The Sports Desk – What Sports Games’ Ultimate Team Modes Need To Do Next

by Matthew Kato on Oct 10, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Ultimate Team – or any of the monetization modes in the sports games – are big business, and it's not all real-money exploitation, either. These fun modes have captured the imagination of gamers, and for some, are the preferred way to play the games. I have been thinking about this supposed shift in the balance of power away from the traditional single-player career track towards a multiplayer mode like Ultimate Team (which, BTW, I'm going to use as an umbrella term for all of these fantasy modes in this article, whether it's NBA 2K17's MyTeam or Pro Evolution Soccer 2017's MyClub). The chance to build a roster of players from different teams is obviously a big draw, as is the excitement of ripping packs for the gratification of getting a star or rare player card.

Due to the marketplace values, the involvement of real money, and the carrot/stick nature of these modes, grinding for packs (and/or the coins to buy them) is fundamental to them. While the modes have mixed it up over the last few years by featuring different kinds of challenges, ladder/gauntlet structures, and quicker ways to play, for gamers who don't want to spend real-money the prospect of all that grinding to build their teams up can be daunting.

But what if you paired the longer-term commitment of a career/franchise mode with Ultimate Team to help ease the grind (at least psychologically)? Career mode elements would provide an impetus to play over time due to the stake in the growth of your franchise and its players that this type of mode creates (versus the anonymous feeling of going up/down a division every 10 games in a typical Seasons UT mode), while still featuring the short-term gratification of pulling new, random players and the influx of new talent they can provide.

Here are some possible features for this Franken-mode:

  • Your performance from the week or any set period of games gives you coins and/or consumable packs you can spend on improving or healing your players. Or perhaps you could be given a choice: Once a week you can choose consumables for the players you already have, or open a pack for a whole new player that is at a minimum rated the same as the player you have at any given position, but possibly be better.

  • Coins could be spent on packs, but to offer the choice to invest in your franchise as well. They could be spent on scouting for free agents or the draft, which would be based around packs of players at specific positions. Overall, scouting would give you a better idea of who you'd get in a pack or increase your chances of getting a good player. Pro Evolution Soccer's system of spending coins on scouts and special agents to construct parameters that define which player you're going to randomly draw could be used here.

  • Coins could also be spent to buy contracts and/or sway players to sign/resign with your team.

  • Draft players would be drawn from the myriad different versions of existing players (including historic ones), with each round of the draft containing the usual chances for a gem or bust. Or the randomness of a pack could be used to generate your normal, made-up draftees.

  • Coins could still be used to buy different playbooks, uniform variants, and custom stadiums and player equipment.

  • Chemistry bonuses would be given to units that play together over time, thus encouraging you to keep players so they gel.

When you look at it, there's nothing radically different about these elements from your normal Ultimate Team or franchise mode, but by bringing them together you can gain the salient foundations of both (the player fluidity and randomness of UT and the structure and player/franchise investment of franchise) while still being more than just a fantasy draft in your career mode.

What do you think? Have any good ideas yourself? Put them in the comments section below.

Speaking of Career/Franchise modes, I had a couple thoughts on them as well recently...

What's Not Working
I've often talked about wanting owner features in my career modes, but as time goes by I realized I don't like them. Owner modes invariably involves setting prices, but this loses its luster rather quickly. Besides, oftentimes the financial side of a team in these modes comes strictly down to your performance in games (like in FIFA 17 or NHL 17), so what's the point of the accountant middle man, then?

Even when this aspect is tied directly to your team's budget (like in Madden 17), I simply can't be bothered to tweak the prices even if some advisor is yelling at me. I appreciate the verisimilitude these elements introduce, but when it comes to it, I'm not interested.

The fun of being an owner isn't about worrying about the bottom line, it's about the power and enjoying the riches. To this end, perhaps future owner modes or owner-related features need to be less about managing finances and more about things like physically creating and designing stadiums and influencing the league as a whole like in NBA 2K17's MyGM.

Another thing that's not working is training. For me, setting up practices and running through them never lasts more than a few weeks before I sim everything, come what may. I understand the importance of it to give the non-game time structure, the chance to grow your players, and the realism of it all, but I wish there was a better way to convey this part of sports beyond mind-numbing drills.

What is the Console Horsepower Doing For Your Career Mode Anyway?
Sports fans have it better than ever, but when I think of all the promises I've heard over the years about how the power of this console or that is going to change sports games forever, I have to laugh.

Of course, in terms of graphics, physics, and even A.I. (sometimes), we certainly benefit greatly from our current platforms. But when it comes to the guts of a career mode – the trade/free agent/draft A.I. logic, stat creation and tabulation, and simmed results, we're still searching for accuracy.

Even with a new stat engine for a few years, simmed games in Madden can deliver low stats for even elite-level A.I. QBs. Old, washed-up free agents in NHL still demand a ton of money (and in Pro Evolution Soccer players don't demand near enough and there's not enough player movement), and we've even seen LeBron James go to the Pacers in NBA 2K17 ('nuff said). These are just a few of the examples of how the A.I. running the data in the background of your career mode does a disservice to your franchise.

Given how the console manufacturers and game developers are always talking about the horsepower under the hood and how they're using it, it seems like getting the computer to crunch the numbers correctly is unfortunately still an elusive piece of math.

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




Driveclub VR (PlayStation 4) October 13
Infinite Air (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) October 25
Football Manager 17 (PC, Mac, Linux) November 4
Motorsport Manager (PC, Mac) November 10 (check out more about the game in this previous Sports Desk)
Steep (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) December 2 


A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week.

Supreme Court Declines To Hear NCAA Case Appeals

NHL 17 Predicts the 2016-17 NHL Season
Read it and weep.

The Golf Club VR Announced, Coming This Year
I wonder if you pull your head up on a shot does it affect on your swing?

Motorsport Manager & Football Manager 2017 Highly Anticipated This Holiday Season
Data trackers Nielsen have come up with the surprising results.

UFC 2 Available For Free For EA Access Members

NASCAR Heat Evolution Update Forthcoming