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EA/Tiburon and the Trust of the NFL Gamer 
Posted on June 19, 2013 at 04:30 PM.
EA/Tiburon and the Rest of Us

Through my tenure on OS, I've both identified with and alienated some of the great members of this site by being outspokenly critical about the level of talent present on the Madden development team. While at times it can seem to be harsh, it's not intended to blindly criticize. The Madden development team has shown over the course of the last 8 years that they have been unable to create an NFL product with even the most basic level of quality. Before we even talk about features, gameplay, modes and other bells and whistles, the basic elements of the game need to actually "work". The countless number of embarrassing bugs from uniform errors, improper salary cap mechanisms, possession errors, lack of penalties, morphing, shifting, scheduling errors, etc. has alienated the long time fans of this once proud franchise. Once you get past the bugs, you then deal with the lacking aspects of NFL simulation and realism that have plagued the series for many years. OL/DL play, WR/DB interaction, ball physics, penalties missing and/or absent, presentation, player movement interaction. The other major sports games have surged so far past Madden that it is hard to imagine Madden ever being able to catch up.

Who's Fault Is It?

I think a lot of Madden fans have spent an inordinate amount of hours pondering who ultimately is responsible for the colossal failure of the current generation of Madden. I've heard it all on OS as far as who it could be. First it was David Ortiz who seemed to be the poster boy for arcade football. After Ian Cummings came aboard, Madden was supposed to exhibit everything you see on Sunday. Man, was that a sham! Instead we got comments directly from developers stating that it wouldn't be fun to have pass interference called causing your drive to stall. After Ian left and Madden failed to even get to a remotely passable level, he was pegged as the scapegoat.

Next in line were the infamous "suits". Let me put this one to bed right now because it's a very tired argument. While the overall direction of products can be somewhat influenced by "suits", they are not directly involved with development in any way. Suits have nothing to do with penalties not working, tackling looking like NFL blitz or player movement looking cartoonish and laughable. The code that was written for Madden was flat out embarrassingly bad and would never have survived had Madden been contested by another, more polished title. There is a distinct difference between design decisions and implementation. While many design decisions on Madden have been bad, the implementation has been worse.

A New Development Team

Fast forward to the present time and here we are in 2013 with a supposedly altered and augmented development team. The new General Manager for football is Cam Weber who seems to say all of the right things. Saying all of the right things and actually putting them into practice are two different things. Personally, I like Cam Weber. I think he means well, he's smart and seems very motivated and driven. However, he's not writing the code. The real meat and potatoes of it all rests with the programmers and designers themselves. What is the standard of quality these developers are willing to accept? It is widely known that 2k's All Pro 2k8 is STILL the benchmark for football fundamentals and gameplay. Whether you are a 2k football fan or not, there is no denying the facts that the game implemented the basic fundamentals of football better than any other game to date. This is truly disappointing especially considering the game is unlicensed by the NFL and was created merely as a head to head game. How is it that an unlicensed game can include all of the penalties of the NFL, better presentation and commentary along with smooth and realistic physics and animations? Not to mention, the budget for the game was a fraction of what the Madden team is working with. A question for the developers who are now working on Madden is, "Aren't you tired of the fact that a game created with an inferior technology and fractional budget is still light years better than your game? Doesn't it bother you?". The bottom line here is that the implementation of Madden has been nothing short of horrendous. A common term used to describe some of the things we've seen over the years is "embarrassing". If Madden is to turn things around, the actual programmers writing the code are going to seriously need to step up their game. The managers are going to have to work to fit more implementation into shorter periods and stop pushing out half baked football games. If neither of these things happen, Tiburon will continue to be lambasted throughout the community and will remain the laughing stock of development studios in the sports gaming genre.

Righting the Ship

Ok, so now that we are in the predicament we are in when it comes to football gaming, how can this ship be righted? After years of disappointing fans and driving away long time supporters and consumers of the Madden franchise, how can EA/Tiburon fix this mess? The answer is actually incredibly simple.

BLOW US AWAY!

In the 8 years of exclusivity, Tiburon has not yet managed to duplicate NFL2k5 or APF 2k8 from a football fundamental standpoint. Notice, I did not say "exceed", but I said "duplicate". Football gaming has made absolutely ZERO strides in any facet of the game. Zero - in 8 years. Let that sink in for a minute. Now take a glance at how far baseball, basketball and Soccer have come. Sony's The Show is often referred to as the benchmark for all sports games. It is an outstanding achievement in nearly every facet of the game. NBA 2k has set the bar for basketball realism, versatility and presentation. FIFA has innovated with outstanding player movement, presentation and unparalleled realism for Soccer fans. What has Madden done? Well we were finally able to throw the ball over a linebacker in 2012. So how does Tiburon blow us away? Well, before they run, they need to understand what is needed to walk. Here's an initial list of what needs to happen in no particular order of importance.
  • Football in compartments needs to stop. One of my buddies and excellent poster on here, SageInfinite, uses this term a lot and he's exactly right. In there infinite search for a back of the box seller, they have forgotten that they are the only NFL game and a back of the box description is not needed to sell this game. High quality quantity is. It's very lackluster and frustrating for fans to get an incomplete game each year. Why is it that we get a game that only has one small facet of football even touched? Not only that, but that facet is usually implemented poorly with little polish. Why is only run blocking addressed instead of ALL blocking? Why are player interactions addressed, but only for the ball carrier? Why are WR/DB interactions not touched at the expense of pass trajectories? All of these things have been long overdue in Madden to be at a high level and yet here we are in 2013 and we STILL cannot say these elements have been implemented at a high level. Presentation is the worst of any sports game in Madden. Tiburon has invented their own brand of presentation resulting in a disconnected, hodge podge of bland atmostpheric elements never seen in an actual NFL broadcast. In 2004, we had a full halftime and postgame show with actual highlights and ESPN presentation down to the smallest detail. In 2013, we have none of that. It takes far too long to have the basics included in Madden. These elements are no longer considered to be extras, they are standards now. Before you can exceed expectations, you have to MEET expectations. More high quality content needs to be included in each Madden release.
  • Build on each release. Instead of implementing elements into the game that are incomplete and left for dead, build them in ways that make the easily extensible and expandable. Continue to build off of game modes and mechanics. Instead of trailing behind and being late to the game, be the innovator and the driver of the technology. A good start to this was the infinity engine. Admittedly, the first version was not all that good. However, there is a lot of improvement shown in the next release since it has been built upon instead of abandoned. Here is a message to the Madden team that should be seriously considered. "YOU WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF THINGS TO ADD THE GAME!". It's been stated that the madden team once had a meeting to discuss MLB the Show and how it is a success. They decided that the game was TOO good and left little desire for players to purchase the following version. REALLY?!!! That may top the list of the most idiotic and incorrect ideas ever stated by a development studio. This type of mindset needs to disappear from Tiburon. Newsflash for Tiburon developers - You've done a really, really bad job on Madden for nearly a decade. REALLY bad. There is so much to be done just to "fix" it, you will have plenty to sell for the foreseeable future. Build a solid foundation, and add as much high quality function, mechanics and realism as possible in EVERY release. Then build, build and build again. Follow the lead of the NBA2k, FIFA and Show teams. Look at what they've got now.
  • Remember that REALISM is more fun. Somehow it got lost along the way at Tiburon that a more realistic game is a hell of a lot more fun to play than an arcade game. People play simulation sports games because they want to live out their fantasy of playing professional sports. They want to feel as connected to the real life experience as possible. Ever wonder why people rave about the presentation in NBA2k or the player interaction and movements in FIFA? How come they are always crapping on Madden when it comes to these elements? The answer is simple... Those games are showing you what you would see on TV. Everything is very close to its real life counterpart. In Madden, the presentation is invented. As far as us consumers are concerned, there is no such thing as the Tiburon Sports Network on TV. Since that's the case, why are you trying to create it in your football game? Learn how to replicate what exists in real life, it will draw people into your game and make them WANT to play it rather than feel like they can TOLERATE it. Pay attention to detail when it comes to realism. Penalties are a huge part of the game. Referees throwing flags, chain gangs, sidelines, crowds, are all BIG parts of the real life NFL. When I am playing APF2k8 I can see refs throwing flags on the field, I can see penalties like ineligible man downfield called. I can also see real time injuries. I can challenge all applicable situations of a play. Realism is the key to drawing fans into your game.
  • Change the attitude at Tiburon. Lastly, there has, at times, felt like a sense of entitlement from the dev team at Tiburon. Feeling like the consumers are whiners and being nitpickers is a poor approach to the problem at hand. The reason why fans are so dissatisfied with Madden is not their fault. It's your own. This is the bed Tiburon and Tiburon alone made and you have to lay in it. All can be forgiven with a quality product. No game will ever be perfect, but fans are not asking for perfection. They simply want not only what they had nearly a decade ago on inferior hardware, but they want the product to EXCEED those levels. It can be done and it can be done each release without purposely or lazily cutting things out. Don't feel like you deserve a pat on the back because you allowed us to throw over a defender or make a sideline catch in Madden 13. These are things we enjoyed 9 years ago in NFL 2k5 with the utmost realism. That's not an accomplishment you should be proud of, it's just something that should be there. An accomplishment to be proud of would be providing us with the most realistic, true to life player movement ever seen in ANY sports game. Innovative and unpredictable, non scripted gameplay that blurs the line between the real NFL and a game. This is why games like The Show are considered legitimate titles worth their price of admission and Madden is not. Push the envelope rather than simply aspire to reach the bare minimum.
The key to regaining the faith and trust of the NFL Football gamer is quality with substantial quantity. Releasing a passable football title is not going to cut it. It's time to WOW us again, just like the old days. Stop forcing us to play older games on inferior technology in order to have a superior experience. I'm tired of playing APF2k8 to enjoy football. Consumers like myself WANT to play and love Madden again. The ball is in your court, Tiburon. Blow us away this coming generation and all will be forgiven. Fail to do so and you'll instead be forgotten and remain the laughing stock of sports game developers.


Comments
# 1 SageInfinite @ Jul 14
Excellent, excellent write up my friend. Appreciate the shoutout as well. Totally agree with everything stated here. I do feel like Tiburon is kind of turning a corner with these last couple of releases. NCAA 14 actually shows signs of being a solid game.
 
# 2 xylocaine @ Jul 17
Great write up. You have made me wish someone would pick up the APF2K8 code and allow custom rosters etc. What 2K has done with Basketball, sony has done with baseball makes it clear that another company needs to make the football game we all want to play. I know 2K could do it in Football, even without the license.
 
# 3 inkcil @ Oct 17
Excellent...so sad that the best football games may be far far behind us. EA and Madden won't change, so our only hope is for 2k5 roster sets to stay alive and perhaps 2k will revamp all pro football with totally generic players and a fully functional franchise mode and half decent customization.
 
# 4 TTD71 @ Jun 20
Outstanding and depressing at the same time...I know that I am getting old and have been playing video football games my whole life - going all the way back to Atari 2600 and Intellivision in the late 70's...but the progress of football gaming has slowed significantly since 2004 and its really due to the exclusivity deal between EA and the NFL. Since the golden era of video football games of NCAA 2004, NFL2K5 and Madden 2006 (PS2), we really have seen very little to advance the genre - graphics are better and presentation is shinier, but the core experience is as stale as month-old bread.
 
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