Truly Madden Deeply

Today is the day that football fans have been waiting for. No, it's not the start of the NFL season. You've got to sit through three more weeks of exhibition games for that happen. And no, the commissioner isn't ready to lay down a suspension for Michael Vick or entertain the readmission of Pacman Jones.

Today is the day when Madden 08, the latest installment in Electronic Arts' (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) gridiron video game classic, hits retailers. As always, diehard gamers are looking forward to new features and enhanced graphics. However, the real reason why the game sold more than 7 million copies in last year's installment -- and is nearly a given to top that mark this time around -- is that fans know that it's the only way to keep current team rosters, complete with all of this season's rookies.

You can disagree with me if you want, but if we look over the 18 years of annual Madden titles, that's the key reason to buy the game that comes out in August of every year. It's hard to fathom most franchises getting away with that kind of release schedule. Even Take-Two's (Nasdaq: TTWO  ) Grand Theft Auto will take several years off to bank on its notoriety. Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) saves Spider-Man games for when fresh films hit the big screen.

No one can touch the Madden franchise. I mean that literally, since EA was smart enough to hook up with the NFL on an exclusive deal to grant the software giant the right to be the only developer to use current NFL team rosters.

Take-Two thought it had a shot before that. It's still putting out annual football games, though it's hard for All-Pro Football 2K8 to stand out, when all it has going for it is retired footballers like Jerry Rice as playable characters. Even with the dancing shoes and the Breathe Right nasal strips, it's not enough to compete against the Madden juggernaut.

EA knows it. It milks the releases with tailgate parties. It travels the country in support of video game tournaments. Just as Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) locked up the NFL on satellite radio, being the only game in town for the highest-rated sport has its advantages.

Today? It means a lot of kids and adults putting up the greenbacks to put rookies JaMarcus Russell and Calvin Johnson to the test in a game they know all too well.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves playing video games but he doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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