Back in the distant time of long long ago, 2004, there was something called competition within NFL video game circles. Madden hadn't yet obtained its exclusive license that would become the bane of many sports gamers' existences and the ESPN NFL series was coming into its own. It was Sega vs. EA. People perceived it as a clash of the titans. The biggest showdown since Gameday had gone under. But here's why this competition was the biggest joke in sports gaming history.
Madden had been around for more than a decade at that point, in fact almost two, and was the reigning champion much like it is today in terms of overall popularity and name value within the sports gaming community. They even had an exhibit in the NFL Hall of Fame for chrissakes. It really was the behemoth within the sports industry. And on top of that, the culture of sports games wasn't like it is today where there are more highly regarded sports games than Madden. Madden was still the best one out there coming off probably the best version ever in 2004. There weren't games like NHL and Fight Night that were garnering much of the praise. When you talked about sports games, you talked about Madden.
The NFL 2K series had gotten its start back on Dreamcast and was always highly regarded by many of the people that played it. They loved the presentation, graphics and just the underdog mentality of the game. Sega was the underdog after failing with consoles like the Saturn. Combine that way of thinking with the beating Madden was laying on the competition and you really had the making of something people could get behind.
The ESPN series was always highly regarded in most circles but didn't really take off until the price point was lowered to $19.99 to compete with Madden. And it still couldn't sell nearly as many. While many just attributed this reasoning to Madden having the name quality, there were tons of more obvious reasons chief among them was the fact that Madden, was and always had been, a much better football game.
Much like most of the 2K sports games outside of their great NBA series, ESPN NFL 2K was based on pure gimmicks. One of their most popular and "groundbreaking" modes was first person football, which was possibly the worst thing put in a sports game outside of the Madden vision cone. You couldn't actually see anything and just hit a button.
The only thing people complained about when actually playing the games in Madden was the lack of presentation and that's what ESPN NFL brought to the table. There were things like hand towels, fancy animations and better player models.
Madden was more focused on things like, you know, gameplay, that are more important to a simulation style of football. Even when Madden finally did upgrade the presentation aspect of the game in the last couple of years, I just ended up skipping through it as fast as possible just to get to the gameplay.
I don't know about you, but I buy football video games to play football, not watch videos of guys running around with hand towels.
Even modes that were supposed to be comparable were laughably slanted in Madden's favor. 2K's franchise mode had an archaic brand of progression that Madden had jettisoned a couple years earlier. No matter where a player was on a depth chart, he'd go up to a certain rating anyway. Larry Fitzgerald, then in his rookie year, would go up to 98 no matter if he was your first or sixth receiver, which is ludicrous. Madden progression systems back then were purely based on stats and performance which, while not perfect, were definitely a couple steps up.
Madden also had its full owner mode in full swing back then, something which 2K never got into. That was one of the deepest franchise modes around and still holds up to this day. 2K never really had a chance in that arena to be fair.
There's a reason why All Pro Football was a miserable failure aside from the lack of an NFL license. The game just was never that good to begin with. Sure Madden may have rested on its laurels while it had no competition over the last couple years, but there's really no evidence to support the idea that 2K would have surpassed it in this generation.
2K didn't build its games from the ground up until it was too late and same probably would've happened with their football franchise. The only 2K series that is still in the same form as 2004 is the NBA series and that's just because NBA Live/Elite has never really been that good. Their baseball series is being killed by a game that's only on PS3 while their hockey game has been exiled to Wii only.
It's very likely the same thing would've happened with the NFL 2K franchise. They lost the ESPN branding to EA and likely would've lost whatever market share they had since they probably couldn't survive on the $20 price point.
ESPN NFL 2K5 fans still gripe about their game being better than current Maddens, which is possibly the biggest joke in video game history. With the new presentation and much better gameplay and franchise modes, there is no rational argument one can make for 2K5 over any Madden since 07.
The exclusive license just brought about the inevitable a little faster. Madden would've slaughtered it one way or another.
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