When Madden NFL 11 released last year with a virtually unchanged Franchise mode, Josh Looman expected to hear about it. He just expected to hear it on the message boards.
"I was hearing it in the grocery store," said Looman a longtime designer on EA Sports' bread-and-butter series. "If I wore a Madden t-shirt to the store, it'd be ‘Hey man, are you guys changing anything in Franchise? Are you bringing in expanded rosters?'
"It's crazy how many people play Franchise," said Looman; internal figures peg the user base of the multi-season campaign mode at 90 percent of those who play the game. So when the team at Tiburon first met last year to discuss Madden 12, a laundry list of upgrades, many of them community requested, topped the discussion.
"Because of the emphasis on GameFlow and features like Ultimate Team [in Madden 11], and those are features that take a lot of time to get into a game, we all agreed we wanted to do much more in franchise mode last year, and we all agreed this year we really had to," Looman said.
Indeed, many of the additions and changes meet longstanding community requests. The biggest change, however, is a dynamic player ratings system that will reduce the robot-like consistency of performance seen in players in past years. It was nice to rely on with performers like Peyton Manning, but dispiriting to play a franchise with a young talent like Detroit's Matt Stafford and rarely see-or contend with-the kind of breakout performance that makes every week so compelling in the NFL.
Other sports simulations have implemented the dynamic ratings concept, notably MLB 2K11. In Madden, players ratings will fluctuate from week to week, their swings governed by a new consistency rating. A common example is Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, who had a number of highlight reel performances last year, mixed with games in which he looked rather ordinary. "One week you might see the 90-rated Michael Vick, another you get the 70-rated Michael Vick," Looman said. "We want to make people feel like the players aren't robots. They have bad games, good games, and this carries over from week to week."
Streak performances, good or bad, will be limited to three games before the player re-sets to his original ratings, to keep players out of distorted upward or downward spirals. Consistency will be a new trait managed by Madden ratings and roster czar Donny Moore, and while talented rookies may enter the league with a low consistency rating, there is the potential for them to improve in successive years. Veterans will be less likely to change.
The next Madden will also expand rosters to 75 players, their pre-season limit, Looman said. This will create a deeper player-management experience in a couple of ways. "In franchise mode, it makes the preseason worth playing," Looman said. Armchair GMs will be evaluating prospective players on a week-by-week basis, unlocking portions of their ratings and attributes after each game, ultimately making a decision whether to keep or cut the player. (This system of concealing and unlocking ratings is also how rookies will be scouted prior to the draft.)
Expanded rosters also mean that Madden can include pure role players, such as Minnesota long snapper Cullen Loeffler, rather than leave them off the game's roster in favor of a skill position player who may be fighting to make the team. But the key solution expanded rosters provides will be in the game's injured reserve system, which diverged greatly from reality in past versions. With a limit of 55 players, at most one or two injured players could be held out on reserve. Multiple injuries would require releasing players to the free agent pool to make room for replacements.