Tiny Titan

Curator's Note

Madden NFL is video game franchise that has released a new football simulation game each year since 1988. The most recent iteration sold more than 5 million copies worldwide. The games have been noted for their realism – real teams, real players, real plays, simulation of a live NFL broadcast, photorealistic graphics, detailed character movements, and even injuries are purported to be just like the real NFL. Despite this emphasis on realism, in 2014, a "Tiny Titan" glitch was discovered in Madden NFL 15. The glitch made rookie linebacker, Christian Kirksey, appear 1-foot-2 instead of his actual height 6-foot-2. This small player was mixed in among the regular sized players and could make plays like the others. The glitch was eventually fixed by EA, the content producers. In a series that stresses realism, Tiny Titan was a glaring error. However, Tiny Titan was largely celebrated by the Madden fan base and became a social media darling. Before long, the character was then reinstalled and advertised by EA. Specifically, EA created a unique player challenge and trailer focusing on Tiny Titan. While the Madden series attempted to create a highly realistic adaptation of football, Tiny Titan pulled back the curtain and reminded players that the game was just a simulation. What was less clear was why fans of a realistic franchise responded so positively. While one can only speculate, novelty may have been a factor in Tiny Titan’s success. Likewise, the absurdity of the representation could have been an appeal. Playing as a 14 inch athlete among giants might have represented the ultimate underdog story. As for EA, a company frequently maligned by the video game community, Tiny Titan represented a positive outcome born out of a programming error. EA and Kirksey both played along with the joke, received some press attention, and performed a bit of service for the fans.


I think EA's response to this glitch was a great example of how to take something potentially full of derision, especially among the rather boisterous gaming community, and carefully gauge the player reactions to see how to best spin it into something positive. The nature of the glitch was not exactly an offensive one - it is so unlike reality that it veers squarely into the comedic - and it was played for laughs, which is actually a pleasant thing to see given the highly competitive nature of sports and sports video games. This glitch also points to the highly complex nature of code behind AAA video games and how bugs do slip through. It would be interesting to know when this might have actually occurred and how it managed to get through quality assurance.

Agreed. Based on what I have seen, it sounds like the 6 was mistakenly entered as a 1. But I am not sure how that made it through QA. Perhaps this speaks further to the depth of these AAA games.

It seems as if embracing the Tiny Titan, especially after it was found to be popular with fans, is an interesting example of how fan cultivation and audience retention methods have shifted. Surely the preferred method for the studio would be to ignore the mistake, or try to pretend it never happened, but that's a losing strategy in the era of ubiquitous fan conversation in subreddits and so forth. It's a comical goof, but it speaks to a larger industry strategy of allowing off-brand "warts" to become part of their ongoing relationship with their consumers. IE, sometimes the fans dictate what's "in-brand" now, and the companies have to make the smart play and go with it.

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