Every employee has faced that dilemma where you know you’ll receive little thanks for going above and beyond and it eventually becomes the expectation, but EA Sports have set the standard for trying to get away with the bare minimum for years.
Removing features just to re-introduce them as “new” in a few years time is probably the worst, but Franchise players have been ignored for far too long and improvements need to be made.
The looming unveiling of the next-gen consoles and Covid-19 gave them a free pass this year to deliver a very similar experience to Madden 20, so the expectation will be that the next edition of the game will be something special.
It’s not to say that the current game is horrific – yes it has bugs but there is plenty of fun to be had, but there are so many improvements that could and should be made:
Franchise Mode – Scouts/Coordinators and Head Coaches
There is the most basic framework here to build on, but there’s no depth or variation when it comes to staff members and their roles so major improvements need to be made here to keep things interesting.
The scouting has been dull and flawed for years – essentially you just find out a player’s main three attributes and it then tells you how good their overall will be based on the estimated grade. The scouts are never wrong so you don’t see any real shocks in the draft, while the geography means literally nothing so the whole country is covered regardless.
There needs to be depth here where you can hire scouts with geographical and positional expertise, while there also needs to be some variation on their grades depending on experience and ability – you should see examples where someone is rated as a can’t-miss prospect only for them to underwhelm and never live up to that expectation.
Something also needs to be done in regard to coaching coordinators to freshen up the entire experience. In a way it’s fun that you can simply snatch any team’s playbook and run with it at any point, but there’s no realism and there’s no feeling of game planning within the game.
You will get a generic message before some games that says “Patrick Mahomes is quite good, what should we do?”, however all your response does is possibly gain some XP for player development (more on that later), but there’s a huge opportunity to build on this and make each game feel different.
We need to see these coordinators tested by different challenges – can they come up with a game plan to nullify or exploit your opponent? You should have some input into how you want to take teams on in terms of draining the clock or going for a shootout, while this could then translate into the game itself.
Instead of the groundhog day situation of recommending the same plays over and over because you use them all the time, you should see recommendations based on a possible weakness in the opponent or even an adjustment on defence if you’re getting torn apart.
There’s scope to extend this and keep your story developing where the top level coordinators will move on to head coaching roles, while drafting the next great QB could give you the chance to attract the best staff members – no top level offensive coordinator will want to link up with a team that offers them no weapons.
Getting this right will bring a whole new level of difficulty and immersion to your franchise mode, while it should also make it much tougher to build an all-conquering dynasty that becomes boring after a while – turnover behind the scenes will force you to evolve your roster too.
Franchise Mode – Draft/UDFA, Free Agency and Roster building
This is one of the toughest things to get right over time, but it’s far too easy to fill out your roster with some strong players who are just left on the free agency list throughout the entire season once you get a couple of years into a save.
Madden 21 has given us the option to change the amount of X-Factors in the game and that should lead to more elite players as time goes on, but the main issue in the game is that the footballing world is simply filled with too many 75-80 rated players that can be picked up as free agents with no competition.
A lot of players do get annoyed at anybody over 30 simply falling off a cliff and becoming obsolete too quickly, but the regression of free agents who don’t get picked up needs to be rectified – a steady decline over the season if they don’t play seems like the most logical solution, although it would make sense to allow them to progress back towards their old level if they play and play well.
This leads on to the general team building approach where CPU teams have made some improvements, but there are still so many monumental issues that need fixing.
Firstly the market is ruined by the fact that CPU teams just seem completely immune to the salary cap – they continue to sign players to giant deals and run through the season millions over the cap, but then the game won’t allow them to trade any players away unless it clears the cap situation because the “trade would leave them over the cap”
Trading is also a complete tombola where you can probably get a top rated O-lineman for peanuts, while a solid 80+ rated defender in the final year of his deal will need multiple firsts to get it over the line. It’s too easy to amass 2nd and 3rd round picks through manual trades for players who just aren’t worth it, so the whole trade system and formula system needs a total overhaul.
Free agency is about as basic as it comes and although efforts have been made to take the ridiculous points system away from the offers you make, you can still see if other teams are beating your offer which results in constant re-negotiations until you become the top bidder which takes the immersion out.
The whole things needs to be sorted out and it needs to tie into the draft and your scouting process. At the start of the season you should be able to see an overview of who’s out of contract at the end of the season and which positions will offer some depth – this allows you to plan ahead and build that into which positions you want to scout for the draft.
The post season negotiations needs to offer some kind of interaction with the players or their agents, and there must be consequences if you make promises you can’t keep.
If you’re a Super Bowl challenger and there’s a veteran with one season left and no ring then you should be able to convince them to take a pay cut to join you for one last shot, while promises will need to be made to the better players who have multiple suitors. If you sign someone with the promise of a starring role but you quickly draft multiple players in their position then they should demand trades and have morale decreases if they become marginalised.
This then leads into the draft where the combine needs to become more interactive and have a proper impact on draft stocks, while you should have a meeting with the scouts before it starts to assess what you did in free agency and which needs should take on the highest priority.
We could be moving into dreamland now but there’s no reason why we can’t have mock drafts on display from some of the “experts” in the media, your GM can suggest to you what their “dream draft” would be and you can come up with a plan for who you expect to be available with each pick.
The trade system will then need to tie back into this and trading within the draft needs to be more interactive and useable. A scramble on positions can strengthen your hand and lead to trade offers if you hold a valuable spot, while other teams can make it clear what you need to give up if the last QB is there and you need to trade up to get them.
When the draft is over we should then have a proper process surrounding the UDFAs who didn’t get taken, rather than the CPU seemingly getting their pick and then us being able to see all of their stats and development traits to simply pick up.
The ideal scenario would see our scouts come back to us with recommendations to take a chance on, while it would be cool to get some agents or players approach us with a backstory of injury or success at smaller schools to entice us in – IRL most of these players aren’t going to make the main roster so there won’t be a ton of quality, but there should still be the occasional diamond and depth player to find.
The whole process should then take us into a proper training camp/pre-season situation where performances actually matter, and player development can be dictated from what happens here.
Franchise Mode – Player Development
One of the reasons we love real football is because players can suddenly burst onto the scene from absolutely nowhere and become stars, unfortunately the current system in Madden doesn’t really allow that to happen.
Obviously there are situations where a rookie with a good development trait can win multiple player of the year awards and their stats can be boosted to insane levels, but everyone else is reduced to that slow grind where they will improve one point per season and inch towards a good level, but it just doesn’t reflect the dynamism that we see in real life.
It’s not just about improvements either, players should fall off a cliff or suffer bad injuries that they never manage to bounce back from, and this would help keep a healthy number of strong vs poor players in the game rather than everyone becoming good and reducing the variety that you’ll see.
It’s understandable that certain scenarios will be off-limits with the real players because of the rights and likeness involved, but there’s no reason that the drafted regens can’t have more personality and controversy off the field.
Currently you’ll see stories about a draft prospect who is brilliant but unreliable – you’ll get a star in the late round with zero risks. We should see examples where they can’t handle the fame or their attitude isn’t good enough. We can also see opposite examples of model pros who take to the senior game and blossom, so it would offer depth to the draft experience and bring some life to our franchise saves.
The actual development system also needs to be looked at. Currently a player will receive XP for individual or team achievements and you can then select an area of the game to improve – think about how unrealistic this actually is.
Ideally we would see development start in training camp and in training where you can choose to work on an area of someone’s game, while other stats can organically grow as time goes on depending on some of the intangibles which should be hidden and can’t be customised as time goes on.
Physical stats will remain fairly constant until a decline as they age or get injured, while mental stats should improve over time. We can have hidden traits of professionalism or film study that allow a player to grasp that side of the game much quicker than others, while the technical stats can improve and increase when players actually start to get regular reps.
It’s also important that failure is not rewarded – if you have a QB who does a Nathan Peterman then they should quickly lose confidence and the ability to grow – obviously you can choose to stick with them and build them back up, but you’ll do so knowing you’re taking a short term hit for a long term gain that may never come.
Finally it would be welcome to tie all of this back into game plans where we can ask our coordinator to draw up the occasional play or ensure one of our prospects get a few reps in each game to give them a chance to shine, while we can then increase the frequency of the reps if they do well. This can be done manually through formation subs and depth chart adjustments in game, but it’s a chore and awfully time-consuming.
Franchise Mode – Presentation
Obviously the words from the commentators may vary depending on the situation, but you could complete a 40 point comeback in the Super Bowl or run for a yard on 1st and 20 – their tone won’t change and it’s yet another thing that ruins the immersion.
The dream scenario here would see different commentators depending on the broadcast network, while the actual presentation of your game should also vary depending on the importance of the occasion.
One of Madden’s biggest flaws is that every game feels the same regardless of what’s at stake, so some changes in the presentation could help add to the immersion.
If it’s a dead-rubber game at the end of the year then we can have minimal graphics and crowd noise, while play-off time should bring added excitement from the commentators, we should see graphics between plays which are hyping up our best players and showing their stats, while the home crowd should be going nuts for big plays and an eerie silence can befall the broadcast if the away team comes in and starts to take control.
The current edition does have clutch traits but these could be enhanced to go with the squad’s experience, so a meltdown and poor execution will become commonplace if there’s something big on the line and your young squad just isn’t up to the task just now.
We could even go next level and see some influence in the decisions made by our coaching coordinators when it comes to play calls – if you’re unfortunate enough to have the in-game version of Gregg Williams then don’t be surprised if you’re left with no option but to “engage eight” in a vital situation where it’s obviously not going to work.
Next gen consoles are supposed to offer next level immersion when it comes to noise and graphics within the stadium, while some well-timed controller vibrations can add to the experience and at least give the illusion that these moments are huge because of the effort it took to get to this point.
Gameplay – Animations
Most of the animations work well and the game looks realistic most of the time, but there are too many little glitches that ruin the immersion and they really need to be ironed out.
From our experience the biggest offender is the “sucking” blocking animation where you have a player who’s ready to light up the ball-carrier, only in the blink of an eye they teleport into the arms of a blocker and there’s a giant gain before you can do anything about it.
There are also irritations to be had where the ball carrier will somehow roll forwards with your player for an extra 3/4 yards in an animation that happens too often, while the PS4 version of the game just cannot deal with multiple defenders arriving at split intervals to make a tackle – players on the way down are suddenly lifted back into the air and sent on their way in an inexplicable manner.
If the animation based play is to continue then that is absolutely fine, but there needs to be a bigger variety which can be chained together in a realistic fashion, while additional tacklers need to simply enhance the animation which is currently underway rather than triggering it’s own sequence which makes no sense at all.
Gameplay – CPU play calling and adjustments
This is one of the hardest things to get right, but the CPU still makes far too many of their own calls based on your initial play selection rather than the situation that faces them.
One noticeable improvement can be seen in 4th and 1 situations – if you call a run up the middle then the CPU will pick a goal line formation the majority of the time and look to stuff you, but that’s where the realism ends.
It’s far too easy to simply call a pass play and audible into the run – the CPU cannot adjust or react and you can stroll through the open hole for 4/5 yards and it’s far too easy.
Ideally we would see CPU teams come up with an effective game plan against us based on tendencies we show over the season. This means they can be prepared to stop that same call you continue to make, while it forces variety in your playcalling and keeps every game feeling fresh and different.
Ideally the game will move towards a place where the CPU will learn to make calls based on the situation that give them the best chance of coming up with a stop, while simply calling the same plays over and over will be punished – forcing you to get creative and come up with a different approach if things start to go wrong.
Gameplay – Situational football
Playing the situational game can so often by the difference between hell or glory in the tightest of games, so it’s depressing to see that the CPU is so horrifically bad at it.
The two minute drill and the CPU trailing by more than one score in the fourth quarter is one of the biggest issues in the actual gameplay just now. They won’t hurry up until that two minute mark hits, so you can nurse a two score lead in the fourth quarter by allowing them to dink and dunk the clock away until it’s too late.
The two minute drill is a shambles as well. They’ll hurry up for the first minute, the first time-out comes with 60 seconds left, while the second will always come with the next completed play in bounds.
For some reason all intensity is lost at this moment, while it’s worryingly common for them to simply let the clock run out despite being in FG range and having a time-out left. There are suggestions that his is one of the hardest things to code in the game, but that’s been the case for years so the excuse doesn’t fly anymore.
Kicking in general also needs to be looked at, with field goals being way too easy unless you get iced in the last moments of a game and the bar will disappear on you at the vital moment.
The issue is that every kicker feels the same unless it’s the lesser spotted X-factor kicker – there’s nothing that ramps up the pressure, they’re always accurate and it’s easy just to float through a season completing every kick.
If we want realism then it’s going to annoy some people, but it simply has to be the case that you will be punished for having a poor kicker in your team eventually. Perhaps some kicks should be missed unless you get the timing utterly perfect, while confidence and pressure needs to come into the equation and actually bring an element of danger into your decision to go for a long field goal.
Punt coverage also needs some work, especially when it comes to downing the ball if the returner decides to let it bounce. It’s easy enough to run up and get beyond the bouncing ball, but actually downing it before it reaches the end zone is a total lottery and the game doesn’t offer any kind of speciality when it comes to excellent special teams players.
It would also be nice if the occasional punt could be blocked and not signalled by the same animation every single time, and if the CPU decides to go for a fake field goal or punt it shouldn’t come up saying “fake field goal” in the suggestions for your play which effectively tips you off every single time.
There’s no doubt that the mode has been neglected for so long that a giant effort and commitment will need to be made by EA to get this right. The current approach of “that’ll do” will come back to bite them big time if a credible competitor emerges in the market, but it’s very possible they don’t see that happening so there’s little point in putting resources towards a game mode that doesn’t entice morons to spend their money on in-game gambling packs.