One of the most interesting elements of the NFL's rise from prominence to dominance over the last few decades has been the accompanying trend in the video game market; each instalment in Electronics Arts' Madden franchise tends to be one of the top-selling games in any category each year, even when factors like an NFL lockout intervene. Despite widespread interest, though, there hasn't been a three-down football video game made since CFL Football '99 (pictured above). That changed in a notable way this week, as Kotaku's Owen Good reported that Madden's developers have actually made a working CFL version internally. However, EA's general manager of the American football division, Cam Weber (who happens to be Canadian), told Good that they won't be releasing the game and they have no plans to enter the CFL market at this time (although Weber has had "multiple conversations" with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon). This is an unfortunate move on EA's part, and it defies business sense; there's a strong case to be made that even an incredibly basic three-down football video game would be tremendously beneficial for EA, Madden and the CFL.
As Good pdiscussed with me last year, there are problematic factors involved in making a CFL game. Most notably, you're working with a rather limited market; the Canadian population's currently just north of 34 million, only some of those people are CFL fans, and only some of those CFL fans would buy and play a video game based on the league. (There are some CFL fans elsewhere around the world too, but not in incredible numbers.) Video game companies tend to prefer larger potential markets than that. However, everything changes dramatically when you consider the idea of the game not actually being a standalone product, but rather an add-on or downloadable content (DLC) pack for an existing franchise. EA has found huge success with those for some of their franchises, including the Mass Effect and Dragon Age properties, and the concept's quite simple; people who already have the base game can pay an extra fee (generally from $5 to $20, depending on the content involved) and download extra characters, quests, levels and items. Why not consider doing that with a CFL mod of Madden: tie it to the base game, release as DLC and just make it an extra playable mode for those who want to pay extra?
Really, the amount of work required to convert Madden to the CFL doesn't seem all that significant, which is likely why the development team was able to pull their version off in their spare time. Changing team logos and jerseys can be done with EA's NCAA Football series, and it's very easy to create custom players and rosters. Modifying the rules and playbooks for the CFL would be a little more difficult, but it's still very doable. It's from the business side where this really makes sense, though; not only would EA get an extra $10 to $20 from many of their existing Madden customers, they'd also get a substantial number of CFL fans who don't already buy Madden to shell out for the base game. I can't see licensing posing a substantial obstacle, either; the CFL's been eager to get a game out there, and EA and the Madden team would be by far the best people to work with given their dominance of the football side of the sports world.
There's a debate to be had about whether Madden has primarily boosted the NFL's popularity or vice versa (from this corner, the correct answer's a bit of both), but there's no denying that having a successful video game franchise based on its product has generally been a good thing for the NFL. Other leagues have jumped on the video game train, too, even smaller ones like the National Lacrosse League, but the CFL has lagged behind. This revelation that EA's developers are making CFL mods on their own time is a notable one, and it should convince the league to go all-out on lobbying efforts to work with EA and make a releasable version of this CFL game. (Fan lobbying from those who'd buy this would certainly help, too.) A CFL mod of Madden released as DLC would be good for everyone involved, and much of the work has apparently already been done; we just need the decision-makers to realize its potential.