The Sports Desk – Worrying About Madden 18's Connected Franchise Mode
Madden's career mode is my bread and butter. Behind the quality of the gameplay, it's what most interests me from year to year. It's therefore unfortunate that there likely aren't any big changes to Madden 18's Connected Franchise Mode (CFM). I hoped the dev team down at EA Tiburon would address some of the areas I've included on my M18 wishlist, and maybe that will still happen, but based on recent comments from creative director Rex Dickson I don't expect any big new features for CFM. While I'd love it if CFM was the focus of Madden 18, some details about the developer's plans for the mode in future years has me worried that my vision for CFM and that of the devs don't completely match up.
At the EA Play event before E3 last month, Dickson was pretty candid in interviews like this one with SimFBallCritic (via Operation Sports) that we weren't going to see an overhaul or an influx of new features for CFM. Dickson says that the reasons for this include devoting time and resources to migrating over to Frostbite engine and syncing CFM with EA Tiburon's NBA Live franchise. The former is an understandable move that is already paying dividends for Madden in terms of how the game looks as well as The Longshot story mode (more on that and its ties to CFM later). The latter, however, concerns me.
What do NBA Live and Madden have to do with each other? Well, apart from being both made by EA Tiburon, the company wants to tie the two together so that they can share resources and features. This is understandable from a development and business standpoint, and one that could benefit both series. However, I worry that this restricts the devs' imagination and ability to possibly implement the features they want. If there's a potential CFM feature on the table, for instance, does it have to be weighed against NBA Live's plans for that year or the future? If a feature goes in one series, does it have to go into the other? And since the NBA Live franchise is still finding its footing and Madden's CFM feature set has a head start, how much catch-up is NBA Live going to have to do and will this slow down the evolution of CFM? Now, I don't think tying the two series together is as literal as feature swapping since there are tech benefits with Frostbite, for example, that may appear irrespective of individual features. But EA is tying the fate of the two franchises together as far as CFM is concerned.
In the interview with SimFBallCritic, Dickson explains that what CFM is losing this year it is gaining in the future due to the infrastructure groundwork being laid by Madden 18. Specifically, he mentions future CFMs having live content updates in an attempt to give the mode longer legs and reasons to play through the year similar to Ultimate Team. Dickson doesn't go into any specifics, but he vaguely mentions timely content such as promos.
Playing the guessing game, I can foresee challenges for XP based on performances and milestones laid down in that week's real-life football games, influxes of equipment, and perhaps drop-ins from online opponents into your franchise week. These all sound great and there are plenty of positive things you could do with this format. But unless I'm off the mark I don't see how this fixes the overall structural problems of CFM. Its financial/player contracts backbone needs to be fleshed out. Free agency should get a shot in the arm. The mode needs more drama and influx of NFL storylines. The lack of coordinators should be addressed. The whole offseason of the combine, draft, minicamps, and training camp could be further fleshed out. I don't expect these to be fixed and/or implemented all at once, and I hope that they can be addressed in some manner, but I'm not sure how much shared technology and content updates achieve this on their own. Also, these are things we've been talking about for years, and now it seems like there's yet another reason to wait.
But I'm hopeful as a Madden fan that CFM and Madden 18 as a whole are better than previous years. I'm already excited for The Longshot story mode – which is something that has already impacted CFM. The Longshot has taken resources away from CFM and the two may merge in some fashion in the future. We could expend a lot of energy on hypotheticals (I already have), but at the end of the day, I'm not going to overvalue what may have been if I like what I absolutely have – and The Longshot and this year's gameplay changes may fulfill that space. In the past EA Tiburon has added things that I never thought I cared about or even wanted but which I liked in the end, such as the play calling overhaul, the meting out of contract negotiations from week to week, the Skills Trainer, and more. So, while I worry about the future of CFM, I'm not expecting a zero-sum game with Madden 18 showing nothing. I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed.
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NBA 2K18 wasn't at E3 since developer Visual Concepts and publisher 2K usually like to spill the beans on the game a lot closer to launch, but my colleague Matt Bertz has come up with his wishlist for the title. This in-depth rundown includes everything from gameplay to MyCareer and MyGM. I highly suggest you check it out and add your two cents in the comments section.
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week
NASCAR Heat 2 Launching At $49.99
In a cool deal, when you buy the game you get a $50 coupon for a selected race in the remaining 2017 or 2018 seasons. For more on the game, check out this previous preview.