developer Tiburon didn't view 06 as an opportunity to take a year off despite no longer having any competition, and EA's marketing team seemed equally intent on growing sales, through the powerful "X days until Madden" ad campaign.

Welcome to Madden Country"People say that baseball is America's pastime, but not in the videogame world. For gamers, football is. Madden is," Electronic Gaming Monthly's News Editor Bryan Intihar told GameDAILY BIZ.

August NPD results will tell the full story, but according to EA's internal data, 1.7 million copies of Madden were sold in just one week. In 2004 EA released a similar press release one week after Madden launched, touting its record-breaking (at the time) sales of 1.35 million copies.

Yet in 2004, Madden was not the only football title on the market. Take-Two's NFL 2K series put significant pressure on EA Sports' flagship title with its high quality and $20 price point. NFL 2K5 sold 791,000 copies in its first month of availability, which seems to indicate that this year's week-one Madden sales hike of 350,000 copies is really nothing more than the franchise swallowing up sales that would have likely gone towards NFL 2K6.

"I believe 2K, with its $20 price point, reintroduced many gamers to football videogames, who hadn't purchased one in years -- it widened the potential market. Now this fall those gamers are sticking around and crossing over to Madden," Intihar said.

Tiburon's Tough PositionMadden developer Tiburon fell under a lot of unfair fire after the NFL exclusivity was first announced in December. The conclusion reached by most message board denizens seemed reasonable enough -- no competition would lead to complacency, and a lowered amount of creativity/quality. Take-Two seemed to agree, stating that the deal does a "tremendous disservice to the consumers... by limiting their choices and curbing creativity" shortly after the deal was announced.

Although Tiburon was undoubtedly extremely pleased to hear that they and they alone had the rights to use NFL League assets and player likenesses, it wasn't a deal they were responsible for. 06's ambitious enhancements and additions to last year's Madden seemed to be aimed directly at those who insisted the company would "take a year off" thanks to the absence of NFL 2K.

"From a critical point of view the best words to sum up Madden 2006 are 'surprisingly ambitious,'" Intihar said. "They took chances that people didn't expect, and really wanted to prove everyone wrong. Changing the passing game was massive. Tiburon brought out the media to see the game a month and a half early, to prove to everyone that they were not just taking the year off."

The Big Get BiggerWhile Tiburon has (rightly) been commended for continuing to innovate in significant ways despite this being the sixth Madden released for the current generation of consoles -- not to mention no longer having any competition -- most reviewers agreed that the developer might have bitten off a little more innovation than it could refine in just one year. 06's reviews were markedly lower than 05's.

At the end of the day, Madden 2006 is likely to significantly outsell Madden 2005, despite having a lower review average. Everyone involved with the product worked hard to prove this year that NFL exclusivity wasn't going to ruin football gaming, but it's unlikely that any amount of negative attention would now be able to dent the franchise.

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