The Man Determining The Future of Madden
EA Sports and developer EA Tiburon are promising big things for the Madden franchise this year after a string of disappointments in this hardware generation. We sat down with Cam Weber, EA Sports' new general manager of football, to talk about some of the challenges for the series as he works to rebuild its reputation and prepare for the next round of consoles.
Some of the work on Madden NFL 13 started before development of Madden 12, and yet that content didn't appear in that game. Was Madden NFL 12 hamstrung?
I don't know. I came in late in the year last year. We formed a new leadership team and a new business unit, and spent last February, March, April, and May forming a new long-term strategy and where we need to go and what technology we need to build. At that time, we really didn't want to disturb the teams in development and blow things up. They were at the end of the cycle at that point and taking the game to the finish.
Really, the stuff we were showing today, that technology was in development with a couple of guys last cycle. This cycle we piled on a whole bunch of people and really took it to the finish. But, mostly the things we are doing this year really kicked off after we finished Madden last year. Could those things have been done earlier? I don't think so. I think it was basically us figuring out where we wanted to go with our new team, and also, we ramped our team up a lot. [Weber says 65 new positions were added – Ed.] We had to step up to kind of get to a lot of this stuff, and that takes time. I think it's just a culmination of things. It's not like it's that we just set out to build so many new things all in one year in [Madden] 13. It's kind of a combination of things that were in development in 11 and 12 that are coming to fruition in 13. Plus, we have a major push in gameplay and our career modes, and the presentation that has been driven by the new team and a lot of the new members we brought on. So, it's just kind of a perfect storm of things and how it's played out, and as a result, 13 has ended up being this massive year of change. I don't really think about it in terms of like, "Could that have been done in 12 or not?" It's just kind of the way things ended up.
Was the new leadership structure and ramp-up in personnel a long-term plan or a reaction to the stagnation of the series?
No. I came down from EA Canada, and I think that our studios, between EA Canada and EA Tiburon, we've always kind of worked together, but I think this is the first time that someone in a leadership position like myself kind of came down and went into a leadership position with a team at Tiburon from EA Canada. We've got a lot of veterans from Tiburon as well, but we mixed in a lot of fresh, new senior people from EA Canada and from outside of EA as we formed this new team. Anytime you change leadership and form a new team, it basically forces you to sit down and say, "Okay, where are we at with our products? Where do we want to be?" And then you look at those gaps and then you figure out, "How do we get there? How do we get there the quickest way possible and make sure that we maintain quality along the way?"
It's a big change this year, but then there's a laundry list of things that it can unlock in terms of the game experience in years to come. [Madden 13's new technology is] like a new platform for us. I think most of the things you saw today are kind of foundational elements that are going to allow us to really move into the future. The other piece I'll add to that is future consoles, future hardware – these are all pieces of technology that set us up for where we believe the features in our game are going to be in that future and will allow us to transition more gracefully into future hardware.
It sounds like you'll be better prepared for the next-generation of systems and we won't see the early Madden games drop traditional features when they come out.
I think what happened in the last generation – and I think it happened in a lot of places across our industry. It absolutely did here – a lot of people were trying to re-write everything all though that transition, and so the games lost some depth and they kind of started from scratch and had to build the depth again. I think with this generation, what we want to do is really clean house, get our technology in order, and make sure we really have this great platform and these different elements so we can take that with us so we don't lose any depth along the way when we transition to future hardware.
On the flipside, is there any danger that you're starting things for the next-generation too early, and that you'll actually be behind when the next-generation hits since you're starting things already?
I think we're in so much better of a place today than we were in the last transition. Mainly because a lot of it is not a re-write, and the pieces that are re-writes, we're building a lot of those foundations now. These technologies that you're seeing are scaleable. Very scaleable.
There is some fear that Nintendo's Wii U platform will be stuck between the current generation and the next one. Is the console really a next-gen platform?
Absolutely. It's a [new] platform with a new controller input, so we'll do everything we can to deliver an experience that will take advantage of the hardware for that consumer.
Do you guys still plan to pursue future Head Coach games and other "offshoot" NFL titles other than the traditional Madden?
We're always looking. This year we did a digital version of NFL Blitz. I think we're always looking for opportunities for ways to expand our market and reach new consumers and utilize the assets and engines we have in place.
I think right now, because we have a core of people within our development – including [franchise mode designer] Josh Looman, that are very passionate about that kind of football management/GM space. I think we'll continue to dive deeper and deeper within Madden. Then at a certain point we might hit this line where we're like, "Okay, we want to go deeper," and that's going to result in a new type of product. I think those are things that we're always talking about, but we don't have anything in the works right now.
How about the return of NFL Street?
Well, we did NFL Blitz this year. We'll take a look at the end of the year and see how that did; how consumers are feeling. We do a lot of research as well, and figure out when we what to come back into that space again. Right now, we're really focused on Madden 13.