Ultimate Team is a big boon for EA Sports, and both Madden 18 and FIFA 18 are introducing new wrinkles for the ongoing popular mode. Do these additions change the formula or is it business as usual?

First off, here are the currently announced changes for the games (click the links for the games' official blog posts).

Madden NFL 18

  • Calculating Players' OVR Is Changing: It'll take more individual ratings increases from a player's various attributes to bring up their OVR rating. So if you took Julio Jones' Man of the Month UT card ratings from Madden 17 (94 OVR), they'd equal up to a 93 OVR in Madden 18. Additionally, EA says gamers should feel a difference in a change of even one point of OVR.
  • Introducing Team Tokens: Coaches, uniforms, stadiums, and playbooks are being removed from packs. You'll now get these items from a MUT starter pack and the new Team Tokens. These are redeemed for coaches, stadiums, etc. and you earn the tokens by cashing in silver and gold players of the corresponding team.
  • Upgradable Players: Team Tokens are also used to upgrade players, coaches, stadiums, and uniforms. So far, EA says there are three tiers of upgrades, each with different requirements (which the company has not definitively locked in yet). If you fully upgrade a team's coach, stadium, and both uniforms, all the players of the corresponding team get a +1 chem boost to a range of attributes. At launch, EA says each team will have at least four players that can be upgraded.
  • Tiers Are Changing: Silver now spans 60-69, Gold 70-79, and Elites at 80-99.
  • Trading Block: To cut down on lopsided trades and security issues, when you trade an item it becomes non-auctionable unless you are the original owner and you trade back for the item.

FIFA 18 

  • Icon Stories: Icons are what the Legends cards are called now that PS4 has them too. Stories are three cards representing different periods in an Icons' career (including position and appearance changes), such as PSG-era Ronaldinho (rated 91), the prime version of him from 2004 (rated 94), and his 89-rated version six years later. The prime version of these Icons are available through new, select Throwback Thursday limited-time packs and Squad Building Challenges (SBC), while the other two are in packs at launch.
  • Squad Battles (not on PS3/360/Switch): This is a weekly single-player competition that lets you play against the squads of other Ultimate Team players. There will be four new opponents to choose from every day (with harder teams giving you more points when you beat them), with a featured squad battle every week. You can also choose from seven match difficulty levels representing a tweaking of sliders for A.I., reaction speed, and marking and space. This feature contains the best rewards when playing Ultimate Team by yourself.
  • SBC On The Web: You can now do these challenges on a web browser and tablet, and there are also objectives. Daily objectives (of which there are at least five a day) are random for everyone, while the weekly SBC objective is the same for all.
  • Champions Channel: Watch replays of the top players from the weekend league, including controls to speed up play, switch the camera, and watch an instant replay.

I don't know if there will be more Ultimate Team details for these titles (FYI – NHL 18 and NBA Live 18 Ultimate Team features haven't been announced), but as it stands, this is an inflation of the card markets for these games. FIFA does it with the Icon Stories variants, and Madden does it in a more roundabout way via the creation of upgradable cards.

Now, this is hardly a surprise with Ultimate Team as successful and lucrative for EA as it is. Also, some people like to earn as many cards as possible. It gives them different avenues to get them and with different ratings and looks. Some are more desirable than others. At the same time, an over-abundance of card variants can make what you have feel less special and lower the resell value. For example, the threshold for Elite-tier cards now dips down to 80, which certainly makes them feel less special. I guess Joe Flacco is elite after all.

While it's futile to rail against the seeming inevitability of these changes, I have mixed feelings about how these two games approach the new ways in which you can chase these additional cards and variations. I like that Madden's Team Tokens let you take your unwanted silver and gold cards and sacrifice them to upgrade other cards, but tying the upgrade tiers to tokens also inserts additional cogs to slow down the grind toward good and great cards. Developer EA Tiburon says that cards with even a one-point difference in their OVR will feel distinct from each other, but frankly I've always been skeptical that sports games' traditional 100-point ratings scales have ever contained much noticeable variance from player to player. Furthermore, with MUT already featuring numerous Chemistry Styles (some with multiple tiers), I wonder how important adding another chemistry boost for coaches, stadiums, etc. via Team Tokens is going to be.

FIFA's Squad Battles, on the other hand, at least constitutes a more direct gameplay path toward a reward. Madden 18's Team Tokens seems like a secondary gate beyond which lies non-player items and another requisite to fulfill before getting a payoff.

This ever-expanding maze of card management puts pressure on the need for a smooth redemption process. Since you trade multiple players for a Team Token, hopefully you can redeem players for multiple tokens at once. As it stands for the seemingly analogous MUT player trade-in badges in Madden 17, you can only mark enough players to redeem one badge at a time. Also on the quality-of-life front, it would be great if Madden let you easily roll to the next solo challenge, one of the things fans have been asking for, but so far hasn't been addressed. In FIFA, I'd like a better overall sense of my entire squad (and therefore possible lineups/chem loadouts) instead of constantly going back and forth with specific searches and the squad builder.

Ultimate Team in Madden and FIFA aren't exactly alike, and the way this year's installments for each franchise add to their respective versions of the mode seems to point to different goals. Madden adds more layers to the existing process while FIFA introduces a new, albeit not super innovative, way to play and earn cards. Neither represents a shift away from the grind and subsequent feeling of diminishing returns, however. For those already consumed by the mode, I suspect that won't change. For those not yet entranced, I think they'll still be looking for an attractive way in.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.

 

VISUAL CONCEPTS DISCUSSES GAMEPLAY IMPROVEMENTS FOR NBA 2K18 

Fellow editor Matt Bertz visited developer Visual Concepts and talked to the team to get the news on some of the gameplay changes – and why they were made – for the upcoming title.

 

WNBA MAKES ITS DEBUT IN NBA LIVE 18 

Great to see EA do this, and similar to FIFA, take the time to add new models and balance the game. Although, unlike FIFA, there's not a tournament or other semi-persistent structure for it. Hopefully year two expands the WNBA's footprint in the game in ways that FIFA did not.

 

RELEASE LIST 

Madden NFL 18 (PS4, Xbox One) - August 25
F1 2017 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - August 25
Everybody's Golf (PS4) - August 29
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, 360) - September 12
NASCAR Heat 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - September 12
NHL 18 (PS4, Xbox One) - September 15
NBA 2K18 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, PS3, 360) - September 19
Project Cars 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - September 22
FIFA 18 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, PS3, 360) - September 29

 

THE TICKER
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week

Konami Secures New Partners For PES, Including Fulham FC 
Also includes 16 teams from the Chilean first division, a deal with Argentina's Primera División, Valencia, and more.

NBA Live 18 Demo Coming August 11 

NBA 2K18 Switch Retail Version Coming Out Later Than Digital One 

New F1 2017 Career Trailer 

Liverpool Manager Jürgen Klopp Signs On As Brand Ambassador For Football Empire Mobile Simulator 

Wolverine Studios' Summer Sale 
Draft Day Sports: Pro Football 18 also teased.

Out Of The Park Baseball's CMO Rich Grisham Predicts The World Series and More 

Don't Miss The NHL Mascot-Infused Threes Trailer 

Surf World Series Gets Tricks Trailer & Demo 
The game is out August 29 (PS4) and on August 30 for Xbox and PC.