NCAA Football

I recently wrote about the ongoing lawsuit between Ed O'Bannon and the NCAA regarding player likenesses for college athletes (and compensation for college athletes in general). While it seems unlikely that any college football games will be made using the NCAA license while this lawsuit remains unresolved in appeal limbo, it does seem inevitable to me that EA will eventually start making these games again. Hopefully, it will come with the ability to include real player likenesses, but that is likely to depend on the outcome of any appeals and the willingness of the NCAA to include real player likenesses in games. Video game sales seems far too lucrative an exploit for the NCAA to pass up, so I highly doubt that they'd simply refuse to grant their license.

Operating under the assumption that EA will go back to making NCAA Football games within the next few years (hopefully as early as NCAA Football 18), I'd like to start talking about the kinds of things that I'd like to see in such games.

NCAA Football 14 -
It's been three years without a college football game. It doesn't look like we'll be getting one for 2016 either.
But hopefully a new entry in the series is only a year or two away...

Legacy features that must return!

I don't expect all the old features to return, and even the ones that do return might not be the same as in the older games. But here's the things that I think the game should absolutely have in some form or another (hopefully similar to previous games):

  • In-season recruiting in dynasty
  • Redshirt players
  • Export draft class to Madden
  • Conference re-alignments
  • EA Locker: Roster sharing & Team Builder
  • Custom stadium sounds
  • "Toughest places to play"

Roster-sharing might seem unnecessary if the result of the lawsuits means that EA can actually license the rights to player likenesses. But it's unclear how that would work. There is no college football labor union (equivalent of the NFL Players' Association) that I'm aware of, so either the NCAA would have the rights to license all of its players as a collective, or it would be the responsibility of the game-maker to individually license each and every player. Hopefully, it's the former. But if it's the latter, that leaves open the possibility of individual players refusing to grant rights to their likenesses, which means they won't be included in the game. Would EA simply remove them from the roster? Or replace them with some generic player? Or go back to using "QB #10" as that player's name? Worse yet, would the game-maker even bother to approach all the athletes, or would they just settle for the key players from elite schools?

In any case, college football rosters are often in flux right up to the start of the season, and many teams need a few games before they settle on a final depth chart. So the ability to share roster updates means that the user base can keep the rosters up to date if EA uses outdated rosters.

Hand-me-downs from Madden

Madden is now a few years ahead of NCAA Football, and the past few years have actually seen a decent improvement in the quality and depth of the game. Of course, I'd like to see a lot of features from recent Madden games also get imported into any future NCAA Football games:

  • Tackling / physics engine
  • Improved running, receiving, QB throw-placement, and defensive play
  • Player experience and confidence (needs to be much more volatile though)
  • Skills Trainer, augmented with college concepts such as the option
  • Stadium upgrades and renovation

Just please, for goodness sake, don't force another Ultimate Team gimmick down our throats!...

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EA Sports logo

There hasn't been a legitimate college football video game since EA Sports stopped making the games after the 2013 season. NCAA Football 2014 was the last game in the series (and I didn't even review it!).

The reason for the disappearance of this game series was a class-action lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA regarding compensation for player likenesses in college sports video games. O'Bannon sued in order to get the NCAA to pay players some compensation for the likenesses that were used in such video games. The NCAA refused, since they consider college athletes "amateurs" who should not be paid. Over the past few years, there has been mounting controversy over the lack of compensation for college athletes, especially as sports like college football and basketball surge in popularity and profitability. Currently, schools can earn millions of dollars from their college sport programs (from ticket sales to TV deals to advertising and endorsements), but the athletes who play the games don't see a penny of the money. Instead, they get scholarships.

While I'm personally in favor of paying college athletes, I'm not going into that debate right now. Instead, I want to discuss the settlement that occurred, EA paying out the settlements to players, and what it might mean for the future of college football games.

I'll admit that I'm confused by this whole affair. There was initially a settlement, and EA is currently paying out likeness reimbursements to players. However, the case is still ongoing, as the NCAA has challenged the original ruling. This appeal resulted in an upholding of the NCAA's violation of anti-trust laws, but it also (as I understand) struck down part of the original ruling that required money to be set aside to pay players compensation for their likenesses. I'm not sure if these are two separate cases, or if EA independently agreed to a settlement. If anyone could explain the course of event, I'd greatly appreciate it.

In any case, EA Sports excited players earlier this year by posting the first Facebook post in almost two years on NCAA Football's official Facebook page. The post wasn't much - just a heartbeat monitor. Fans quickly started anticipating that this meant that EA was resurrecting the college football video game franchise.

EA quickly responded that the post was not meant to imply that any future NCAA Football games were in development...

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A few months ago, I wrote a blog piece about suggestions to expand Madden 16's feature set to make the game a deeper, more realistic depiction of the management of an NFL team. This year's Madden game has proven to be a much better game than the previous few years, and I actually have found myself playing it well into the new year. As such, I've also been coming across new, nagging annoyances, and new ideas for features and enhancements. Most notably, I finally got to play through a complete off-season, and I have several ideas for how offseason can be improved in future years of Madden.

So I've decided to write a follow-up piece with more suggestions for future games. This article will focus on off-season activities. In order to keep things clean and concise, I've also made a few changes to the original post as well. I wanted to keep specific topics grouped together. There's also less to talk about in this new post, so I've moved the "Little Things" section from the original post into this article in order to shorten the original post and pad this one out to about the same length. I've also made some small revisions and clarifications in the original post, so I highly recommend re-visiting that post to see the changes.

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I've been really dismayed by the focus that EA has placed on its Ultimate Team feature in the past couple years of Madden releases. I've made my distaste known in my reviews of both 16 and 15. With the NCAA football series dead due to the revocation of the license, Madden is all we have. I feel like the best thing for me to do at this point is to just give up, since it seems that EA has no interest in appealing to the small demographic of simulation die-hards to which I belong. Instead, they want to keep their model of annual releases that force people to have to give up their established decks of Ultimate Team cards so that they can spend more money on micro-DLC to buy the credits necessary to rebuild their collection.

But as cynical as my reviews can be, I don't want to give up on football gaming. I love football, and I love gaming, and I want to continue to be able to enjoy the union of the two. And right now, Madden is the only way that I can do that.

So I'm going to take some time to write up a wishlist of the kind of features that I want - no expect - a modern football game to include. Some of them are new features that football games have never attempted. Others are ones that previous games just never got right. And still others might be things that were present in earlier games, worked just fine, but have been inexplicably removed to make room for less worthwhile features.

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One of the most glaring problems with Madden for many years now has been the passivity of offensive receivers. They've been completely unwilling to make any effort to track the ball in the air and go up and get it. Often, underthrown balls would be easily intercepted because receivers would mindlessly run their route and never make an effort to come back towards the ball to catch it. This, combined with defensive backs who always had eyes in the backs of their heads, lead to a lot of interceptions and a very frustrating experience in the passing game. This year's Madden finally makes some effort to address this problem, and I honestly thought that this might finally be the year in which things started to really come together for this series. I wasn't expecting Madden 16 to suddenly be the NFL 2k5 of our generation, but I was at least expecting to see a product that felt more complete, in which all the areas of on-field action seemed - at the very least - to be competent.

Madden NFL 16 - catching
Long-standing problems with passing, catching, and pass defense were points of emphasis this year.

But as the summer went on, and all I ever heard about was some silly new "Draft Champions" mode that sounded like a half-assed fantasy football season, I really started to lose any hope and excitement that I had. Normally, I'd buy Madden used in order to keep my money out of EA's greedy hands. Fortunately for EA, the first two stores that I went to were sold out of Until Dawn, so I decided to go ahead and splurg on Madden so that I'd have something to do that weekend.

The mandatory tutorial featuring a hypothetical Super Bowl 50 rematch between the Steelers and Cardinals is an absolute train wreck. A handful of players recorded unbelievably cheesy dialogue for this sequence that seemed to imply that this year's Madden was going to put some emphasis on the personalities of the players and include some smack talk (the kind of thing that Madden '05's "Storylines" feature was going for). I thought it was weird that I hadn't heard anything about this in any of the promotional material or previews. It seemed uncharacteristic for Madden and contradictory to the NFL's careful regulation of the public image of the league.

The tutorial proceeded to force me through a series of intolerably-scripted plays and highlights of its fictitious Super Bowl in an attempt to clumsily introduce me to its new passing and catching mechanics. This tutorial is ugly to watch, painful to listen to, is terrible at teaching the new mechanics, and is blatantly unrepresentative of the actual game content.

I hadn't even finished the tutorial or made it to the game's main menu yet, and I was already suffering buyer's remorse.

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Madden NFL 16 - drafting Randall Cunningham
Historic players can be drafted.

Ultimate Team fantasy draft

My feelings of buyer's remorse only grew as I looked through the new features and menu options.

There seems to be a bigger and bigger push towards Madden being an elaborately-crafted system of fantasy football. I already thought that Ultimate Team was trending painfully in that direction. As silly as I think that feature is, Madden players seem to love it - so much so that EA has decided to add another fantasy football-inspired game mode: Draft Champions. As always, all EA's efforts seem to be in trying to make Madden as "game-y" as possible instead of making any efforts to emulate the deeper strategy and nuance of real football. Ultimate Team, and now Draft Champions, are the ultimate expression of that.

Draft Champions is a modified 15-round fantasy draft in which you select from one of three available players in each round. You start by selecting a coach, which grants you a specific offensive and defensive play style for you team, and so you want to try to get players that best fit into those schemes - if you're lucky enough to be offered any. In the final round, you also get to chose one of three Hall of Fame historical players, such as Randall Cunningham or Rod Woodson. Once the draft is done, you play a sudden-death "season" of three games. One loss, and you're done.

I complained about the rushed pacing of games in Madden 15, but the "games" in Draft Champions are only half that time! Three minutes in a quarter is not enough time to play football at all. The game even taunts you by forcing you to have to chose a coach and team style in the first round, and you'd have to be masochistic to chose anything other than "long pass" or "medium pass". Chosing "ground and pound" was barely viable with six minute quarter; it's virtually pointless with three minute quarters. A twelve minute game isn't long enough to establish any kind of "pounding" running game. All you have to do is listen to the commentary to hear how screwed up such a fast game is. Every game, the commentators talk about how it's been a "defensive battle" going into the two-minute warning or halftime - because one team had the ball for the entire half! It's nonsense!

Madden NFL 16 - Draft Champions Rod Woodson
Draft Champions might be more worthwhile if you got to keep some of the players you drafted and add them to MUT.

I'll grant this to the game: the second two Draft Champion games are very tense. The short time time frame and insta-death nature of the mode means you have to play virtually perfectly. Of course, that's to be expected when you start the game in a four-minute drill.

And what do you get for your effort? What reward is worth this idiotic waste of time? You get some PSN trohies / XBox Live achievements, and some packs of Ultimate Team cards (most of which are just redeemable for points to buy other cards). You don't even get to keep the cards that you drafted in Champions mode - just random packs. Eventually, after you beat Draft Champions enough times, you get some elite MUT cards. Oooh... [hand waving] Why is Draft Champions even its own mode on the main menu? Why isn't it just an option in the MUT menu? It's basically just a fantasy draft and preseason for MUT, but you don't even get to keep the players! So what's the point?!

The question that I'm left with is: has Madden jumped the shark? Is this the point where I have to just give up on the idea that EA will ever want to pull Madden back to its simulation football roots? Has it so completely diverged from what I expect from an NFL-licensed football game that I just can't take it seriously anymore as an NFL-licensed football game? I'm tempted to just not even bother with the rest of this review if this is the kind of trash that EA is going to waste their time with. If EA thinks that this is the way of the future for football gaming, then I want no part of it.

But, for old times sake, I guess I can go over the actual football parts of the game, give it at least one more stab at being taken seriously, so click here to read the rest of the review...

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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