Sound and FuryShawn Drotar

Posted on August 4th, 2010 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, News, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

When the demo for Madden NFL 11 was released, there was a clamor and din rising from veteran Madden gamers on Internet forums, primarily centered around the addition of the “Strategy Pad”, a new way of making pre-snap adjustments within the game.

Without belaboring the point, the complaints generally fell into a select few categories:

1. I liked it the way it was.

2. I don’t want to memorize something different.

3. I can’t make a dozen changes in five seconds like I could before.

Now, of course, Madden is often the poster child for Internet forum-dwellers that complain that yearly sports games don’t innovate enough, so these complaints are fascinating at the very least. The dirty little secret with Madden’s pre-snap adjustments over the years - to those who play online, anyway - is that far too many gamers use their memorized button patterns to “nano-blitz”, among other exploits, to ensure victory against less experienced - or more scrupulous - players.

Now, it’s perfectly fair to say that repairing these holes in Madden’s engine that allow these exploits should be a priority for the developers, and the advent of the Strategy Pad - which reduces the number of possible pre-snap moves simply due to the mechanism itself - may provide little more than a cover for those holes, but it’s also worth noting that it’s more realistic.

In the NFL, even the wildly gesticulating Peyton Manning doesn’t have time to get to the line of scrimmage and call three hot routes, change his blocking scheme and flip the play direction. But in past Maddens, gamers could. And frankly, it was a little ridiculous. The Strategy Pad would have alleviated that and added to the game’s realism, all while making the game a bit more accessible to new players.

“Would have”, because EA Sports caved in to the squeaky wheels once more, and cut their own innovation off at the knees.

Madden’s creative director, Ian Cummings, while rather clearly pointing out why the Strategy Pad was created and why it’s a better system going forward, finished his blog post with this: “We do believe that this change is for the better, and that in the long run it delivers a much more positive experience to the gamers that are willing to try and adapt. Due to the overwhelming feedback however, we will be providing the old-style button commands as an option that can be enabled. We are currently targeting this change to be released around the first week of the NFL season as it will take some time to get through third party approvals.”

I understand Cummings’ dilemma. Here, even before the game is released, you have a vocal minority of rabid fans ripping the game’s demo before it’s even released, and you feel a need to compensate. I can sympathize. But it’s still unwise. Here’s why.

First, How many of the gamers that are complaining now would have actually chosen not to purchase the game? What other options do they have? There are no other NFL games on the market - and they’re obviously huge Madden fans. I’d be willing to bet that very few, if any, sales would have been lost by sticking to their guns and allowing the game that they believed in during its creation to see the light of day, unaltered.

Second, how many new customers would have been lost had EA Sports not changed the command scheme to allow the Strategy Pad to be bypassed? Any? The system was complicated and generally only benefited veterans of the series, and any of those folks who tried to explain why new gamers should skip a purchase due to not being able to press Y, then X then flick the right stick up for a fly pattern would have likely been met with blank stares. Again, no discernible loss in sales there, either.

Third, EA Sports did the same thing with the latest iteration of their boxing sim, Fight Night. Instead of sticking with their intuitive, innovative controls, the publisher patched the game to allow button-mashing after caving into the howls of the forum mobs, killing the flow and nuance of the title and resulting in a toxic mishmash of performance that cratered in the marketplace and left copies languishing on the store shelves.

Essentially, there was nothing tangible to lose by keeping the faith, by trusting in the developers’ judgment; something EA Sports did during Madden’s entire design process. And there was much to gain; a chance for increased realism, an improved track record of innovation and an opportunity to move the series forward quickly. Instead, by allowing themselves to be cyber-bullied by a disorganized group that would have had essentially zero effect on their bottom line, Madden has already missed on these opportunities, giving back the exploit powers to the would-be cheaters and encouraging intellectual sloth among their users.

And all this before the game’s even been released. It’s like training for year to run a marathon, lining up at the start, and then leaving right before the starter’s gun goes off because someone in the stands said they didn’t like the color of your shoes.

To EA Sports, I offer only this - while feedback and focus groups are wonderful tools, have a little faith in yourselves, too. Give yourselves a chance to succeed before declaring yourselves a failure, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

2 Responses to 'Sound and Fury'

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  1. sharksbreath said,

    on August 23rd, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Umm. Sean performing adjustments on offense is not the problem.

    It’s using the D Pad to make defensive adjustments where the problem lies. .

    The reason players have to do so many adjustments on defense is because the LB and defensive line in Madden are retarded.

    The last three years players have abused the flats and passes to the RB right up until around Christmas when Madden finally fixes the problem with a patch.

    This has been the case for the last three years. This year is no difference. In the NFL teams who RB and TE lead them in receiving don’t go to far. Yet you can score points like it’s Arena League football just throwing to your RB’s and TE. All game.

    I saw a post on Operation sports of the things they are working on for the patch.

    Generally making pass defense more effective
    Reducing number of broken tackles
    Fixing user blitz exploit(s)

    Really. You want me to trust these guys.

    These things were not addressed in testing. That any RB can average 8-10 yards a carry. That tackling is a mess. That screen passes work to well. That pass defense is useless within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Really.

    Sounds like the same list as last year and the year before that etc. .

    Your carrying a lot of water for a company that put out an unplayable basketball game for 10 years. Trust the developers. LOL. That trust got a lot of people to spend money on an inferior product. Y

    In this world Chris I don’t even trust myself. Please explain to me why I should trust a company that put out NBA live for the last 10 years.

    Look what EA has done to your own friend with their trust policy.

    Pasta Padre.
    He’s spent years trying to make NBA Live playable. When even plenty of the original NBA LIve center guys have made the switch to 2k.

    Years ago.

    I feel for Pasta He actually played NBA Live 2008 instead of 2k8 which I and many basketball video junkies consider the greatest baketball simualtion ever. Yet their he was stuck trusting EA wasting hours of his time.

    As far as Fight Night the stick has never worked well when it comes to the sport.

    Never.

    How many years have they been working with that stick and they still can not get it right.

    In a boxing match the boxer has complete control of their body. With the stick you can throw the wrong punches in the heat of the match. I guess we should trust the developer that he knew I wanted to throw a hook instead of an uppercut. They know right.

    That’s why the fans hated it. If you din’t know. You don’t have control.

    What did you call it. Intuitive and innovative. It’s so intuitive that it throws punches I din’t know I wanted to throw.

    Wow. Thanks EA.

    How about if EA actually worked on fixing the fatigue issue in Fight Night people wouldn’t turn it into a button mashing experience. Just a thought.

    Far as Madden sales I guess someone isn’t buying it. Their sales have dropped the last three years. Stores were discounting the game to get them to move. A game like Madden should never have a drop in sales. No matter how bad the economy.

    Could you explain this drop in sales.

    I guess the customer is always right doesn’t mean what it used to.We should just blindly trust the developers. LOL.

    Trust them. You trust them.

    I want what I supposedly paid for. A game that doesn’t have to be patched up to the Super Bowl to finally work out all the kinks.

    Sean. You really sound like a guy who is getting paid by EA or you sound like a reporter that is too close to the people your supposed to be covering.

    You may want to just let the general public know.

    How much is the check

    How many free parties do they let you attend

    How much free stuff do they give you.

    Blaming the people who actually buy the game. Yeah it’s our fault.

    Let us eat cake.

  2. Shawn Drotar said,

    on September 17th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Letting the general public know:
    The check is zero. Always has been. I’ve always spent my own money to provide gamers with my coverage. You may not like it - but at least you got what you paid for. Whether I did? I often wonder.

    I have covered press events in the past - but “free parties”? No. And when I cover events, it’s always clearly stated.

    “Free stuff?” Only copies of the game for coverage - many of which I’ve savaged - read my backlog. That’s no different than any other media outlet.

    ***

    I fear you may have misunderstood my point here - that EA seems to spend an entire development cycle on something, then changes it before it ever sees the light of day. This isn’t blaming the consumers so much as it is blaming EA for not listening to feedback better. If it’s important enough to patch things, why isn’t it important enough during the design process?

    And if they’ve decided that their better judgment reigned, so be it - but stick by their guns. As it stands, EA’s trying to have their cake and eat it, too, and it’s not working… unless you take into account their sales numbers for “Madden”, of course.

    In that case, if consumers hate the product and the developer so much, yet keep buying the product year after year… well, that is on them.

    Thanks for commenting. I really do appreciate the feedback, even though the run-of-the-mill “you’re getting paid by EA” crack was misguided and unnecessary.

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