Madden could be getting some unexpected competition soon. This weekend former NFL quarterback Joe Montana teased the return of the football game series named after him.
Joe Montana Football was a series that launched on Sega Master System and Genesis in 1990 and 1991, respectively. The series continued throughout the Genesis era. The last game in the Montana series was NFL '95. He retired after that season so Sega used other players as their cover athletes in later years.
While the Montana series was overshadowed by the overwhelming success of Madden, both actually originated at the same studio: EA contractor Park Place Productions. Park Place had to make changes to Joe Montana Football to differentiate the two.
"We basically took Madden and changed the graphics, but we didn’t really change the engine," Park Place's Michael Knox told Sega-16 in 2007. "We added in some extra features and made it really good. In fact, it was so good that I thought it was actually better than Madden. They said 'no, no, it was too good; we can’t do this. You have to scale it back. We have to give them a good game but not a game that’s better than John Madden Football.'"
"So we actually took about a week, a week and a half to pull stuff out. For example, you’ll notice that we had three play play calling windows in Madden, and we actually took one out for Montana. We actually had four at one time in the latter game. We also had more plays for Joe’s game than for John’s, and we had to scale those back too. You’ll also notice that Joe’s game didn’t have the scrolling field like the other game did."
The final version of Joe Montana was more arcade-like than Madden. It had 16 teams, none of them based on actual NFL teams, and more basic gameplay.
Madden became the most popular football game on the market in short order. However, Joe Montana Football was always nipping at its heels. The franchise evolved into NFL 2K, which lasted until 2005. EA then signed an exclusive agreement with the NFL, ensuring that Madden would be the only officially licensed football series on the market.
It would be nice to see Madden get some fresh competition. The lack of an NFL license is a significant hurdle for any upstart. However, I think a game with solid production values and smart mechanics could find a significant audience. Unseating Madden seems impossible right now but taking a big chunk out of their player base is an achievable goal. That competition could in turn spur EA to make some big, needed changes in their series.
We know zero about Joe Montana Football 16 right now so it's too early to proclaim it a giant-killer. Still, I'm excited at the prospect of any new football game to shake up the market.