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Are you ready for some football?
Football season kicks off in the gaming world, but it's a different game than last year.
July 13, 2005: 9:18 AM EDT
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
Next generation Madden games should have more advanced graphics.
Next generation Madden games should have more advanced graphics.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Things sure can change in the course of a year.

Last July at this time, we were looking at a particularly fierce battle between Electronic Arts' juggernaut Madden franchise and Take Two's bargain-priced "2K Sports" line. Today, Take Two -- and every other publisher in the industry -- is off the playing field.

The video game industry's football season officially kicks off this week, with the release of "NCAA Football 06." Last year's version sold more than 1.5 million copies, which more than qualified it for platinum status. In the long run, though, it's really just a warm-up for the sports genre's unstoppable running back -- Madden.

With sales topping more than 43 million copies since 1989 (and more than 5 million last year), Madden is a juggernaut. It makes up a significant portion of EA's sports game revenue, which accounts for roughly one-third of the company's total annual revenues.

The game's a bit different for the Madden franchise this year, though. In December, EA signed an exclusive licensing deal with the NFL, effectively eliminating all competition. While there will be at least one other football game on the market this year (Midway will ship "Blitz: The League" in October), it will not feature any current NFL players, teams or stadiums.

One month after locking in the NFL, EA signed a 15-year deal with ESPN for the video game rights to the network's name, content and on-air personalities. This kicked off a round of speculation that EA might be severing its ties to its longtime ally and game namesake John Madden. On Wednesday, the company proved those whispers false.

EA (Research) and Madden have signed a new multi-year agreement, ensuring the Madden football line will not face a name change anytime soon. The storied announcer will also continue to appear in and consult on the development of future titles.

The news shouldn't come as a big surprise. Madden and EA have a mutually beneficial relationship -- and with EA spending a reported $1.2 billion to secure the NFL and ESPN rights, the money required to lock up the Madden name was chump change. Exact financial terms of the deal were not announced, though.

One mystery remains: EA is still remaining quiet about the pricing of this year's Madden game, "Madden NFL '06," which hits store shelves Aug. 9. Last year, the company was forced to quickly abandon $50, due to pressures from Take Two (Research), which charged just $19.99 for its game -- a title that received critical scores equal to or better than Madden.

If "NCAA Football 06" is any indication, though, you can wave goodbye to bargain pricing. The college-themed game carries a suggested retail price of $49.99 for both the Xbox and PlayStation versions. And while Midway (Research) might release "Blitz" with bargain prices, it's not likely to have any real impact on Madden sales.

There's also the question of next generation pricing. It's a safe bet you'll see a version of "Madden NFL 06" for the Xbox 360 the day that system launches this fall. While you're at it, it wouldn't hurt to double down that the price will be in the $60 range.

Football is the great equalizer in the video game world, reaching out to both the hard core and the casual gamer. In years past, as many as five separate publishers have had titles on the market. The Madden games, though, have devoured competitors faster than William "Refrigerator" Perry goes through a smorgasbord.

But now that direct competition is gone, will the franchise stay hungry? Or will it drift off to sleep over the next few years?

Are gamers -- and the media -- going overboard hyping the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? Read here.

Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an e-mail.  Top of page


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