Madden 09: Playing Madden makes you smarter

Study shows Madden players have higher football IQ than non-gamers.

I always told my mom that playing video games made me smarter. Now I finally have the proof.

EA Sports teamed with the Warsaw Sports Marketing Group at the University of Oregon to survey 15,000 NFL fans, and the results concluded that those fans who were avid Madden gamers were actually 60% more knowledgeable about the sport than non-gamers.

"We've had a core belief that people who play the game are smarter about the rules, the strategies, the tactics, the history of the game, versus people who don't, even if they're self-proclaimed avid NFL fans," explains EA Sports President Peter Moore. "We've always told the NFL that we create better fans, more knowledgeable fans, and ultimately more profitable fans over a lifetime, so we finally decided to do something about it here in the 20th anniversary year of Madden.

"And there's no finer place to do it than the Warsaw Sports Business Center at the University of Oregon, who for many years has looked at data like this and has looked at the business of sports. They conducted an in-depth survey here and quite frankly, even though it bore out what we believed all along, the depth and the data and the delta between the knowledge of a Madden player and the knowledge of a regular NFL fan surprised even themselves."

Adds Moore: "This certainly validates the opinion we've had for many years that games are good for you, sports games are even better for you, and despite the naysayers who want to stop people from loving the game because we keep them indoors, the truth is actually the reverse."

ESPN sat down with Moore and Paul Swangard of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Group to find out more about their findings, Madden fans, and the possibility of the cover being auctioned off to the highest bidder:

ESPN: Why were you so interested in studying Madden gamers?

Paul Swangard: We had a strong interest in studying this area because it's core to the question that a lot of people are asking, and that's this: How do you generate your next-generation of fans? This proves out that the availability of these games, the immersive nature, the robustness that they provide to give fans an inside look into what it's like to be a part of the NFL without having to strap on a helmet and step out on the field. And this is more than just a league property and a licensee, this is really a marketing arm and a marketing strategy for the NFL to generate that next-generation of fans.

Peter Moore: I think we needed some independent validation for something we've always believed. That is, the ability for you to be a better, smarter, deeper fan that lasts a lifetime. Right now if you look at the NFL, you have 32 teams in a country this size, and the ability for you to interact with your team in any other way than watching it on TV is pretty limited. Growing up in England, that's a country the size of Southern California and there are 92 professional soccer teams playing every weekend eight months of the year. If I live in LA, how am I going to see pro football other than driving up to Oakland or down to see the Chargers? The ability for you to interact with our game is much more than just a passive experience you get from watching TV. We really wanted to validate what we believed, because I think the more knowledgeable you are about the sport, the longer you will stay a fan.

ESPN: What could you tell about the fans who play Madden versus the fans who aren't?

Paul Swangard: Specifically, it's the types of questions we asked. We looked at other IQ tests out there and constructed this in the same way. We put some tough questions on the survey expecting that nobody would be able to answer all of the questions correctly, but what we were really struck by is that there is an absolute correlation between the amount of time that you spend playing the game and your understanding of the game.

Consuming sports as a fan or a television viewer in most cases is a very static experience. You're consuming content and you're just watching the game. What's different about the video game is that it is truly interactive. It provides you the ability to put your brain inside the experience. Not to say that viewing a game doesn't take any brain cells, but playing Madden takes more of you. It requires more from you as a consumer of the content and the experience has more stickiness. People are able to see someone in motion and realize that the defense might show a blitz on the play. They can see a referee's call or non-call and understand what's going on. And at the end of the day, it's the benefit of a different kind of experience, a more robust experience, and fans can grow to have a deeper experience to grow with the sport that they love.

ESPN: How does age factor in to the survey? Are you finding younger fans who play Madden are smarter about football than their parents who watch games but don't play the game?

Paul Swangard: I think what I'd rather say is that anyone who plays the game – young, middle, or old – is gaining in their football knowledge. Obviously, someone who is older might have more knowledge because they've followed the game longer, but our data suggests that everyone stood to benefit. The gaming environment should be all-inclusive, and maybe that just means that there are more ways for a company like EA to get more people engaged. With all of the great platforms, from the very game focused to the more communal experiences that we've seen on the Wii, these games have a role to play back to the benefit of the NFL because it increases the fanaticism about the sport.

ESPN: How many hours does someone need to play Madden in order to increase their football IQ?

Paul Swangard: We broke it down. People who rarely played the game had an average of about 20 correct answers. Then we saw about a half point improvement when someone played 1-5 hours a week. We got a bigger hit, when you move from 5 to 6-10 hours. We didn't go all the way out to 20-40 hours a week because there would probably be some diminishing returns after too much, but a moderate use of the Madden game in your NFL fan lifestyle proved to be something that has definite value for your understanding of the sport.

We broke the survey down into five categories: game situations, general knowledge, history, roles, and the business. As you would expect, the general knowledge questions were things that everyone did pretty well in, same with history. Those are general questions that the average fan would probably know like what the name of the Super Bowl trophy is. Then the business area involved things like stadium naming rights. But the hardest area for everyone was the game situation. Putting questions in the survey that puts the fan in a specific situation at a certain time in the game and asking them – What would you do? It's a subjective question, because people might have different answers on how they would defend a third and three depending on the score and where the ball is, but we tried to test them on the highest levels. We actually reached out to some coaches we know and had them give us questions that they would ask to see if someone really knew what they were talking about. We tried to incorporate those into the questions and what it proved time and time again is that playing the game just gives you a wonderful opportunity to learn as much as you can, and you do it in a self-guided way which is a cool way to learn.

ESPN: What do you think it is about Madden that has become such a cultural phenomenon?

Peter Moore: The people who came before me at EA Sports did a phenomenal job in the branding. The combination of the quality of the game, the power that is the NFL, our ability to delver the game on the second Tuesday of August every single year, the innovations in the game, and the marketing behind it has really elevated it from just being a video game to a cultural phenomenon. Even if you don't know anything about video games, if I say Madden, they know what I'm talking about, and it's not John the analyst, it's the video game.

As big as our company has become here at Electronic Arts, when people talk about EA, typically the second sentence is: "The company that brought you Madden football."

ESPN: Any truth to the reports that EA Sports might auction off the Madden cover for charity this year?

Peter Moore: No. That was just me thinking out loud one morning in London. A British journalist wanted to know what the Madden curse was all about, and I used an example that the power of being on the cover of Madden is so much, that I bet you I can get a group of NFL players together and auction the cover off for charity. My marketing guys quickly shot me down once I got back to the U.S. Somehow that generated 150 stories.

There are already a bunch of NFL players sniffing around here right now because this is the period of time where we start thinking about the next game. These players are willing to do whatever it takes to be on the cover.

ESPN: My money is on Troy Polamalu.

Peter Moore: There's a Super Bowl still left to be played, but we'll see what happens.