EA reverse engineered the console to sell the game without paying the standard $8 to $10 license fee per cartridge to Sega, then proposed a compromise of $2 per cartridge and a $2 million cap on the fee. The console maker agreed, afraid that EA would sell its reverse-engineered knowledge to other companies; the agreement saved EA $35 million over the next three years. As its own Joe Montana-endorsed football game would miss the 1990 Christmas shopping season, Sega asked EA to let it sell Madden with the Montana name. EA refused, but offered an inferior alternative that lacked Madden’s 3D graphics and most of its 113 plays. Joe Montana Football sold well despite shipping after Christmas 1990, and remained popular after BlueSky Software took over development. John Madden Football for the Genesis, however, became both the first hugely successful Madden game—selling 400,000 copies when the company expected 75,000—and the first killer app for EA and Sega, helping the console gain market share against the Super NES. From 1992 to 1994, Mega placed the game at #1 in their monthly Top 100 Mega Drive Games of All Time.
In 1990, EA producer Richard Hilleman brought in veteran sports game designer Scott Orr, who had founded the mid-1980s Commodore 64 game publisher GameStar, and had led the design of their best-selling sports games. The team of Orr and Hilleman designed and led the development of what is today still recognizable as the modern Madden. Early versions of Madden were created by external development studios such as Bethesda, Visual Concepts, and Stormfront Studios. John Madden Football ’92 also featured the ambulance which would run over any players in its path. After Visual Concepts failed to deliver Madden NFL ’96 for the new PlayStation in 1995, EA hired Tiburon Entertainment for Madden NFL ’97 and later acquired the company, centralizing development in-house. It planned to release John Madden Football as its first sports-based arcade game, but the game was cancelled due to unenthusiastic reactions from play testers. EA’s refusal to release Madden and other sports titles for the Dreamcast in 1999 contributed to the console’s lack of success and Sega’s exit from the hardware market.