I'm in an Abusive Relationship with Madden

by Randall Cleveland

I love football. I love video games. So it should come as no surprise that I buy Madden NFL Football, the annual sports sim EASports releases so that dorks like me can live out their gridiron fantasies. Not, like, "Oooh, kiss me down THERE, Tom Landry," fantasies. More like, "I just won the Super Bowl for my hometown team!" kind of fantasies. But I don't judge if you go for the former. 

EASports' slogan is "If it's in the game, it's in the game," meaning if you see it in the real life version they'll have it represented in the video game. Great. I've played these games long enough that I remember my mind being blown at being able to see numbers on the players' backs. They weren't even the right numbers; everyone seemed to be #88, but it was at the time, I thought, the pinnacle of football simulation. And therein lies the problem: EA bills their game as the pinnacle of football simulation year after year. They kind of have to since they scarfed up the sole rights to NFL property; they're literally the only game in town and have no competition. So the pressure's on them to deliver something fun, immersive, engaging, and oh also accurately representing real life events, people, and places.

Naturally, they screw it up most every time.



Not terribly, mind you. There ARE plenty of people who howl in agony at the fact that EA forgot to include _____ this year, but I'm not one of them. I don't really play online, I've never registered for a "Madden Tournament," and I am decidedly lacking in trash talk. I mostly play the game's Franchise mode, where you pick a team and control everything from the stadium features to the color of your players' shoes (god complex much?), offline and alone. I'm content to play the game they put out and not worry too much about stuff like whether or not there are individual blades of grass visible on the field.

Seriously. That was a selling point last year. Blades of grass.

But now comes word that EA is eliminating a feature I have used extensively: the ability to edit players. (They're also eliminating several other things, but I don't care about any of those.)



I'm not going to scream and rage and threaten to never buy the game again, but I am wondering if this might break the game for me and make it not worth playing any more.

Those of you who read my blog and my posts here know that it wouldn't be a Randall Cleveland jam without some personal over-sharing, so here goes: I don't just play digital football. I create myself and my friends in the game and assign us to different teams. I try to give us "realistic" abilities (yes, I'm aware that the fact that I make myself an NFL quarterback pretty much eliminates any realism straight away), so they're not just overpowered ultra-beasts. I create my own little storylines and run my own little ESPN highlight reel in my head. Half the time my wife asks me what I'm thinking about I have to make something up because I was daydreaming about a sportscaster going over the fake football game an imaginary me played against a digital representation of an NFL team and the electronic playoff implications for next week, which will actually occur tomorrow night when I get home from work and play again.

Pathetic? Bizarre? Possibly reason to warrant treatment from a mental health professional? All true, I know. It's my secret shame, and possibly the reason why I don't play with other people. After all, real people have a tendency of ruining the outcome you're scripting in your head.

But it's the way I play the game, and it's the way I enjoy it. And now EA is planning to take that away from me. Sure, I'll still be able to create myself, but their new game mode will prohibit me from editing my abilities to my liking, so my 93 Throwing Accuracy is likely to never happen. Ditto for editing my hometown Rams' stats to make them less pathetic. I don't care what real life says, Steven Jackson is a 99 in my book! Too bad; EA says that's not the way to have fun, and I can't change him. "Big deal," you say, "just play the game without cheating!" Fine, okay. Except what if I trade Steven Jackson to another team that already has a player wearing #39? He'll automatically take a different number, and I won't be able to change it. Imagine John Elway wearing number 3 because 7 was taken. It's jarring, and it takes you out of the moment. And I bought the game, for crying out loud. Let me use it!

That's the part I don't really understand about this: it seems like EA is saying, rather bluntly, "you've been playing this wrong." But that's the way I like to play! And I give you $60 for the privilege, so why not take my money and leave me be? I know they have to tout "improvements" every year to boost sales, and maybe I'm the one guy who plays the game this way, but is it necessary to eliminate an entire mode of play that's been with the game since 1998?



That seems to be EA's modus operandi with the Madden franchise over the last few years: take out perfectly fine features and keep them out for a year or two, then reload them and advertise it as a completely new addition. I'm not a game developer, so I don't pretend to understand the give and take that has to occur to fit a new feature or system in, but it seems at the very least disingenuous to take things away and then try to sell them back to users as brand new.

All of which is inviting the obvious, "So don't buy it then, stupid." I know that, and I've canceled my pre-order. Madden's the only game I pre-order, because year-in and year-out I always buy it, no matter how much I plan on resisting. I'll content myself with playing last year's version another year, I suppose, but the real rub will be next year when they announce they've added player editing as a brand new feature.

Will you be buying this year's Madden? Want to commiserate about your favorite feature being dropped? Do you even care? Just want to make fun of Randall's football fantasies? Post in the comments!