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Season Begins for ‘Madden’ Fans

Times Staff Writer

Jerry Rice, Marshall Falk and Warren Moon were among the hundreds of gamers who on Tuesday swamped tiny Madden, Miss., as part of EA Sports’ multifaceted marketing push to whip up media interest in “Madden NFL 07,” the latest iteration of the popular video game.

The game named after former NFL coach and current TV broadcaster John Madden also explained why Olga Mendez was standing in the parking lot of a Best Buy retail store in Hawthorne at 12:15 a.m. Tuesday.

“I’m here for him,” Mendez said with a nod toward her boyfriend, Marcus McCarty. “But now that he’s got the game, I don’t expect to see him for the next week.”

So it goes on “Maddenoliday,” the marketing gimmick that EA Sports and its marketing partners have created to promote what’s now a late-summer ritual -- the annual reintroduction of the video game now in its 17th season.

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“Madden NFL,” which now is older than many of its fans, has sold more than 51 million copies worldwide valued at more than $1.5 billion. Last year, the Sony PlayStation2 version was the nation’s best-selling video game title, and the Xbox version was the fourth-most popular.

On Tuesday, Amazon.com reported that “Madden NFL 07,” which is being produced for various game platforms, was the No. 1, No. 2, No. 14, No. 19 and No. 35 most popular video game title among its online customers. “Madden NFL 07" retails for $29.95 to $69.95, depending upon the platform.

“Its track record speaks for itself,” said Anita Frazier, an NPD Group entertainment industry analyst. “It’s always one of the top sellers, and that kind of consistent performance is pretty much unheard of in this industry, so much so that we in the industry refer to August as ‘Madden Month.’ ”

EA Sports spent the last six months tweaking the game to improve its graphics and playing features.

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“It’s the best video game there is,” said McCarty, who planned to play his new game for many hours before reporting to work Tuesday morning at a grocery store chain. “It’s the graphics, the way things look, and the way the game plays. It’s that simple.”

Gamers could have preordered the game and had it delivered to their homes, downloaded it from websites or showed up during regular store hours Tuesday. However, crowds gathered outside retail stores nationwide to buy copies of the game that went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

“It’s the whole experience, getting in line and talking to guys you might have been playing against online,” said Mike Rodriguez, a 20-year-old Lawndale resident who in November stood in line for two days to buy a new Xbox 360 machine. “Madden is the father of it all when it comes to sports games. It’s the game you’ve got to have.”

EA Sports, though, isn’t taking any chances. It has created a marketing juggernaut to promote the game that now offers players the opportunity to compete online and receive real-world sports updates.

Along with Microsoft Corp., which is promoting the Madden NFL games for its Xbox and Xbox 360 platforms, Electronic Arts invited three former NFL stars and a host of marketing executives to Madden, Miss. -- supposedly the only U.S. town to bear that name -- to celebrate Maddenoliday. EA had created Maddenoliday.com, a website that includes a “Maddvent Calendar,” e-mail greeting cards for fellow gamers and a holiday carol with lyrics that encouraged gamers who missed work Tuesday to “sound sincere” whey they called in for a sick day.

But wait, there’s more.

This month, EA Sports and marketing partner ESPN produced what could have passed for an hourlong, pay-per-view infomercial that targeted hard-core Madden fans.

Snickers has been offering free candy bars to patrons who preordered the game through a retail chain.

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The MTV2 network recently presented a 30-minute special titled “The Music of Madden 07.” There also are Madden NFL trading cards and a growing number of Madden-oriented websites and online leagues.

“The boat is pretty full this year,” acknowledged Chris Erb, marketing director for EA Sports, which has been choreographing the marketing push. “But Madden NFL is no longer just a video game. It’s a cultural phenomenon, not only for the people who play it, but for our retailers, our athletes and our cross-marketing partners.”

The game has proved to be a perennial bright spot in the video game industry, which saw retail game sales fall to $7 billion in 2005 sales from $7.4 billion a year earlier, according to the Entertainment Software Assn. However, video game sales through July were up by 7% -- even before the Madden game was introduced -- signaling a possible rebound for the industry, Frazier said.

EA has continually tweaked the game to give experienced players reason to buy yet another version.

Last year’s game featured “QB Vision Control,” which promised pinpoint accuracy on passing plays. This year, running back Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks, the NFL most valuable player, is on the cover, and EA Sports is promoting “Run to Daylight,” which lets fans control the movement of offensive linemen and fullbacks.

And, if increasingly realistic graphics and the technological bells and whistles aren’t enough, Electronic Arts also has the Madden mystique in reserve.

“I was just watching the Colts-Seattle game and it dawned on me that John Madden became a caricature of himself long before Electronic Arts developed a character based on him,” said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. “And he has done precious little to change this persona or tinker with the extraordinarily lucrative branding that comes with it.”

Madden’s recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is ancient history for some younger gamers, but the coach-turned-broadcaster has a decided appeal among older players, including Robert Horlick, 42, of Costa Mesa, who made a last-minute decision Monday night to drive to Hawthorne to pick up a copy.

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Horlick, who brought along his 7-year-old daughter Danielle, compared the late-night adventure to standing in line for Harry Potter books and midnight movie premieres.

For her part, Danielle came prepared: “I brought my pillow and a blanket in case I fall asleep.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Top sellers

Sports games accounted for half of the top 10 video games sold in 2005. EA Sports’ “Madden NFL 06" title took two of the top spots -- the top-selling version produced for the PlayStation2 platform and another version produced for the Xbox. The top games measured by number of units sold during 2005 (with average retail price):

*--* Title Platform Publisher ARP 1. “Madden NFL 06" PlayStation2 EA Sports $46 2. “Pokemon Emerald” Game Boy Advance Nintendo $34 3. “Gran Turismo 4" PS2 Sony $49 4. “Madden NFL 06" Xbox EA Sports $47 5. “NCAA Football 06" PS2 EA Sports $48 6. “Star Wars: Battlefront II” PS2 LucasArts $47 7. “MVP Baseball 2005" PS2 EA Sports $29 8. “Star Wars Episode III” PS2 LucasArts $47 9. “NBA Live 06" PS2 EA Sports $44 10. “Lego Star Wars” PS2 EIDOS $37

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Source: NPD Group Inc.


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