Madden NFL 21 - title

In the past 2 years, EA has added 2 new arcade modes (Superstar KO, and now The Yard), on top of the existing [pay-to-win] arcade mode that has been in the game for a decade (Ultimate Team), and they've experimented with 2 new single-player career modes, but they refuse to make any substantial upgrades or improvements to the core Franchise mode. And they have the nerve to call this a "simulation" football game? And no, I do not consider Face of the Franchise to be a "Franchise Mode", no matter how EA may want to brand it.

Look, if Madden already had a deep, robust, and engaging Franchise Mode on par with the breadth and quality of the mode from 10-20 years ago, then I'd be perfectly fine with the team branching out and experimenting with new game modes. If the Franchise Mode were already so complete and robust that both EA's devs and the fan community were struggling to think of things to add or change, then all these other modes would feel more warranted. But that isn't the case. Franchise mode has been a half-baked, bug-riddled, experience since at least Madden 13. And the wishlists from consumers have plenty of ideas for EA to implement, ranging from hiring coordinators and assistant coaches, to off-season training camps, to position battles, to contract restructuring, to a more meaningful preseason and in-season scouting, and even relatively mundane and simple things like a weather forecast or a U.I. that shows us our player and team goals when we're actually in a match. Year after year, EA and Tiburon tell us that they "hear us" and are committed to improving Franchise Mode. But year after year, we get a "new feature" list that reads like an October patch log for last year's game.

Tiburon did not add anything to Franchise mode, but we got a whole other arcade mode.

In this regard, Madden 21 is the worst offender yet, because there is absolutely nothing new in the Franchise mode at the game's launch. We had to wait until October before EA even acknowledged that Franchise Mode exists in Madden 21, and for them to promise updates.

To be fair, The Yard isn't all that bad

Even though I'm frustrated to see yet another arcade mode that feels nothing like actual football (to the total exclusion of any Franchise mode updates), I have to admit that I'm more likely to play (and maybe even enjoy) The Yard more than Ultimate Team. The Yard is basically a modernized, but less-developed, version of EA's old NFL Street games. Despite still being a micro-transaction-fueled online-multiplayer-focused arcade mode, the fact that it is not built on a pay-to-win gambling architecture makes The Yard feel less cynically manipulative. It feels less like a brazen, anti-consumer scam, and more like a genuine attempt to make a fun game first, then stick an optional micro-transaction economy on top of it. It's still bad, and cynical, and exploitative (especially in the wake of Star Wars Squadrons, which was also published by EA, but had no micro-transactions at all), but it's less bad, less cynical, and less exploitative than the efforts EA has made in the past.

Can someone please double-check my math? Does this one uniform really cost $20?!

That being said, the cost of these purely cosmetic accessories is downright absurd. EA seems to think that a virtual helmet is somehow worth twenty dollars! Did somebody on the U.I. team fuck up and accidentally shift a decimal two places for these micro-transaction costs? 20 cents? Maybe. But 20 dollars? Are you fucking kidding me, EA?! $20 is what I expect to pay for an entire expansion pack, not for a single cosmetic novelty item.

The cynic in me believes that this exorbitant cost is a deliberate attempt by EA at sabotaging their own micro-transaction store. Maybe they think that if they jack up the prices ridiculously high for these cosmetics, nobody will be willing to pay for them. They could then go back to focusing on gambling and pay-to-win loot boxes and blame the consumers, "well we offered cosmetic-only micro-transactions, but you didn't want to buy them. Clearly the market prefers randomized 'surprise mechanics'."

I lost a game by 1 point because the scoreboard became unreadable,
and I didn't know if I should go for 1, 2, or 3 pt conversion.

My first impressions of The Yard were further hampered by several significant bugs. The most egregious was several instances in which the scoreboard overlay graphics became corrupted, and I couldn't read the score. With the weird scoring rules of The Yard, it's much harder to remember and track the current score in my head. In one of these occurrences, I scored a touchdown in my final drive, but was unsure of whether to go for 1, 2, or 3 because I couldn't remember exactly how far I was down. I went for 3 and failed to convert, only to lose by 1.

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The Chicago Bears' season has been over for a while now, but they had an opportunity today to play spoilers for the Green Bay Packers' playoff hopes. That didn't really happen, as the Bears settled for a game-tying field goal instead of attempting to convert a fourth and goal from the four yard line to win the game. The Bears had a first and goal at the three yard line with less than two minutes in the game and down by three (27-24). A penalty backed them up to the thirteen, and they weren't able to punch it into the end zone. Micah Hyde swatted a pass out of the hands of Cameron Meredith on third down, and John Fox decided to kick a tying field goal rather than going for the win.

Jordan Howard had rushed for over 90 yards, a touchdown, and a 5.3 yards per carry average over the course of the game, yet John Fox decided to throw the ball on third down and concede to the field goal. I would have put the ball in Jordan Howard's hands and given him both third and fourth downs to try to punch the ball four yards into the end zone. No way I would have settled for three.

Bears v Packers: swatted pass in end zone
Micah Hyde swatted a 3rd down pass that would have given the Bears a late lead.

Chicago had nothing to play for except beating Green Bay. Kicking a tying field goal had no strategic advantage. You have nothing to play for; there's no reason to play it safe. Let your bell-cow running back show what he can do.

Bad decision-making didn't end with the decision to play for the tie. The Packers got the ball back with about a minute left and no timeouts. An injury on third down stopped the clock, but the Bears refused to enforce the ten-second run-off. Aaron Rodgers followed that with a deep bomb, a clock-stopping spiked ball, and a game-winning field goal with three seconds left...

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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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Advocates for a college football championship playoff may feel vindicated after the inaugural playoff championship game earlier this week. The #4 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the #2 ranked Oregon Ducks with a decisive three-score victory. They did this after also defeating the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the first round of the playoff.

For years, fans of college football and critics of the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) have been complaining that leaving the championship eligibility up to a subjective vote of a committee is inherently unfair. These fans and critics have long proposed a playoff system that would allow more teams to compete for the national title. This year, that playoff finally happened, and teams had to actually play for their right to be in the title game. The fourth-seeded team - a team that would have been left out of the Championship in the previous BCS-selection process - beat both of the teams that would have been in the vote-based title game, and won the championship.

This outcome is still not without controversy. The age-old argument of "our school got snubbed" has not gone away. After watching Ohio State run the tables in the playoff, the coaches, players, and fans of both Baylor and TCU had to have thought "that could have been us!" They may very well be right. Both teams were left out of the playoff due to misfortunes of mathematics. Even though Alabama (#1), Oregon (#2), Ohio State (#4), Baylor (#5), and TCU (#6) all finished the regular season with only one loss, Baylor and TCU had one fewer win on account of having played fewer games. Only Florida State (#3) finished the regular season with a perfect record (and they weren't even ranked #1!).

NCAA football 2014 Champion Ohio State
#4 Ohio State defeated #1Alabama and #2 Oregon to become 2014's national champions.

While the playoff did consist of the four "winningest" teams in the country, Baylor and TCU didn't have an opportunity to win as many games. Part of this is their fault, since the individual schools do have the privilege of setting their own schedules. Had Baylor and TCU scheduled an extra non-conference game (possibly even one against a Division II school), they could very well have been 12-1 along with 'Bama, Oregon, and Ohio State. But they didn't.

NCAA football 12-team playoff bracket
A proposed 12-team playoff similar to the current NFL playoff model.
Depicts the 2014 conference champs and 2 wild cards, with top 4 teams receiving 1st-round bye.

Time to get into the "what ifs": what if TCU and Baylor had played (and won) an extra game and ended the season 12-1? In that case, the selection of undefeated Florida State would still seem like an obvious pick for one of the four playoff spots. But the remaining three would have been a much more subjective selection ...

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