The company hired Bethesda Softworks to finish the game, but this only got them partway to their goal. While EA used many of its designs, including contributions to their physics engine, within a year Bethesda stopped working on Madden and sued EA over EA’s failure to publish new versions of Bethesda’s Gridiron! football game. This added to the delay. After a final development push, John Madden Football debuted in 1988 for the Apple II series of computers. Hawkins and an exhausted Ybarra (“All my memories are of pain”) were able to move on to other projects.
EA had a copy of the 1980 Raiders playbook, and hired San Francisco Chronicle writer Frank Cooney, who had designed his own figurine football game with numerical skill ratings. Although the company could not yet legally use NFL teams’ or players’ names, Cooney obtained real plays from NFL teams. The back of the box called the game “The First Real Football Simulation” and quoted Madden: “Hey, if there aren’t 11 players, it isn’t real football.” Documentation included diagrams of dozens of offensive and defensive plays with Madden’s commentary on coaching strategies and philosophy. The game sold moderately well but given the sophisticated playbook its interface was complex, and Madden’s insistence on 11 players caused the game to run slowly.
During this period, Madden turned down the opportunity to buy an “unlimited” number of options for EA stock in its initial public offering, a decision he later called “the dumbest thing I ever did in my life”