As you’ve probably noticed from the last couple of articles, sometimes there is a need to go on the offensive and tell the truth about the mishandling of certain situations. Call it a rant, call it an argument, call it a discussion, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, as an opinionated sports fan, I should use my platform to discuss my thoughts and put them out in the public forum. That’s what this new segment, Nerd Rage, is about.
And, oh boy, do I have the juiciest topic to start this segment off with.
Video games have long been a passion of mine outside of sports, and I have recently grappled with the idea of opening a companion blog about video games to pursue both avenues. As a fan of both sports and video games, I’m naturally inclined to care about sports games such as Madden. Madden was the first sports game series I really grew attached to, with the occasional break here and there. I, like many other people, became hooked in the game due to its then-iconic Franchise mode.
Back in the mid-2000s, Madden held the quintessential franchise mode across all sports games. The mode had all the depth a player could want, from training camp and meaningful preseasons to expansive relocation and scouting options. The mode even had the coordinators as more than just placeholders, and teams could vie for their services as well for any position they’d want, emulating the coaching carousel we see in the NFL every year. Sure, the mode wasn’t always perfect and showed a small dip in quality past Madden 08, but it remained the standard-bearer for a long time in the sports game industry.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen, and did it fall hard.
June 30 was the day longtime fans of Madden such as myself were locked on to the game. It was the day that we would hear what EA was planning to do with their Face of the Franchise and Franchise modes, both of which were met with a fair amount of criticism. To be fair, Face of the Franchise does look mildly interesting, and it looks like the story will go far deeper than the feeble attempt made with Madden 20, where the story inexplicably stops once you’re drafted. It’s also the closest we have to a proper NCAA football game, so there’s also that (who wouldn’t want to restore a legacy program like USC or Nebraska back to its former glory?)
And then we saw the franchise updates. And here was the collective response of the Madden fanbase.
Let me first call out the presentation of these notes. First of all, calling the mode “Classic Franchise” worries me. It gives me eerie similarities to FIFA 20: Legacy Edition, which was the port of FIFA 20 for the Nintendo Switch. The port was an exact copy of FIFA 19 with a roster update, so terms such as “classic” and “legacy” now have the ominous connotation of being stagnant and left for dead. Second, the notes are buried under the updates for Face of the Franchise, with no images or physical evidence of any changes. And lastly, calling these new changes updates bothers me. The notes are presented and formatted as if this is little more than a patch instead of a full-fledged evolution of the mode. The presented updates do nothing to shake this perception, amounting to little more than minor tweaks to player progression and schemes. That’s all.
It appears that Madden franchise fans will be three years removed from the mode’s last great innovation, which was allowing for the use of custom rosters and draft classes. Sure, there were storylines added in Madden 20, but the options were paper-thin and you could see all of them within a single season, so it’s clearly still a work in progress. It’s a damning statement for the mode, especially as several games have passed Madden by in terms of their offerings. NBA 2K and even NHL have allowed players to experience the offseason, even providing them with the chance to perform expansion drafts, regular drafts, and free agency (ever thought LeBron would look better in Philly than LA? You had that option.) FIFA allowed for players to customize the different leagues and the teams playing in the various competitions throughout the year. Even MLB allowed players to take the field with legendary players. The fact these games have done more than Madden to bolster their single-player experiences over the last few years speaks volumes. It’s no mystery why #FixMaddenFranchise was the top-trending topic on Twitter for a little while.
Fans are fed up with this, and I can’t honestly say I blame them. They have felt ignored by EA for too long, and have been forced to settle for complacency and mediocrity out of a mode that was once the crux of their entire Madden experience. Especially after EA came out and told everyone that Franchise mode was being recommitted to, the need for fans to go out of their way to band together and announce their displeasure points to massive issues. While I feel bad for the community coordinators for taking the brunt of the vitriol and backlash from disgruntled fans, accountability has to be demonstrated at some point. It’s a bad look for them if the community feels disrespected and ignored the way that it has, and it calls into question just where along the line that the game of telephone between fans and the higher-ups at EA did the message become jumbled.
I won’t go too far into the theory about how Ultimate Team killed Franchise mode, but it’s definitely become the new golden child for EA and has taken over as the new feature attraction. Granted, any company worth their salt would keep interest in a mode that is expected to make them over $1.5 billion in this upcoming year. That being said, the time and effort spent on any mode like this should not be coming at the detriment of another mode with an equally, if not more, dedicated fanbase. Not to mention the countless controversies regarding not just Ultimate Team and similar modes, but regarding EA itself. When NBA 2K has been bombarded with complaints about being a gambling simulator with basketball in some instances, EA hitting $1 billion in revenue from microtransactions alone, and an EA executive referring to microtransactions as “surprise mechanics” to circumvent any ethical wrongdoing, having a featured mode dedicated nearly entirely to such a practice is admittedly more than a little alarming.
All of this, from the underwhelming presentation to the long drought of meaningful innovation to the apparent switch in developmental focus, leads me to fear the worst. That EA has given up entirely on Franchise mode and the “classic” label slapped on means more like abandonment rather than a simple phrasing. That the attempts of fans to get EA to restore their commitment to the mode and make good on their promises would ultimately be in vain. It would be a dark day for many Madden fans, but when it comes to the insult that this recent reveal has been, it may be a better fate than for it to be the equivalent of a museum exhibit. Is EA waiting for the next generation of consoles to come out before they go through the desperately needed overhaul of Franchise mode? Are Franchise mode fans out of luck until EA’s new licensing deal ends in 2025? It’s hard to figure out just what’s happening, and I’m partially dreading what the end result could be.
So where do I stand on Madden 21? I don’t know yet. I want to actually see this game before I make any snap judgments. If I have to wait until after the release date, that’s fine by me. It will have to do a lot more things wrong to reach WWE 2K20 levels of bad, but it will have to do quite a bit of heavy lifting in order to make up for this disappointment.
Still, Franchise mode fans aren’t expecting EA to move heaven and earth for the sake of appeasement. They just want to feel as if they still mean something to EA, and these “updates” answer that question in the negative. Hopefully, EA has some sort of plan to counteract the staleness of their once-flagship mode, but at this point, it’s hard to know whether the ship has finally been sunk.