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According to Mr. Orenga, the “Tecmo Bowl” vibe is more relaxed.

“I don’t think many of the guys in our community even play 'Madden,' ” he said. “With ‘Madden‘s’ online play, there’s so many jerks. And when you watch those 'Madden' tournament shows on TV, those are not people I want to associate with.

“The other big thing is that I’m older. I have a job. Playing something like 'Madden' nowadays, there’s just so much going on. It’s complex, and I just don’t have the time to dedicate to a game like that anymore.”

At the other end of the anti-Madden spectrum are football gamers - football geeks, really - who want added complexity. As a mass-market entertainment product, “MaddenNFL” has to resemble professional football closely enough to seem authentic - without demanding of its players the strategic knowledge and workaholic time commitment needed from an actual NFL coach.

Thomas Paterniti, a 29-year-old graduate student at Florida State University, hasn’t played a “MaddenNFL” game since 2007. Over the same time period, he has logged hundreds of hours playing “All-Pro Football 2K8” alongside an online community of 300 to 400 regular users.

“I’m a grad student, so I take an intellectual approach to the game,” Mr. Paterniti said. “I like being able to strategize, make adjustments, go deep into the mental aspect of the sport. I rent 'Madden' every year, but I always come back to ‘All-Pro.’ “

Released in 2007 with a digital roster of retired professional players such as Barry Sanders and John Elway - but without actual NFL teams or players - “All-Pro Football 2K8” was a marketplace flop, selling less than 400,000 copies versus 3.6 million for “MaddenNFL 08.”

Still, the game and its 2004 predecessor, “NFL 2K5,” maintain a cult following, in part because gamers have figured out ways to create and share up-to-date pro-football rosters not included on the game discs - the video-game version of do-it-yourself YouTube remixes and musical mash-ups.

Garry Sewell, a 53-year-old former custodian at Youngstown State University, estimates that he spends between three and four months every year creating updated “NFL 2K5” rosters, a painstaking process that includes extensive print and online research, regularly watching ESPN and the NFL Network and updating the names, statistics and appearances - down to uniform, shoe and glove preferences - of about 1,500 professional players.

“Before the NFL Draft, I even research players coming out of college,” said Mr. Sewell, whose first football gaming experience was a pen-and-paper board game put out by Sports Illustrated magazine. “It’s a one-man operation. I enjoy it. I don’t get paid, but it’s a labor of love.

“I’m also laid off right now, so I have some extra time.”

“Madden” refuseniks share a common grievance: “MaddenNFL” is the only professional football video game left on the home-console market. That wasn’t always the case: In the 1990s and early 2000s, diverse titles including “NFL 2K,” “NFL Blitz,” “NFL Gameday” and “Tecmo Super Bowl” made for a range of choices.

In 2004, however, the game maker Take Two Interactive released “NFL 2K5” at an aggressive $19.99 price, forcing rival Electronic Arts to cut the $49.99 price of “MaddenNFL 2005” and eating into “Madden‘s” longtime lead in market share.

Shortly thereafter, Electronic Arts signed an exclusive, $300-million-plus licensing deal with the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Given the league’s overwhelming popularity, the move essentially eliminated video-game competition, and unlicensed titles such as “Blitz: The League” have registered mediocre sales.

In 2008, a group of gamers - including District resident Geoffrey Pecover - filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Electronic Arts, alleging that the company has created a “monopoly in the market for interactive football software.” A University of Michigan economics professor acting as a plaintiffs’ expert witness in the ongoing case estimated that Electronic Arts collectively overcharged “MaddenNFL” buyers as much as $926 million between 2006 and 2009.

Story Continues →