The End... but not the end! / @tsj_gaming

100 Days and 80 missing Madden franchise features later, today is the final day of #100DaysOfFranchise. What started on July 1 as a response to the trending #FixMaddenFranchise hashtag as a show of support - and a reaction to the Madden 21 feature list for franchise mode that more accurately resembled a ‘patch list’ - ends today - but our hopes and ambition for Madden’s franchise mode won’t and our efforts to stand alongside franchise gamers to put continued pressure on EA, doesn’t either.

We’re bitterly disappointed that EA has failed to live up to their promise that they were “working on [Madden’s] franchise mode, today” - to quote Sean Graddy - because if that were true, we’d have had at least one significant patch by now that added much needed franchise features. And we haven’t. Not a single new feature of substance has been added within 100 days of that promise being made.

The timeline that has since been made available references an as yet unspecified date in November, yet it’s hard not to see past this as just an additional, conveniently timed marketing gimmick planned to coincide with the arrival of the next generation of consoles and presumably, next-gen Madden 21 - although that too remains shrouded in mystery. It’s worth noting that since Graddy’s commitment to franchise players, very little beyond the initial video and an occasional blog post has been said and on every occasion a disclaimer has been issued effectively stating that nothing has been promised or is actually guaranteed to be delivered.

In this past week alone, EA has removed the ability to play their own Madden 21 trial on both PS4 and Xbox One - via EA Play, the subscription service that people pay monthly for - probably to hide just how bad this years game is from people who may yet pay full price for it. And it’s unprecedented because for the last few years I know I’ve still been able to access and play the trial right up to the point that it was made available for unlimited use to EA Play subscribers just after the Super Bowl.

Before I go any further, let me stress: we’re not “haters”. The Sports Journal and Madden Planet long supported the Madden video game through the late 90’s and for much of the 2000’s. We closed our community because we could see the direction that EA was headed towards - in particular, EA actively recruiting and redirecting users away from so-called fan websites like ours to their own, tightly controlled corporate environment. But for a considerable time, energy and resources were piled into our passion - the simulation football game that was Madden. This, at a time when there were genuine alternatives - we made the choice to support and play Madden.

Having said that, if we knew then what we knew now, we might have considered ourselves more fortunate than we probably did at the time. The assumption that franchise mode would always be a priority, always be improved upon and always be worthy of bearing the “Madden” name couldn’t have been more wrong.

Back in 2005, the development team at that time wanted to hear the good - and the bad - from the people who bought their game. I should know, I had regular conversations with them. They wanted, not to know what was right, but what was wrong so they could make it better. Their singular focus and drive was to improve Madden every year, to make it more authentic and more of a simulation and it was through the conversations that they had with the fan community’s, of which there were several besides our own that gave them the direction to do so.

If you had a complaint, they weren’t defensive about it. They weren’t childish and didn’t stamp their feet. And they didn’t hide behind a wall of silence pretending everything was alright. They listened and more often than not, took that feedback directly on board. That’s why, even when the game wasn’t always perfect, Madden players felt they were buying something that for better or worse was trying to be as close to an authentic NFL experience as the resources available could provide.

I wish that I could say the same today.

It isn’t just franchise mode that is a source of dissatisfaction with the game that retains the exclusive simulation license with the NFL. It’s the complete absence of “community”. Unbelievably, there are EA Tiburon staff members who have the word “community” in their title, who have no interaction with the community at all. There’s a community manager but you’d be forgiven for not knowing who he is. And there’s very little opportunity for anyone who has questions or issues with the game to get that information directly to somebody who matters. The Madden community is - to put it kindly - dysfunctional and the reason is simply because the divide between developers and those who buy the game has never been wider. The conduit that should bridge the gap is simply non-existent.

So where do you turn? The customer service is wholly inadequate. From the outside, the culture at EA appears to be that customers simply don’t matter. Once they’ve got your money, their attitude is that they owe you nothing. Ever tried sending a message to EAHelp? - the vast majority will never get a reply. Tried tweeting a developer? - you’re more likely to get a response if your comment isn’t about Madden, than if it is. There’s nowhere to turn, hence people make their feelings known on social media or by leaving a review score on Metacritic.

So it’s by no means an assumption to conclude that there is a complete lack of respect toward those who buy the game to get their fix of NFL “simulation” football amongst the hierarchy of Electronic Arts. The same group of who congratulate and slap each other on the back before proposing to shareholders massive pay increases by as much as 100% in some cases, have forgotten that the person who buys and plays Madden has already paid full price in order to do so. Instead, they are singularly focussed on the micro transactions that bloat their bottom line to the point where they have little more than contempt for those who pay no more than the value of the disk.

Meanwhile, quality has dropped. Bugs are everywhere. Polish is nowhere to be seen and glitches are abundant. If it were simply pandemic related issues that Sean Graddy recently tried to excuse themselves for then that would be understandable, but many of these are not new problems - and in some cases are issues that have not been fixed over countless iterations.

You can rest assured however that opportunities to pay for extra “features” will be laid bare in front of your face at every single turn - from first opening the game and being pushed into creating a player for their new micro transaction arcade mode to backgrounds, loading screens and anywhere else they can squeeze one into. When it comes to Madden, that’s one thing you can be certain of.

Back to franchise mode. “If we knew then what we know now” really is true - we didn’t know how lucky we had it in ’05. Madden 04 was one of the biggest upgrades to franchise mode that the series has probably ever seen. It bore features that would be commonplace in a dedicated text-sim, such was the depth and immersion that the development team put into the game. What followed in 05 kept the ball moving forward and built upon those foundations such that by 06 and 07 we had a polished, deep franchise mode that many of us can only dream of today - and some of us even continue to play. When the new generation of consoles arrived, inevitably there was some catching up to be done but many of the features were ported over and were still around in 08 and 09 and it’s true to say that although Madden 12 was a different game, it was probably the last franchise mode that is worthy of the name. Even though they talked about making the game less intimidating from year to year and not every addition was a success, they never pulled back from innovating and adding features to keep the hardcore fans on their side. And I think most franchise players around that time appreciated that.

Sadly, what we’ve seen since has been the complete opposite - a rebuild modelled around an XP system that made it less “simulation” and more RPG represents a massive backwards step; promises were repeatedly made that franchise mode was important again only to be broken; and, if we’re lucky, little more than incremental additions have been made from one year to the next. Since Madden 12, it’s not unfair to say that what’s been served up isn’t even fit to bear the “Madden” name. By the time Madden 21 was announced, we were 8 years from the release of Madden 12 - a stark realisation that franchise gamers have been waiting far too long, starved of features and depth in a mode that the entire Madden series was built upon. Hence, those of us who want the simulation football that the NFL’s exclusive license is supposed to actually deliver - and a franchise mode worthy of what we’d enjoyed in the past - had simply had enough.

Which brings us to July 1. It was the day after #FixMaddenFranchise trended and we re-opened MaddenPlanet.com, TheSportsJournal.com and launched Fix.MaddenFranchise.com to add our voice to the calls for change. We didn’t start the hashtag but we’ve stood alongside all of those who did and in the process, been grateful for the support we’ve had - the retweets, likes and mentions.

Our #100DaysOfFranchise recollection of franchise mode has been as much a positive celebration of what made us love the mode so much as it is a criticism of where the game is at today. Hopefully it has reminded you of some features that you may have forgotten about and inspired EA to reintroduce some of them in the future.

So, while today is the last day of our #100DaysOfFranchise campaign, we will continue to be vocal - continue to remind EA of what they owe gamers and continue to press for something better alongside the millions of people who, like me, share a passion for franchise mode. Even if the NFL awards its licenses squarely on what makes them the most money with minimal regard for the quality of the actual product - and are prepared to ignore customer satisfaction in the process - it surely matters that the only mode that allows gamers to compete against each other in the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft, the two flagship events on the annual football calendar - is improved upon every year to the satisfaction of those who buy the game.

In the absence of that, the alternative is clear - either the NFL should open the license to other parties who can actually give NFL fans an authentic simulation of the product we see every Sunday during the football season - or they need to revoke the “simulation” license from EA altogether and re-appropriate it elsewhere.

#FixMaddenFranchise / @tsj_gaming