Madden 2004 introduced one of the most popular features in it’s franchises history: Owner Mode. Now, on top of doing everything you’d normally do in Madden’s highly touted Franchise Mode, you’d also be able to control the financials of your team. Madden 2004 allowed you to set prices for tickets, food, and merchandise, relocate your team, build a new stadium, and acquire sponsorships. Owner mode gave you control like no other game before it. On top of that, Madden 2004 continued to loosen up the stiff gameplay and introduced Playmaker controls, allowing you to tell your CPU blockers where to block next if you were on the run or tell WR’s to get open if they were stuck in coverage. Madden 2004 was deemed the funnest game in the series to that date, but Tiburon wasn’t done there. Going into 2004, Madden NFL 2005 and NFL 2K5 were set for their biggest bout, but little did we know it would be their last under their current identities…
Like Playmaker Controls the year before, Tiburon set out to create a control feature that would add fun and excitement, this time for the Defense. The Hit Stick would make it’s debut and EA would recruit the most popular defensive player to be on that years cover. In fact, up to that point, Rey Lewis was the ONLY defensive player to be on the cover of Madden, ever. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Tiburon also completely remodeled the way their game looked. New player designs made it look like players were actually wearing their pads as opposed to the pads looking like an extension of their body and had a physical heft to them. A new lighting system showed us detail in the skies and transitions from afternoon into evening. An overall polish was put on textures as well. And when many thought it was going to be tough to top Madden 2004’s Owner Mode, Tiburon added in a Radio Show hosted by real life radio persona Tony Bruno, and a Newspaper information center sponsored by USA Today. Madden 2005 had all the momentum going into late-summer, a mere months before release. NFL 2K5 was looking like the early loser, that is until SEGA’s guerilla release tactics changed the whole landscape.
On July 20th, 2004, SEGA released ESPN NFL 2K5, three weeks earlier than Madden NFL 2005. Not only did 2K5 get a solid jump on the release, SEGA did something that was unthinkable at the time. NFL 2K5 was sold at the bargain bin price of $19.99, $30 less than it’s normal retail price. The response from gamers was overwhelmingly positive. Not only was SEGA able to get their game in the hands of more gamers, but they also won a lot of respect from them as well. It was a smart move by SEGA.
NFL 2K5 sold well out the gates, but even with the jump and the price point, Madden still made more money. Even still, EA saw two interesting things happen: 1) Even though Madden 2005 made more money, the units sold were about even when adjusting for the price difference and 2) 2K5 had found a home with XBOX gamers, something that the Madden franchise struggled to do, mainly due to EA and Microsoft’s differences of opinion with Online Gaming. EA had invested substantial funds into their own online service before XBOX Live had hit the market, and didn’t want to surrender their online control to Microsoft, who hosted servers for all their online games from different publishers. EA and Microsoft WOULD come to an agreement to get Madden 2005 on XBOX Live, but it may have been a bit too late for most online gamers.
With NFL 2K5 now in the hands of more consumers, players started to see the substantial difference in graphics and presentation from Madden 2005. The differences were off the charts. The heat coming from SEGA’s new price point and with the impending Holiday Season right around the corner, EA decided to drop Madden 2005’s price to 29.99 to compete with 2K5. SEGA had EA sweating for the first time since EA’s battle with Sony’s Gameday 98, but it would be EA who would get the last laugh, and they wouldn’t have to wait long.