This article is part of our Madden series.
Calling me a Madden fanatic might be underselling my love for the franchise. I still look back fondly on the days in which I would simulate years and years of a franchise just to rebuild the team all over again, or the times my parents would tell me to quiet down because I was announcing my own team’s Super Bowl too loudly. Even tedious grinds like Madden 08 training camp drills I would complete with painstaking precision in order to better develop each of my players, crafting pre-adolescent makeshift spreadsheets to identify the best route to domination. Back then, players picked in the first-round came imbued with the promise of near limitless potential, but at the risk of upsetting your current stars at the position – something I remain painfully aware of to do this day thanks to the traumatic circumstances that led to Donald Driver refusing to re-sign with me in an ill-fated Madden 07 franchise.
It’s silly to think that some of my most iconic gaming moments have come from this football simulator; how Madden has breathed a new level of imagination into me that I didn’t think could (or should) be possible. It’s also crazy to think that a decade later, I’m still consumed by the game – just in a different way than 11-year-old me would have imagined, that being disappointment.
My nostalgia has only grown stronger in recent years, as Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), for better or worse, has risen to the forefront, creating a divide within the community that blames the lack of technological advances on the extra emphasis paid to the lucrative game mode. As a fan of both franchise mode and MUT, I feel confident suggesting Madden 19 is the closest thing this game has felt to becoming that first-round pick of yesteryears, but I’m hesitant to suggest there will ever be a Madden game that can please all audiences.
New Takes on a Franchise Classic
I was skeptical of the archetype progressions and their impact in the game prior to launch, but after numerous simulations and playthroughs, I’ve turned the corner. Make no mistake – solo franchise players looking for a real life representation of the armchair GM will still have to abide by self-imposed rules, with particular emphasis on trading regulations given Madden’s Browns-“esque” level of logic when it comes to acquiring players of need. The ease in which you could snag, say All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, shouldn’t be possible.
But the NEED to net such player is mitigated with an ever-changing rotation of attributes and modifications, creating a reflexive in-game universe. Have a good year with Buccaneers’ 81 overall MLB Kwon Alexander? Expect a boost to his development trait that will reflect his performance. Likewise, a poor statistical season from Dak Prescott could, and likely will, see the quarterback take a heavy hit in terms of his development stock.
That development trait is important considering the changes made to the progression system, one that has seen EA toss out the antiquated XP system in favor of a combination between random upgrades and designed improvements to a player. EA’s Connected Deep Dive does a good job in describing the changes so I’ll take this time to simply say it works – giving a more natural feel to player progression while still allowing you to feel like you have some control on the outcome. Admittedly, I haven’t experimented enough with archetypes and schemes to see the full dynamic level of player progression, something that I imagine will be crucial to understand in franchises with multiple users. The cynic in me worries that the extra emphasis placed on scheme fits will just make it so teams end up subconsciously becoming farm systems, trading away “deep threat” archetype players after fully developing them thanks to the added XP benefits for players that better suit their playstyle, but not their designated scheme. It’s an oversight that I hope will gain traction by the time development for Madden 20 comes around.
Tweaks Toward the Future
Speaking of development for Madden 20, a handful of changes introduced this year could open the door for better things to come in terms of franchise. First and foremost, the Draft Class Creator could create a bunch of fun and unique franchise storylines otherwise absent in years past. But the inability to alter stats without “somebody” seeing the player is a major misstep and one that needs to be altered in future years. Randomizing certain attributes without actually seeing the full ratings will help, particularly in multi-user franchises. For instance, in a number of simulations I noticed a lack of incoming rookie TEs with top-end speed, an obvious error that could be fixed if a user updates it. But that would require said user to gain full knowledge of the entire draft board, effectively rendering them compromised in a multi-user league.
And while it’s quick and painless to edit attributes on players, the same cannot be said if I wanted to change a player’s contract. Seriously, there is absolutely no reason in 2018 that toggling a slider right or left should be the way to edit, well, anything.
I’ll continue to campaign that restricted free agency (or really any upgrade to free agency as a whole), better contract logic, and some form of additional coaching impact should be key components of a much-needed franchise overhaul in upcoming iterations of the franchise, but the new NFL Draft animations simultaneously act as both a step forward, and a step backward in the progression of the franchise mode. The good news is that the flashy animations and images when drafting a player do build a bridge between real life and video game, creating a layer of immersion that has been absent since the start of the new century. In other words, it is “fun”, and adding fun things into the game should be praised as such. However, it shouldn’t come at the expense of basic features that were present in past iterations of the game, which I think would be the biggest gripe among Madden players who’ve stuck with the franchise over the past 10+ years. In this year’s most egregious example of hilariously obtuse logic, the new draft stage has made it so you can only see the next eight picks, as opposed to past years where you could scroll through every single pick in the draft by just moving the right stick down. It’s a painfully tedious exercise to see who picks where in the first round of a normal draft – now try and imagine 32 users partaking in a fantasy re-draft where each person makes 53 selections to fill up their roster; it’s no picnic, especially when the draft room animations literally mean nothing to the game.
Perhaps some of these issues will be fixed in the next iteration, but is still begs the question – why were they here to begin with? It would have taken mere seconds to see the issue with the new draft room, and even sooner to understand the new perils of the Draft Class Creator. Perhaps one of Madden’s greatest strengths – the game’s ability to be something different to every user – is also one of its most obvious weaknesses. There are so many different ways to play the game, from online head-to-head, to single player franchise, to multi-user franchise, to Madden Ultimate Team, etc., that it becomes difficult to meet the needs of every single player. Madden 19 is a fantastic step in the right direction towards an all-encompassing game thanks to the new player progression system and a myriad of solid gameplay features (I could write another 1,400 word feature on my love of the real-player motion system), but to say it is perfect would be disingenuous. Remove the nostalgia blinders and you might discover that the Madden’s of old weren’t perfect either – they just were blessed with growing up with an audience and gaming culture still in its infancy. That shouldn’t stop EA from trying to please all audiences, and nor should it stop us, the players, from expecting more but it's the reality that almost all gaming lives in today.