Can Madden NFL 10 score a touchdown for the video game industry?

Before his recent retirement, NFL color commentator John Madden had a knack for making the most boring football games seem interesting. The video game industry is betting that his enthusiasm will help fuel sales of the video game that bears his name.

Madden, who was a Super Bowl-winning coach of the Oakland Raiders before becoming a popular TV personality, has spurred the most successful sports video game franchise in history, selling more than 70 million units since it was introduced in 1988. The 21st edition of the game, Madden NFL10, went on sale Thursday. Madden's publisher Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS) modestly claims on its Web site: "A lot went in to making Madden NFL 10 the most realistic and authentic experience to date."

Some experts argue that Electronic Arts is not bragging. In his review on Videogamer.com, Wesley Yin-Poole wrote that the game is not easy but "if you put the effort in . . . Madden NFL 10 reveals itself to be an impressively realistic, graphically gorgeous sports game that's absolutely packed to bursting point with content." He recommended the game, calling it the most "authentic" Madden game yet.

But Madden's biggest challenge may be to convince even the most die-hard football fans that they can afford to play Madden NFL 10, which sells for about $39 to $60, depending on the console.

Researcher NPD Group Inc. said yesterday said U.S. sales of video-game hardware, software and accessories plunged 29 percent in July to $848.9 million. July hardware sales fell 37 percent to $280.9 million, while software sales declined 26 percent to $436.9 million, according to Bloomberg News.

Nintendo Ltd. (NTDOY)'s best-selling Wii fell 55 percent while struggling Sony Corp. (SNE) saw sales of its PlayStation 3 console drop 46 percent. Sales of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Xbox did comparably well, falling 1 percent compared with a 9.5 percent gain in June.

"Sony Chief Executive Officer Howard Stringer and Nintendo President Satoru Iwata have so far spurned calls by game publishers and retailers to cut console prices to encourage new sales," Bloomberg said.

Maybe they can resist that pressure if gamers snap up copies of Madden, though it remains to be seen whether the newest version of the venerable franchise is enough to help the industry.

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