Orlando native holds future of iconic video game franchise

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Seann Graddy’s love affair with Madden NFL began just as it did for many of us: in his dorm room.

“I played a lot of Madden ’92 and ‘93 in my dorm back in the day,” says Graddy. “I used to drive down to Gainesville to play my Gator buddies and beat them at it!”  

Graddy grew up in Orlando and went to Florida State. After graduating with a degree in information sciences, he landed a job at AOL in California. After a few years, he began looking for opportunities to get back home to Florida. That’s when he learned his favorite video game was being made in Orlando. In 1997, Electronic Arts, the creator of Madden, began contracting with Orlando-based Tiburon to produce the smash hit.

“I said, 'Holy crap, I've played Madden my whole life, I'm a hard-core video gamer and Madden's being made in my home city. Clearly, I need to be working there!’ So, things played out, I got an interview and 13 years later, here we are."

Graddy came to Tiburon in 2004. By then, EA had bought the company and made it a division of EA Sports.  Graddy’s first assignment was co-producing EA’s NASCAR game. He worked on various other sports titles over the years before being moved to the Madden team in 2013. This year, during production of Madden NFL  17, Graddy was promoted to executive producer.  It’s a title he’s still getting used to.

“Just thinking about my history with this game – how long I’ve played it, my son now plays hit, his friends play it – whenever someone asks me what I do for a living and I say I executive produce Madden NFL, it’s definitely surreal,” says Graddy.

He loves his job. Who wouldn’t? He gets to play video games (some) and talk football. But it’s not easy.

"We're developing software at the end of the day,” says Graddy. ”Anybody that's in software development knows that it's hard."

And there is enormous pressure. Madden NFL, named after legendary football coach John Madden, is the best-selling sports franchise in the history of American video games. Since 1988, it has generated over $4 billion in revenue for EA. Graddy says he feels pressure not so much to continue that financial success but to create a game that lives up to and exceeds the expectations of its ardent fans.

“Those guys are spending their hard-earned money to come and play our game,” says Graddy. “I was one of them. I want to make sure they are getting what they want. I want them to have a great experience every single year.”

And it seems he has delivered on that experience. Madden NFL 17 debuted in August and immediately garnered rave reviews, with one critic writing the latest version has returned the franchise to its glory days of a decade ago. Gamers praise the improved animation of running backs. Graddy says his team really drilled down on the animation to give them distinct styles that reflect their real-life nuances when they carry the ball.

“Adrian Peterson looks and feels like Adrian Peterson, and Doug Martin looks and feels like Doug Martin,” says Graddy. “When you control their movements, you get a feel of running backs based on who they are in the real NFL." 

And those real players are some of Madden’s biggest fans – and toughest critics. EA has an employee dedicated to fielding NFL players’ requests and complaints.

“I can tell you the number one request we get from every player, no matter who they are, is SPEED. Every player says he’s faster than we think they are – even when comparing themselves to players that have a better time in the 40-yard dash than they do!” says Graddy.

But his team doesn’t waiver from its secret player ratings formula which has been known to spark Twitter tirades from stars who think they warrant a higher rating.

Next year’s edition of Madden NFL will be Graddy’s first full season as executive producer. Perhaps by then he’ll be accustomed to hearing his name attached to that title.

But maybe not.

“I have to admit, it is exciting and fun when my son introduces me to his friends as the executive producer of Madden,” says Graddy, a big grin on his face. “Never gets old.”

Not all of the sports games produced at EA Tiburon have enjoyed the same success as Madden NFL. The NASCAR series Graddy first worked on was shelved in 2008. After 20 years, EA stopped producing its NCAA football series in 2013. And one of its most successful franchises has hit a swoon in recent years; critics have panned the past few editions of NBA Live, and sales reflect their assessment.

EA pushed back the release of NBA Live 17. Normally a fall release, it’s now clear the game won’t hit shelves until 2017. EA brought in a new team to revamp the series.

FOX13’s Chris Cato spoke with senior producer Mike Mahar. He declined to give a specific time frame on the game’s release, saying only it will come out “sometime in the calendar year 2017”. But he did hint that there will be some big changes and he essentially promised the animation will be better. See a portion of his interview here, including his answers to critics.