EA Sports is moving the Madden franchise in the right direction, but the pace of improvement in some areas isn't where it should be.
While Madden 17 is enjoyable and EA continues to do some things better than others, many of its competitors in the sports video game universe have moved past the iconic franchise in some areas.
If EA is going to close the gap, implementing the following changes, options and features could do the trick. Here's my annual wishlist for the Madden series.
These are suggestions to improve gameplay but aren't used when the ball is in play.
There are plenty of playbooks and plays already available in Madden 17, but back in Madden 05, you could create your own custom plays. Obviously, the plays had to meet the NFL requirement for the number of men on the line of scrimmage, etc., but it was still a fun feature.
Truth be told, it's difficult to create a play that doesn't resemble or work the same as an existing concept. That said, allowing gamers to compete with others using plays they created adds to the immersion.
There are more than a few teams in the NFL that use a rushing attack that features two running backs.
On Madden, it's a bit cumbersome to emulate this type of strategy.
If there were a setting that automatically distributed the carries, it would be helpful.
Obviously, you'd need the ability to override these substitutions before each play, or even to opt out of the dual-RB approach at the start of the game, or at any point during the contest.
I went heavy on CFM fixes. It's where the Madden series could stand to improve the most as it pertains to non-gameplay features.
Some NFL players show slower regression over their careers, and others very little from the beginning to end. Thus there should be a regression rating for every player. Quick, moderate, slow or minimal regression should be the options.
This attribute should be dynamic. Injuries could potentially speed up regression and force earlier retirements.
Here's where Madden has to remember it's still a video game. Attempting to mirror all of the drills that are at the real scouting combine would make for a dull, and very skippable experience for gamers.
If we were given mini-games that were a little less over the top than the ones in The Gauntlet, it would add an incentive for fans to use the Scouting Combine to build up their player. In CFMs where no one is playing as an individual player, you could have the option to control any number of player's scouting combine experience.
The results would raise or drop the prospect's stock.
Madden games have featured the same basic create-a-stadium suite forever. It's time for the game to give you a little more control over the creation process. What if you could put large objects in your creation like the pirate ship in Raymond James Stadium?
That would be spectacular. Create-A-Stadium is never going to be as big of a deal in a football game as it could be in a baseball title, but it would still add a fun element in CFM and in Ultimate Team.
This used to be a feature in Madden, but it has been removed. If you played enough seasons in the old franchise mode, you wouldn't just see offensive coordinators getting head coaching jobs, you'd also see the veteran players transition from the field to the sidelines as coaches.
It seems like Madden is behind the competition when it comes to stat tracking in their franchise mode concept.
Historical stat tracking is offered in MLB The Show and NBA 2K, but not in Madden. I realize stats aren't as big of a deal in football as they are in basketball, and certainly not as vital as they are in baseball, but I'd definitely like to see the career yardage, TDs, sacks, and interceptions grow over multiple seasons.
I'd also like to hear commentators reference it, as well as overlays that acknowledge milestones. I believe this used to be in older versions of Madden, but I don't think I've seen it in Madden 17.
All of the stat tracking, coaching carousels and other multi-season related features aren't as significant if gamers have to start over with their CFMs every year. As of now, MLB The Show has been the only game to deliver carry-over saves to its franchise mode concept.
It's about time Madden come through on this front.
Online and offline CFMs should be like legacy fantasy football leagues with keepers. This feature would create an even deeper buy-in from gamers.
If the same group of guys wants to continue to build on the history of their CFM every year, they should be able to.
Create-A-Draft Class (Even if it's just for offline CFM)
I understand a few legal issues are stemming from the NCAA and EA Sports' use of amateur players. Ultimately, this played a role in the cancellation of the NCAA Football series. Back then, the game used to come with all of the college players.
Their numbers and physical attributes were included, but users had to fill in the names themselves. It was an arduous task, but it was something that I and many others did on a yearly basis. We even shared the rosters through various methods.
Up until 2014, you could export the graduating class from NCAA Football and upload it as a draft class into Madden. The feature was originally introduced with the old Sony 989 Sports series NCAA Gamebreaker and NFL Gameday.
We don't have NCAA Football anymore, but there's still a desire to have real-life draft classes or even fantasy rookies. If we could create our own draft classes, like in NBA 2K, Madden's CFM could close one of the gaps separating it from 2K's MyGM and MyLEAGUE.
For legal purposes, EA may want to make certain the draft classes can't be shared. That would be a bummer, but I'd take it as a strictly offline feature if nothing else.
Where do the rookies who aren't drafted go in Madden 17? (In my Mike Tyson voice) they are sent to "Bolivian." There have been countless players that have gone on to have great careers in the NFL after having gone undrafted.
Madden 18 needs to provide a path for that to happen in the video game.
The preseason in Madden 17 is so bad, the game even recommends you skip it to have the best experience. The biggest problem with the preseason is the completely unrealistic use of the depth chart.
Starters play only the first quarter in all four weeks, and later in the game, the guys who should be finished for the day wind up on special teams. In the real NFL, the starters play only the first series or first quarter in the first and second week.
They play at least the first half in the third game and usually not at all in the final preseason tilt. At some point, Madden has to master this logic. Some people want to do away with the preseason all together, but I don't.
Preseason football should be about developing young players, finding hidden gems like the aforementioned undrafted rookies and position battles. Madden used to have the latter, and I thought it was great.
I'd love to see that element brought back with the player who has the statistical edge receiving an attribute boost going into the regular season.
Madden has had relocation for the past few years, but it only gets it half right. It has no league expansion concept and there are too many restrictions. I don't completely fault EA Sports for this problem. I believe many of their restrictions on this front have to do with the NFL limiting the use of the license.
I could go into great detail about how league expansion should be handled in Madden CFM, but it's much easier for me to say, take a look at this rundown of MyLEAGUE and MyGM in NBA 2K17. They handle it perfectly.
Copy this design and everyone will love you EA.
The draft and scouting process in CFM has no element of mystery, and that's just not realistic. The NFL Draft is almost a crap shoot. No matter how good a player looks at the combine or even in college, you never know how well he'll pan out in the NFL.
Vice versa, guys who never showed that they could be superstars can become just that in the league. CFM needs to allow players to become a hidden gem or a bust.
Improved Halftime Show with Highlights From Other Games
I've been begging for this ever since NFL 2K5 put every other sports video game to shame with its halftime show. Here we are almost 13 years later and no other sports video game–including NBA 2K–has produced a halftime show with highlights of other games.
What CFM fan would button through this? None that I know.
I don't believe any sports game has ever had a really good pre and post-game show. We need real highlights that aren't diluted by disconnected analysis at the end of games. At the beginning of games, some sort of logical analysis that references both teams' stats up to that point in the season would make the presentation relevant, and worth your time.
The previous suggestion is very practical, the next one may not be, but it's still cool.
If we had a chance to view RedZone-style highlights on bye weeks, before and after games, that would be mindblowing.
There's a large group of Madden fans who like to watch games–especially CFM fans. It would be nice to have an option to just game plan and pick the plays during CFM while allowing the CPU to control the gameplay.
It doesn't even have to be as in-depth as the old NFL Head Coach games, but there's no reason we shouldn't have this option in CFM. It only opens the doors to another demographic.
It's crazy that NBA 2K has a system that allows a player's injury history to work as a factor that affects future injuries, but Madden doesn't. Both football and basketball are contact sports, but hoops aren't as physical as a pigskin battle.
A player like Jamaal Charles should have bad knees that make him a scary player to acquire, or to depend on as a featured back.
I love the addition of updated commentary from the real NFL, but when I'm in a CFM, I'd love to hear more references to my own virtual football universe. There's some dialogue, but stories about injuries, statistical struggles, and more storytelling would deliver a better experience.
MUT is mostly solid, but there's still room for improvement.
Better Team Creation/Relocation (Especially in Ultimate Team)
I still believe Madden has the best collector mode, but it's badly missing the ability to customize your team's uniforms and stadiums. The team creation option is the one aspect of NBA 2K's MyTEAM that I'd transport to MUT.
Make Legends Unlockable in MUT Available in Other Modes
There's always a bevy of legends available in MUT. It's a blast to acquire these cards, but it would be even better if we could also have access to those players in CFM and offline play. It could work as an incentive for non-MUT fans to try the mode.
Aside from CFM, gameplay is the biggest area of improvement for Madden. Don't get me wrong, I'm not as down on the gameplay as some of the maniacal folks out there. Many of them don't understand the necessary balance between a fun video game experience and putting on the pads in real life.
Even still, there's still things that can be made better for Madden 18.
There are times when CPU-controlled defenders take unrealistically improper angles to the ball carrier. This is most apparent on outside runs. Oftentimes, they don't even appear to be attempting to avoid pulling guards, fullbacks and offensive tackles.
We don't need 100 percent pursuit from mediocre defensive players, but sometimes the angles taken by defenders aren't accurate tendencies for players on a pro level.
Quarterbacks take off and run more than they have in the past, but still not quite as often as they should. QBs who are known scramblers still seem to leave the pocket only as a last resort.
QBs with strong arms who historically take multiple shots down the field aren't as daring in Madden 17 when under CPU control.
Something needs to be done to better match QBs with their real-life tendencies.
Playing on All-Madden shouldn't be about faster kick meters and players playing above their ratings. It should be about carrying more responsibility and not being able to depend on CPU assistance as much.
The passing game is a prime example.
Throwing to a spot rather than a receiver could make for a more realistic passing game. This would be a major undertaking that might require a complete rehaul of the passing game, but it could potentially be the most impacting change in Madden's gameplay history.
Players would still pick an intended receiver by pressing the corresponding button, but instead of throwing to the man and having it somewhat follow him like a magnet, the ball would go to a spot.
You'd have a small meter that gauged the height and wideness of the throw. The more accurate the passer, the slower the meters. You could use the triggers or back buttons to control the type of pass (bullet or touch).
Using the left stick would still allow you to throw the ball to the left, right, low or high, but depending on the situation, the window for completion would be smaller, and thus the meter would be more difficult to time.
Also, this entire timing mechanic doesn't take into account the position of a defender. This measurement is solely related to getting the ball to the spot where the receiver is, or should be headed.
User QBs in Madden would have more to think about using All-Madden passing.
Most of my gripes are with the run blocking. Sometimes it takes offensive lineman too long to decide who to block when they have what should be a clear assignment. On defense, I still feel as though defenders are sucked into blocks when they are in close proximity with offensive linemen.
This is a very difficult fix, but perhaps inserting an animation that has the blocker extend a hand to make contact with the defender could improve the visual result.
*Injuries Away From the Ball
In real football, every player is susceptible to injury. In Madden, you have to be part of a tackle sequence to get hurt (unless the game is simulated). The reason for this is the lack of off-ball injuries. It's an unfortunate aspect of real-life football, but it should be in Madden.
Late in games the CPU's clock management is dreadful. From passing the ball at inopportune times, to prematurely going into run-only mode with a lead, the late-game clock management logic needs to be addressed.
Weather Should Have More Impact on the Gameplay
In rain and snow, we should see more drops, bobbles and even passes that get away from quarterbacks. The wind should affect throws, not just kicks. There should also be a little more slipping on muddy or wet fields.
I like the disruption of passing symbols for QBs who are playing on the road, but a slight bump up in the attributes of players on the home team should give the proper home-field advantage.
Crazy plays happen in football. We need to see the random bad snap, cornerbacks falling down in coverage, personal fouls, muffed punts and other less-than-perfect plays on the gridiron.
When players get injured in the real NFL, fans and teams can only guess about the severity of the injury. There's usually an MRI or some sort of evaluation that takes place before a full prognosis is delivered.
Instead of giving us a full timetable for the players return within a few minutes, it would be great if we had to wait until the week was advanced in the CFM to learn how long a player would be out of action. This is just a presentation change that doesn't require a major alteration in the way injuries take place.
The next wrinkle would require a little more work under the hood.
Perhaps players could possess fast, normal or slow healer traits. For example, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings might have an injury to his knee with an original timetable of 10-12 weeks before return.
However, because Peterson has come back from serious injuries ahead of the original timetable in the past, he may be recovered in 8 weeks. There would be some risk of re-injury, but it could lead to a decision as to whether to place the player on season-ending injured reserve or to keep him eligible for a miraculous return.
This is a real dilemma head coaches and general managers face, so it should be in the game.
It was great to have full player editing within CFM, but that same customization would have been useful outside of the franchise mode concept. This is probably restricted to keep users from sharing rosters online in a way that could create a similar issue that arose with the NCAA Football series.
It's still a little odd to me that NBA 2K and MLB The Show both offer this feature while Madden does not.
I hate to continue to reference NBA 2K, but in many ways that series has set the benchmark for sports games. They have a plethora of classic teams in the game and it adds to the depth. Madden 97 used to have classic teams, but the option disappeared awhile ago and hasn't returned.
This really bugs me. When does the clock stop when a player runs out of bounds? It's hard to determine in Madden.
In real football, any time there's an incomplete pass, a penalty, or a player runs out of bounds, the clock stops.
In Madden, there are times when you run out of bounds and the clock doesn't stop. I'd love to see that as an adjustable option in settings. Turning that on and off should be available to the player.
Madden 17 broke new ground with their updated commentary from Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis throughout the season. That development gave the game the best commentary of any sports title released in 2016.
At the same time, NBA 2K17 broke ground in another way. It employed multiple commentary teams, which is something I've been dying to see. If Madden 18 has updated commentary through the season for MUT, exhibition and online head-to-head games with different commentary teams for all modes, it will reach the pinnacle of audio presentation.
The Likelihood We'll See Any of These Changes
If we're being honest, there's almost no chance we'll see all of these changes and additions for Madden 18, or ever. That said, if we don't have at least seven of the things on this list, it'll be hard to imagine Madden 18 being a significant improvement over Madden 17.