This article is part of our Madden series.
With the Madden 19 release date drawing closer by the day (August 7 for the Hall of Fame edition, August 10 for the normal copy) news has begun to trickle out surrounding the game’s franchise mode, where aspiring GMs-to-be get the opportunity to actually help the Browns win a football game, albeit in virtual reality.
It’s fair to say the annual release is layered with an additional level of intrigue this year, thanks in large part to the leave of former creative director Rex Dickson. After proclaiming multiple. times. Madden 19 would have an extra emphasis placed on the development of the “connected franchise”, a game mode in need of a significant makeover after years of minimal changes or outright rebranding of previous iterations mechanics, Dickson abruptly left EA Tiburon at the beginning of May, just months before the launch of the new game. While Dickson insisted the resignation didn’t come with any animosity, his quote suggesting the change gave “the community and the Madden franchise a chance for a new direction” certainly appeared to be a wink towards players starving for a more immersive and comprehensive simulation mode. Whether or not it was a positive one, though, will likely take time to discern.
At least initially, EA seems to have taken Dickson’s mandate to heart, as the handful of changes addressed in their Franchise Deep Dive could loosely be considered positives. First and foremost comes the introduction of Archetype Progression which replaces the outdated XP system that has largely been a part of Connected Franchise mode since its inception. The way in which a player earns experience – through gameplay, training, awards, etc. – remains the same, but instead of upgrading individual statistics, each player will be given a random set of attribute boosts pertaining to their designated archetype. No longer can you can you spam experience into certain important attributes like speed, blockshed, awareness and play recognition. It’s a refreshing change for junkies like me who have long since dreamed of an upgradable experience that more closely resembles the way real NFL players progress throughout their careers. Of course, this model opens the door for multiplayer leagues to try and deal with abhorrent amounts of stat chasing within each game, as better games/stats theoretically will yield more skill points to upgrade players. But the dirty truth of the matter is: that was going to happen regardless. At least now, a player will more realistically grow to his archetype, as opposed to quickly gaining whatever stat is deemed most important by the meta.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my second favorite addition coming to Madden 19 franchise mode is something EA is calling Snapshots – essentially glorified images of major weekly in-game moments which will appear throughout your franchise hub. For a game in desperate need of major changes to things such as player contracts, introduction of the Supplemental Draft, adding in assistant coaches and a host of other obvious oddities, Snapshots looks like an enormous waste of resources, as the pictures will literally do nothing to make the game better. But they “feel” like they mean something to a given league, which might be all Madden 19 can do at this point. I’ve maybe sent two Snapchats to people in my entire life (Editor’s note: Joe is actually a 50-year-old man, y’all) so I’m certainly not one to throw myself into the millennial’s obsession of photography, but I have to admit, any sort of immersion in franchise is much needed. My sweetest football game memories came from listening to the Tony Bruno show in Madden 05 while simulating years of a franchise and hoarding draft picks for up-and-coming drafts. Yes, it’s sad that in my 18 years of playing Madden I can still remember being serenading by the sweet sounds of Bruno discussing the current state of the NFL during a “fake” radio broadcast within the game, but it also points to how powerful proper immersion can be in a football game. EA has long since jettisoned that additional layer of engagement in favor of the lucrative Madden Ultimate Mode, but the Snapshot feature gives me a glimmer of hope that Madden hasn’t entirely forgotten its roots. Yes, grainy pictures of ugly player models celebrating a touchdown aren’t glamourous. But at least they are something.
Of course, the much ballyhooed decision to add a Draft Class Creator shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing franchise mode, but in terms of the connected franchise, it’s merely a disappointing footnote as opposed to the “No. 1 feature request by the community” which it will undoubtedly be marketed as in the coming weeks. There’s really no workaround with the draft class creator – either someone gets to see the entire rookie class and therefore get a leg up on the competition – or, no one gets to see the incoming eligible rookie players and the league is set to suffer from the whims of EA’s random number generators. It’s a nice tool for leagues who wish to incorporate legitimate rookie classes in the coming years, and if everyone is comfortable with the idea of knowing the draft ahead of time, it could bring equity to random simulation trends that happen every year. A tool that could better help balance the amount of speedy receivers available each year isn’t a bad thing; it’s just impractical given “someone”, whether that be the commissioner or the entire league, must view the unfinished product beforehand.
There are other things included in the Deep Dive like additional depth chart positions, 11 new player ratings and an increased emphasis on developing an offensive and defensive scheme, but they’re simply minor details that fall under the categories “why weren’t they there before” or “will they actually make a difference”, or in the case of the re-introduction of team captain designations, both. Overall, the changes highlighted in the Madden 19 Deep Dive are a small step towards a better franchise experience, but only time will tell if the incremental improvements will erase years of cynical calluses built up thanks to repeated neglect and broken promises.