Despite a Lockout and Disappointing Reviews, Madden Looks to One of Its Best Years Ever

When the NFL lockout hovered over the release of EA Sports' Madden series earlier in the year, investors were told to expect lower sales of Madden NFL 12. Analysts pegged the potential losses at up to half of all sales. The label's exclusive pact with the league was renegotiated to terms that would help mitigate any harm.

Then in July, the NFL and its players resolved their differences, and fans came back in droves.

Fans' instant forgiveness, the bulletproof, mainstream interest in America's No. 1 sport and the fact only one pre-season game was lost to the lockout is partly why EA Sports' self-reported news for Madden NFL 12's first week of sales is up over both Madden NFL 11 and 10, both of which were reviewed much more favorably, if Metacritic scores are any guide.

But don't discount EA Sports' own hand in promoting and marketing the game this year, which included holding the game until 10 days before the regular season began, an advance preview weekend that likely helped spread word-of-mouth support, and an Online Pass policy that, after a full year, has succeeded in conditioning customers to buy the game new.

The figures, reported in a news release on Wednesday, say that 1.4 million copies of Madden NFL 12 were sold through to customers, up 10 percent over last year's figure after the same stretch (and 19 percent over 2009's). EA expressed some confidence in this earlier, though a publisher always is publicly confident before the release of a major game. But the label's new chief, Andrew Wilson, told Kotaku on Aug. 25 that preorders were up, and downloads of the game's demo were up "exponentially," which portended good things.

Though "Season Ticket," the three-day preview of Madden and four other titles offered for a $25 subscription, opened to unimpressive whole numbers, it should be considered that Madden diehards were the most likely to buy the pass, and it's not unreasonable to expect them to brag about playing it early and evangelize for the product in so doing. Indeed, EA Sports says Season Ticket holders logged more than 65,000 hours of gametime in that weekend, impressive considering the number of connected users on both platforms never seemed to break 6,000 at any one point in time. As Pasta Padre noted, Madden became a trending topic on Twitter on its release day, also indicating favorable word-of-mouth.

Finally, there's "Online Pass," introduced last June for all EA Sports titles, it's a one-use code included for free in all retail copies and enables a game's multiplayer function. If a game is bought used and its code has already been cashed in, it costs $10, paid to EA, to activate multiplayer. A wave of retail credits and other promotions effectively lowered the price to $40 at some locations, providing further incentive to pick the game up new. Again, as Padre notes, it is going to be a long time before the game comes down to a used price tag that, including the $10 online pass fee, is less than what one could get it for on day one.

Though the publisher's embargo on reviews of the game lifted on Aug. 26, four days before release, and many major nameplates came in with mixed opinions that spotlighted disappointments over improvements, by then much of Madden's sales fate was sealed, in the favor of EA Sports.

While the label said it moved Madden's release from its traditional second week of August to the end of the month to align it with the NFL's opening week, such a move probably benefitted by penning up fans' demand and anticipation a little while longer, especially after such an agonizing offseason made them feel like there'd be no football at all. That appears to be more than enough to help Madden NFL 12 prevail over critics' lack of enthusiasm.


You can contact Owen Good, the author of this post, at owen@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.