16 June 2010
It figures. Just when I recently wrote an article pointing out how I felt EA Sports was turning the corner on feature-laden sports releases in their games (HERE), EA Sports decides to drop two steaming stink-bombs at the feet of sports gamers.
But, we shall review. The first bad news came last month in the form of EA forcing 2nd hand game owners to shell out $10 to open up many of the features that came standard on the disc of the original game owner. My thoughts on that ill-concieved move can be found HERE. I hoped at the time that EA had gotten all of their high-level idiocy out of the way for a while.
Clearly, I underestimated the level of foolishness at dear EA.
Within the past week, EA's Phil Frazier was tasked with delivering the bad (read: idiotic) news, this time specifically to the Madden faithful. The full text of his blog can be found HERE, but let me quote the part I shall focus on.
From Phil Frazier:
"Last year we delivered Online Franchise and while it was received very well by community and press, the usage was among the lowest for any of our gameplay modes. What this said to us was that Franchise mode as whole needed more than just a new access point, it needed a complete refresh. As most of you know, Franchise mode debuted in Madden NFL 99 on PlayStation, and since then, we’ve been adding on layers and layers of code each year to make it the most authentic experience possible. As console technology has evolved, it’s become increasingly more difficult to evolve the mode in-kind, since we are handcuffed by the limitations of the code from so many years in the past. To re-write Franchise mode to take full advantage of the PS3 and Xbox 360 would take well over a year to do, which is why we’ve taken the approach we have up until now. With that in mind, we made the decision to focus this year’s development on making the core areas of Madden NFL better, namely the AI, animations, playcall, and online play..." (end quote)
Wow. Lots to digest there.
Lets take it part by part. First of all, delivering something, and delivering something of quality is two different things entirely. Last year, EA Sports delivered a half-assed, depth-deprived attempt at online franchise. The mode had no salary cap (kinda huge), no free agency process, no "Extra Point" show (like offline franchise has), and very little of the depth that offline franchise had as well. The online franchise feature, aside from the iphone app that came out well after the release of the actual game, was inferior to nearly every 2K Sports game with online franchise that has been released in the current system cycle (i.e. since 2006).
Okay, live and learn...but improve! And that's precisely what Madden 11 is not doing with online franchise. Basically, EA Sports is not touching online franchise mode (or Superstar mode, for that matter) that were both very flawed in Madden 10. I also find it offensive that they cite usage stats as a reason for leaving the online franchise mode "untouched" (read: still with all of its flaws and missing features). This just in, EA, perhaps if online franchise wasn't such a hot-mess to begin with, people would have focused on it more and played it more. Lets face it, for better or worse, you never hear 2K Sports cite "usage stats" to keep an online mode crappy and untouched year to year. I find it laughable that EA turns the blame back at the fans ...for their own game's lack of detail in a particular area. Wouldn't more people have played a BETTER online franchise mode?
"Sorry folks, your usage number wasn't what we wanted. We'll leave the game crappy in that area. Carry on."
But that wasn't the only message. Later in the blog, Phil Frazier went on to discuss how "Gameplanning" and things like 3 on 3 co-op play saw most of the developer attention this year. Seriously? 3 on 3 co-op play? Can someone please find me even find me 10 Madden football repeat-buyers who have coveted a 3 on 3 co-op play over full featured modern online franchise? None of the Madden players I know is that elated that they can finally play QB while their buddy runs around as a receiver and catches the ball. Sure, there might be some fun there, but in most cases, us Madden folks would rather beat the snot out of our buddy with him controlling one team and us controlling another. I can only pray that EA releases its "online usage stats" on this "great new mode" once Madden 11 ships. Here's a wager. FAR less people will play online co-op than did Madden 10 online franchise.
Because very few Madden fans EVER ask for co-op in any Madden wish-list. (Yet, how many ask for full featured online franchise.)
Later in that article, Phil went on to sing the virtues of the new GamePlan feature (also absent from online franchise, FYI). Yes, it could be cool setting up individual game-plans for various opponents, but how many Madden vets would rather just go into each game with their full arsenal of plays to begin with (i.e. like all other years of Madden.) I fail to see how deliberately limiting a playbook is such a wonderful hardcore feature. Also, who says your AI coach, who prompts you to run plays in that particular mode, will realize things we all know as veteran players. For instance, will the AI coach realize that about 80% of the run plays in the Madden are terrible, slow to develop, and prone to lose yards. Will the AI playcaller (or play-suggester) realize that many of the stock Madden pass plays put too many receivers bunched in the same area of the field, causing high interception probability on most of the routes?
Yeah, give me ALL my plays. Let me decide that. However, this was the second of the "big features" that took priority over untouched online franchise.
But wait, it gets worse:
At the end of the blog, Phil Frazier goes on to say that EA plans to "build online franchise and superstar mode from the ground up" in Madden 12. Those of us who have lived through previous "From the ground up" declarations from EA know exactly what that means. It means that we can expect very little in the way of finished product for several years. I recall how NBA Live was "built from the ground up" starting about 4 years ago. It is currently being built from the ground up again after taking it on the sales chin from NBA 2K10 last year.
(You know, NBA 2K10, that product that has full-featured, modern online franchise, and has for several years now...while NBA Live...still has no online franchise whatsoever.)
But, it sure is funny. I mean, after all, EA's CEO recently told everybody how the EA Online Pass (read: gouging second hand owners of an EA disc at $10 a pop) would mean way more premium content and improved experiences for the new game buyer. I guess the EA Tiburon Madden team must have missed that memo, at least as it pertains to improving online franchise and superstar modes in Madden 11. Funny that.