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EA kicks off video game holiday season with Madden

Key Points

Source: Electronic Arts

In an industry that makes its fortunes off of annual franchises, Electronic Arts' "Madden NFL" remains king of the hill.

While it might not bring in the sales numbers of Activision's "Call of Duty" series, "Madden" (the most recent installment of which hits store shelves today) has been an industry fixture for 28 years — and it still boasts an incredibly loyal audience that celebrates each release.

Last year's installment was the second-best-selling title of 2015 at brick-and-mortar retailers, according to The NPD Group. It held the same spot in 2014. And the game's release each August marks the beginning of the flood of high-profile holiday titles that will make up the majority of the year's sales for most publishers.

(Other big upcoming holiday releases from other publishers include Activision's "Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare," Bethesda's "Dishonored 2" and Take-Two Interactive's "Mafia III.")

Some fans, many of whom will call in sick to work or school today so they can dig into the game, lined up last night for "Madden"'s midnight release — while others waited for their digital copy of the game to unlock on their Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

It's not just diehard gamers who obsess over "Madden," either. NFL players pay close attention to their in-game player rankings — and some don't hesitate to let EA (and the world) know when they think they've been ranked too low.

Despite occasional player objections, though, the information the game compiles on rookies, runningbacks and more is incredibly useful for people putting together their fantasy football teams.

Those rankings and improvements to the game's artificial intelligence have helped it become a fairly accurate prediction engine for the real world. While "Madden" whiffed on its Super Bowl prediction this year (forecasting the Panthers would beat the Broncos — they didn't come close), it was scarily accurate for 2015's big game, not only predicting the New England Patriots' last-minute comeback to defeat the Seattle Seahawks, but nailing the final 28-24 score. (It also foresaw the players in that year's fourth-quarter game-winning pass and accurately guessed who the game's MVP would be.)

In fact, in the 13 years that EA has rolled out a Super Bowl prediction, the game has accurately forecast the winner nine times.

That's a fun thing for EA to brag about, but ultimately, it cares more about the sales of the game. And one of the advantages of having a 28-year-old franchise is everyone knows about it — even people who don't play games.

That evergreen status makes it a good gift option during the holidays, say analysts. Gift givers know it's a safe option for players of any age — and the game's graphics, improved once again this year, along with the offensive and defensive AI, are head turning.

Even better for the publisher, "Madden NFL 17" could be the start of a string of hits over the next six months. Beyond football, the company will release "Battlefield 1" on Oct. 1 and "Titanfall 2" on Oct. 28. Its other sports juggernaut "FIFA 17" will hit shelves on Sept. 27. And the hotly anticipated "Mass Effect: Andromeda" is due out in March 2017.

That lineup has analysts feeling optimistic.

"Company management sounds particularly confident in its ability to deliver on its revenue guidance for the year, and we think that EA's lineup sets the company up for regular beats and raises," said Michael Pachter of Wedbush in a recent note to investors.