October is many things: Halloween, the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead (which hopefully will avoid any Jeffrey Dean Morgan-related controversies), and a Madden NFL wishlist.
When I did a wishlist for Madden NFL 18 last October, it was fairly diverse and included commentary on the gameplay, presentation, and franchise mode. Though all three of those aspects still need heavy tuning for next year’s game, almost the entirety of this wishlist will be about franchise mode, a mode that seemingly had no revisions for this year’s product.
Presentation and gameplay are factored into this list, but I want to clarify we are not presenting a wishlist which suggests replacing Brandin Gaudin and Charles Davis or custom weather. As for Ultimate Team and related modes, my one complaint is making Draft Champions pay-to-play, but we should have seen that coming in hindsight.
After careful thought, process, and revisiting several older Madden games, these are the six biggest features I feel need to be addressed if next year’s franchise mode is going to be worth playing.
Player Roles: While we know that Dak Prescott is likely the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise quarterback and Chicago Bears wide receiver Kevin White is injury prone, rarely are these player roles factored into Madden. It is true that teams will rarely lose their key players, therefore guaranteeing Prescott many years in Dallas until the CPU drafts a first-round quarterback with a better overall or he retires, there’s nothing about these titles that have an impact in the game when they very well should.
For example, older Madden games had the Defensive Playmaker role, where someone with that designation (Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck, for example) would receive attribute boosts in-game for third-down plays and the entirety of the 4th quarter. With regards to quarterbacks, a “Franchise Quarterback” in older Maddens would increase the awareness and pass blocking of his starting offensive line while skill players – receivers, tight ends, and backs – saw boosts to their catching and awareness.
If Dak Prescott was a Franchise Quarterback in Madden 19, that could mean Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley, and other wide receivers see their individual attributes rise. With how many different attributes have come about over the years, maybe Dez Bryant could see an increased spectacular catch rating while Elliott sees his awareness go up two or three points depending on Prescott’s overall and stats.
What made this feature workable, however, is that these roles could come and go depending on a player’s on-field success; someone who had the “Injury Prone” role would have it removed when his injury rating exceeded an 80 overall by staying on the field. Sticking with Prescott and the “Franchise Quarterback,” he would lose that role in older games if his overall dropped below an 85 overall, his franchise signed someone else with the same role (Dallas signs Cam Newton, a 94 overall in free agency when they still have Prescott and his 88 overall), or a quarterback was taken in the first-round.
If Prescott made it to age 35 and began to regress, he wouldn’t quite be a “Franchise Quarterback” anymore, would he? We often tend to think about training camp (more on that later) and the Tony Bruno show as features from the older games we want back, but let’s get true player roles in there as well.
Coaching Styles: This is one of the two features I mentioned returning from last year’s wishlist, so this should be shorter than the player roles part. As of now, coaches in Madden NFL 18 do nothing, which is both infuriatingly frustrating and almost takes away the point of having them on staff. While I still believe coaches need to have more distinct roles than someone who is good at scouting or will get extra points in training, there have to be reasons why I would hire these coaches. What does Coach A do better than Coach B in the short-term and what does he need to improve on? If Coach A is primarily a defensive guy, how would this affect my offense?
When the Los Angeles Rams signed Sean McVay, an offensive genius, to be the youngest head coach in NFL history this past offseason, they hired legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to guide that side of the ball. I’m not asking for an entire coaching staff complete with assistant coaches here, but I do think the addition of coordinators – and, if Madden does not give them their right names for legal reasons, an ability to edit randomly generated assistant names into their actual names – would greatly help franchise mode.
League Hub: Have you noticed how cluttered the menus are in franchise mode? This is something that a fair number of sports games struggle with, but what comes with franchise mode and running a team is knowing what else is happening in both the league and the draft. With a league hub, we could see the latest news, scores, awards, and storylines around the league. It’s easy to misinterpret “storylines” as an actual story, but I mean stories like “New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo on hot seat” or “Memphis running back Johnson continues to lose draft stock after suspension.”
This was something Madden 13, for as divided a game as it was, did great with their draft storylines. There was even an entire, lengthy thread on Operation Sports about the different personalities and storylines one could discover through the NFL Draft, but that sort of integration and investment has been sorely lacking in recent years. In fact, that leads us to…
Investment: Some will cry for the return of custom draft classes, but I don’t think they’re a priority if EA can find a way to make us invested in the ongoings of our league and the players we draft. Investment starts small with being able to play games that our teams aren’t directly involved in (seriously, let us play the Super Bowl if we’re not in it) and goes larger with the game’s draft classes. If Von Miller or Khalil Mack are on their way to breaking sack records, we should know. If I need to draft a wide receiver, give me a reason to consider other options; maybe the consensus number one on paper has behavior issues or is coming off a major injury that could potentially linger for a year or two (i.e. what happened with Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith).
The misconception about investment is that it needs to be a halftime show or something similar, but that’s not at all the case with Madden. Things that seem minor like scouting reports, position battles, and morale all can create a memorable franchise – and they’re what make the older games hold up over a decade later despite being behind in gameplay or AI logic. If we have to draft fictional quarterbacks instead of Sam Darnold or Josh Allen, then so be it, but give us a reason to care about these players.
Improved Development: With that investment in players comes development, and that’s not strictly in-season training through XP. Madden’s development system, as it stands, is terrible because you have players that enter the league or begin the franchise with a low overall and never truly see their ratings increase.
Let’s take Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette as an example, seeing as the fourth overall pick from this year’s draft had an 81 overall on release day. Currently, you would improve Fournette’s overall by him gaining XP through performance, which is an effective strategy on paper. However, Fournette could run for 1,200 yards five straight years after starting with an 81 and be maybe an 84 or an 85 at the absolute highest by the time that sixth season starts.
While I don’t think the system should work so that Fournette would jump massively each season, I do think there has to be a sense of realism and balance that isn’t just for limiting the player. What could potentially work here is a system that automatically rewards players each season on their stats beyond traditional metrics (i.e. if Fournette ran for 1,200 yards on 3.7 yards per rush rather than 4.4, he may only be an 86 instead of an 89) while still allowing for those manual upgrades in the form of training camp or XP as things are now.
And, if development is going to be improved, the current system of slow, normal, fast, and superstar should be altered to where some players will naturally gain – or lose, for that matter, – those traits. Reggie Bush could have entered the league with a Superstar development that would have been down to normal within his first few years, while the reverse goes for J.J. Watt. I’m tired of seeing a player on a Hall of Fame pace within his first five seasons still only at a normal development because there’s not enough XP to move up a rank.
Revamped Goals: This is the other goal that returns from last year’s list, so all of the basic points apply and are tied to the improved development. Instead of touchdowns or yards for a quarterback, goals should include completion percentage, turnovers, and more.
Perhaps most of this is wishful thinking because Ultimate Team and their Longshot story mode (which will be explored in the near-future) seem to be EA’s priority, but part of building a successful NFL franchise is optimism. Even Browns fans can have some optimism when playing Madden…
[Featured Image by EA Sports]