The Downfall of Potential Ratings In Sports Games

After more than a few years playing through numerous Franchise Modes in Madden, MLB The Show and NBA 2K it is apparent to me that the only truly important rating for a young player in Franchise Mode is ‘Potential’.  It is also one of the more argued about topics on sports gaming forums as well.

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I have found that in simulating multiple seasons of MLB 18 (as well as older iterations) that the primary decider for a player becoming a superstar is potential.  It often has nothing to do with performance or statistics – take a look at the performance of some older players like Nelson Cruz as you play through a few seasons.  While they are still performing at a high level, they will suddenly see a huge drop off in ratings like contact and power as they age by a year… even if they hit 50 home runs the season before.

I have noticed that players with A potential are almost certain to be a lock for being s superstar in all three sports games.  Madden has a bad habit of making their franchise overall rating system as broken as anything else they put a number on in terms of ratings.

In the end, my view of the Potential Rating is not that it should go away completely.  I believe it needs to be molded to fit each game and sport.  Players generally fit into a few different categories of being high potential.  While Andrew Benintendi is no doubt a top level young talent, I don’t see him the same way I see Aaron Judge.  I believe that potential needs to be weighed more towards player type and player role in all sports games.

It shouldn’t be as simple as saying Player A should be a 99 Overall and Player B should be a 91 Overall in terms of potential.  There are some truly once-in-a-generation athletes like LeBron James that defy almost all limitations and are great at almost every aspect of their respective sport.

While a baseball player might look like a 5-Tool prospect, the reality of this is usually that they will be more like a 2 to hopefully 4-Tool guy.  As we play through more seasons of our favorite sports games it becomes easier to focus on the potential rating as the most important number by which we judge a player… unless you are talking about age… quite possibly the most lopsided and biased determiner of ratings decline in any version of a sports game.

Although we are able to edit the ratings of players manually in many of our Franchise Mode experiences, we shouldn’t have to take over where the number crunchers have failed us.  It is really as simple as applying a new descriptor to each player that highlights their role to a team.  This should be a fluid and dynamic description that also serves as a way to lift morale for players on the team.  I would like to see the death of potential ratings as numbers and have them become more in-tune with how we look at the changing landscape of players in every sport.

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Pick Bad Teams For Franchise Mode At Your Own Peril In MLB 18

As I finished downloading the OSFM 1.5 Roster I started to think about which team I wanted to use for my initial three-year contract on MLB 18: The Show’s Franchise Mode. Most aspects of Franchise Mode are generally fun for those of us that enjoy crunching numbers in terms of which players we can afford and how we can project our team succeeding because of our prowess as a General Manager.

Josh Bell MLB 18
Josh Bell’s Lone Home Run In My Time With The Pirates (12 Games) was to the shortest part of Comerica Park. (Where Home Runs Go To Die)

I generally avoid using top-tier teams because it takes the roster building out of the game in the initial season for the most part. That left me with a few teams I wanted to test out for the sake of their stadium and the players I’d be working with.

I have no desire to use the Marlins or the Rays because I truly can’t stomach either stadium and believe that both teams should be relocated for the sake of obligation to cities that actually have good sports fans no matter how their team is doing… that’s right – ‘shots fired’.

This left me with trying the Braves, Tigers, and Pirates.

The Braves would have been a great one to use before they lost a bunch of their top prospects because they violated numerous laws in the real world. So, that means you get Freddie Freeman as your power bat and then Dansby Swanson and Ronald Acuna. Sure, two prospects that have a lot of promise is nice, but wow… the team is hot garbage outside of that.

Onward, you have the Pirates, a team that is half-gutted with a couple mediocre additions in Musgrove and Dickerson. Once you realize that the team has virtually no one that can hit for power (Josh Bell is meh…) you will see that they have even worse pitching and you are wasting valuable trade currency by keeping Marte and Harrison around. I feel the same about Romero as the closer… seriously, why would any team keep a 90+ OVR closer if they won’t win more than 70 games? This team is at least another five years away from winning in any sort of sim experience.

The Tigers… well, let’s just say that Miguel Cabrera is literally the only player worth anything to your lineup. Fulmer seems to be a shadow of his former rookie year exploits. The rest of the team and the farm system are basically a perfect personification and ‘playerfication’ for the city of Detroit. Trash is less trashy than the MLB 18 version of the Tigers. Add to it that they have a stadium that is conducive to boring baseball with the furthest Center Field wall in the MLB and no real way to rob home runs if you had a player that could jump – yeah – it’s that bad.

The only saving grace is that these teams will give you longevity in your journey to build a team from nothing. Outside of that – you will see that being a poor team in money and in performance is an aneurism waiting to happen. Well, not waiting… give it about five games – it’s a short waiting period for a video game aneurism.

Good Luck!

The Next Logical Step Is PsychoLogical – Franchise Mode’s Biggest Need

It exists in a sort of infancy stage.  Sadly, it hasn’t grown much in over a decade.  Let’s take away the possibility that player morale and attitude might be something that Player Unions don’t allow.  (I have grown to believe that sports game developers have been denied the ability to give attributes for attitude, motivations and other psychological aspects to real players in their games – this is by no means a researched fact, but simply  my opinion.)

Madden 2005 had player morale and contract holdouts.  They have since done away with that aspect… no one is shocked.  MLB The Show has an entire section for player morale where they give happy or sad faces for anything from salary happiness to location happiness and some others.  This is a good step, but they haven’t developed it much beyond making it accessible and fun to look at for those of us that long for depth and story to drive our experience as a way to pursue longevity in franchise mode.  This isn’t the point of the article today.  The point of this is to give some solid input towards making Franchise Mode a truly great experience that will go for multiple seasons.

User Psychology 

The first aspect I believe should be considered in any franchise mode is how the user develops their in-game character as an Owner, GM, or coach.  Your choices to trade star players for prospects should effect everything from the morale of other existing players on your team to the coaching staff and even other players in coming seasons as you go through free agency.  I would love to see this in order to make users take the concept of trades with a grain of salt.  If the user makes these moves and signs certain players with ability that also lack productive morale it should reflect in contract negotiations and even bench player morale.

It’s time to make a connection between the user and the team they are running.  I think it might even be effective to implement more of the media questions that Madden has at certain points of the season, but make them into multiple interactions that start with an interview to get a baseline of your psyche as you begin the franchise.

A Real Story Mode

While I’m not asking for something like the Madden Longshot or the NBA 2K Story Modes I do think there is value in developing a story or a world to surround your franchise mode.  Even if this world exists soley in your head, it is something that I believe adds to the experience.

Agents

I don’t think it would take much to implement this to go along with Morale.  It might even be an easy way to get around my theory that actual players don’t want a game to say they have ‘bad attitudes’ or that they ‘only care about money’.  Let the morale take effect with team management, player performance, coach decisions, etc.  That leaves a lot of interactions and fun to be had with fictionalized agents and agencies.

These are just a few ideas, but it’s about time we start demanding more depth to a mode that continues to grow stale with every year that Ultimate Team, Diamond Dynasty and such.

MLB 18 – Franchise Mode House Rules

The first rules I generally set for myself in any sort of Franchise Mode involves trading and player acquisition. In my last post, I talked about the sim gameplay aspect of using directional batting – after trying this for the last couple days, I firmly stand by this suggestion. The team management area of franchise mode is what drives me to have the most fun with the game. It can also lead you towards a short-lived journey if you don’t set up some rules to prevent you from dominating a less than stellar CPU AI when it comes to trades and team building.

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Trades/Free Agents During Season

  1. You have to select the players you want from a specific team before offering your own player(s).
  2. You may make one trade in the initial Spring Training (Two trades in following spring trainings).
  3. You are permitted one trade before the All Star Game and it must not occur until at least May 1.
  4. You are permitted two trades after the All Star Break.
  5. You can only sign a free agent during your first season if your team suffers an injury on the MLB level that requires 60 Day – DL.

Scouting Prospects –

I generally prefer to take the scouting aspect as a personal project, but the more I look at how MLB 17 runs things, I tend to believe that leaving scouting on Auto allows your scouts to actually do what they will do based on their ratings. This also prevents the user from figuring out how to find all of the Top Prospects with ease.

In-Game Rules

There are only a couple basic rules I set for myself for MLB The Show. First, I believe that user control generally makes for a better performing team overall. Once you get settings/sliders that provide you with optimal challenge and enjoyment it is crucial to set up a system that you can follow without second guessing your rules.

Here are mine for MLB 18.

  1. Pitching/Defense – Once you allow the first run you must Quick Manage the remainder of the defensive halves of each inning until the 9th inning. If you wish, you may use your closer if there is a save situation.
  2. Batting – You get THREE strike outs per game. These can be offset if you draw walks. If you strike out twice and then draw a walk you can subtract one of those strike outs. Once you strike out three times you must quick manage each half inning your team is at bat until the ninth inning. You can also allow a home run to reset all strike outs.

That’s it… pretty simple in the scheme of things. You will find that your season will progress a bit quicker and you will have a bit less direct influence on the simulation feel of the stats, etc. Also, I have found that this rule gives me a better eye at the plate because walks give me a real goal to offset strike outs.

There are more updates coming. Baseball season is finally here… even if it is 30 degrees outside.

2018 – The Year of the Sports Game Boycott

It seems that sports games have been lost to the same dark side that we have seen first person shooters and real-time strategy go to as well. 

Madden, MLB: The Show, and NBA 2K8 have all resorted to becoming nothing more than digital card pandering pieces of binary garbage.  They have polished the graphics and added content to their Ultimate Team/Diamond Dynasty/MyTeam card collections instead of real improvement to the core game itself.  For a few years I could understand the change I was seeing.  I could compartmentalize the fact that I simply wasn’t their target audience. 

Thanks largely to Twitch and YouTube streamers/content uploaders that open packs for the voyeur fandom to gawk over we have lost what was once the potential pursuit for true sports gaming simulation.  I must give some of these guys credit, as they do have a certain pizazz to the way they carry themselves online.  I even watch some of their videos – they do make it look like a fun experience.  That is all great and wonderful until I get inspired to try my hand at online PvP against some random guy with a name like XxHitThatLoud420-69xX.  You realize quickly that they play the game by using money plays and exploits.  Suddenly, this potentially fun experience has you wondering if you’ve stepped into some effed up version of The Matrix.  Just as you get ready to play a different game you realize that you don’t care if you lose this game because you don’t plan on playing it again.

Say what you want, but All Pro Football 2K8 proved one thing when they released a game with legendary NFL players.  The same can be said for current players depending on the year as well.  Some gamers love creating their own version of Dream Teams and I am one of them.  I remember doing this back in Triple Play 98 when I would put Griffey, Frank Thomas, ARod, and others all on the same team.  It became a habitual thing to do each year, but in the end I still wanted to play a challenging baseball game. 

I happen to come from the generation of sports gamers that can remember Dr. J vs. Larry Bird on Atari 7800.  I also remember Tecmo Bowl and Bases Loaded through Bases Loaded 4.  RBI Baseball 94 was the first game that introduced me to the concept of playing a full season – I never finished one, but damn, it was pretty cool to have that option and even see the potential grow into franchise modes in other games.  When they finally started to present us with multiple seasons and stats it was a dream come true. In all honesty, the graphical improvements were secondary for me after a while.  I loved what Madden had turned into by Madden 2005.  Hell, even MVP Baseball 2005 was one of the better games I had ever played in terms of – that was a year to remember when it came to EA doing some truly amazing work. Now it’s as if they have sold their souls and there is no looking back.

It seems that Franchise Mode has gone the way of the dodo in recent years.  It is still present in all of these games, but it is a shell of itself.  Much like Kobe and Jordan at the end of their career – you can see flashes of what they used to be, but in the end they just aren’t performing like they once could… and it’s sad.  Madden Ultimate Team and MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty have essentially powered their way into a position that is most likely permanent and will eventually completely destroy innovation when it comes to gameplay and franchise mode.

This isn’t something I say lightly and it isn’t something I want to be known as an acceptable issue. 

I do want those of you reading this to look at 2018 sports games with a critical eye and take this opportunity to speak with your wallet.  It is time to demand the product that we have been denied for years.  I urge you to avoid pre-ordering any sports game this year. If you are going to buy the game, look for it second-hand in hard copy form.  Do not pay the full retail price if you feel compelled to play them.  It’s time for these companies to feel the only kind of pain they understand – financial.


MLB 17 The Show – Running Your Franchise

As we near the All Star Break it is starting to become a bit easier to tell which teams are going to make a run for the World Series. Unfortunately, my Indians are sitting close to .500 and are seemingly okay with sharing the AL Central with the Twins.  The real question most of you might be asking if you are playing MLB 17 The Show Franchise Mode is how your team is going to do down the stretch. Unless you already know how things are going (for better or worse).  In that case, as you come into July and enter the second half of the season you will have some big decisions to make.

By the time I made it to the middle of the 2017 season with the Cincinnati Reds I had made a few roster moves and my team was sitting just five games behind the Cubs.  It was in the spirit of making a push to hit my contract goal (make the post-season) that I decided to take a few risks and make a couple moves.

If you are in the opposite boat and have a team that is under-performing at All Star Break you might also want to make some moves and focus on the coming year(s).  If you have a veteran that is under 29 and has a rating of 85+ and A or B potential – it might be time to see how many prospects you can get for him from a team making a run for the playoffs.

In my case, I had come into the 2017 season with a lineup that didn’t intimidate many pitchers. 

Billy Hamilton, CF

Eugenio Suarez, 3B

Joey Votto, 1B

Adam Duvall, LF

Scooter Gennett, 2B

Zach Cosart, SS

Scott Schebler, RF

Tucker Barnhart, C

My Pitchers were generally at the same level of ineptitude… although, I had a few prospects.

By the time I made it through Spring Training I decided that my pitching staff needed drastic help and so I signed the two Japanese pitchers (Otani and Fujinami) with the house rule that I would trade each player to a big market team by the end of my third year with the Reds.  This is primarily to allow them to make the kind of big money that both players will get in real life while allowing my team to benefit in the short term with better pitching on the cheap.

I also made deals that brought Evan Gattis in to rotate as catcher and 1B, sent Cozart and a Arroyo (old SP) away for some prospects and tried to find a replacement for Schebler – he would eventually win his job back and give me a prime reason for signing him to another contract (with a 507 FT home run that went under the right field score board and into the Ohio River during a game with the Pirates).  I also managed to pick up Adeiny Hechavarria to come in and play 2B and traded for 3B, Rio Ruiz to play AAA ball and hopefully improve his game enough to get called up.

By the time I realized we were making a push and over-achieving to a point that I could no longer ignore the needs of my team to succeed – I made a few big moves in my Franchise that might differ from your own.  I was buying at the All Star Break and there were a few teams selling (the Rockies were 25 games back in the NL West and were selling, but at a steep price).

I ended up trading Billy Hamilton, Gattis, and a Top 50 Prospect for Nolan Arenado. 

I wish I could tell you that he made all the difference in the second half of my season. He really didn’t help us much, and there were more times I could have used Hamilton’s speed over Arenado’s disappointing performance after the trade.

Regardless, the 2017 season finished with the Reds making the playoffs as a wild card team carrying a 92-70 record.  We lost to the Giants and suddenly the season was over.  The Dodgers beat the Astros in seven games to win the World Series and the off season started with a few interesting occurrences from CPU teams – primarily, the Yankees when they signed RF, Andrew McCutcheon and moved Aaron Judge to AAA.

They had agreed to a trade the year before that allowed me to bring in Clint Frazier who disappointed more than Arenado, but still having his A Potential and young age I was able to package him up with Homer Bailey and another player for Aaron Judge to come in and play RF.

The Dodgers offered a trade I couldn’t refuse during Winter Meetings.  Looking to remain a World Series favorite in 2018 and with far more money to invest in expensive players they offered OF, Joc Peterson, OF, Yasiel Puig and a Relief Pitcher for Arenado.  I jumped at this opportunity and then signed C.C. Sabbathia to a one year deal as well as Bud Norris.  Suddenly, the Reds were looking fantastic on paper and I was looking forward to 2018 more than 2017 at the All Star Break.

The lessons to take away from this brief story about the first year of my Franchise Mode are valuable for anyone looking for help to build a lower tier team as well as how to enjoy your Franchise Mode enough to keep going for years.

  1. ALWAYS play your franchise the way YOU want to play it.  If you want to make a lot of trades and find a way to field a team with players you want – do it.  Don’t go onto sports gaming forums and ask for Trade Advice from Sports Gaming Nazis that seem to think they know everything about ‘fair trades’.  Run your team the way you want to and make it your own story.

  2. Don’t worry about trading away aging veterans in order to invest in a player you believe in as a prospect.  Make the move and see what happens.  If you have to cut bait with a Prospect that has A or B potential you can usually get a nice amount in return with a trade as long as the prospect is 24 or younger.

  3. If you can’t afford to keep a star player when you know a huge contract demand is going to be huge you should wait as long as you can and trade him during the last year of his contract for a couple cheaper players that have attributes you need in the long term. (See the Arenado Trade for Pederson and Puig, above.)

  4. Read #1 Again. You decide what you want your Franchise to be. I will be tweaking mine quite a bit in hopes of making it through multiple seasons.

Madden 18 CFM -The Annual Dumpster Fire Keeps Burning

With almost two months to go before Madden 18 graces us with another year of incremental updates we are starting to get a similar message about Franchise Mode (CFM).  Sports games have moved more and more towards the micro-transaction over the last few years.  It makes sense from a business perspective, but in terms of actual improvement and innovation of the game itself – no so much.


It turns out that Franchise Mode is once again more or less on the back burner.  At this point, it is safe to say that it’s actually in the microwave and waiting to be heated up again as a left-over from a few days ago. 

Sports games have all decided that they want to move in a direction of Story Mode rather than any sort of immersive Franchise Mode experience.  This is great for the YouTubers out there that seem to make their money from their over-the-top internet ‘personalities’ and gameplay videos.  I guess it is a matter of taste, but they don’t do much for me when I am trying to play my own game.  Maybe we live in a more vicarious gaming world than I thought.

No matter how you slice it, Madden has moved towards completely focusing on two modes in particular this year.  They are banking on the Longshot Mode to be their saving grace in offline experience.  As usual, they are going to bring all of their post-release cash grabbing from Ultimate Team.  I see this as the continuation of sports gaming’s innovation decline more than anything else.  I don’t post much about MUT or any online sports gaming experience because it’s tiresome and really takes away any sort of gaming immersion. 

Franchise Mode announcements have come and gone.  The primary aspects of change that have been announced are that they have introduced MVP chatter into the commentary as well as new quick entrances and fireworks in the stadiums that we will continue to hold the X or A button to skip through.  The developers in charge of this mode seem to believe that CFM needs more visual bells and whistles than actual immersion in the guts of running a team on the management level.

One of the things that really killed my experience in Madden 17 CFM was a combination of the XP System and terrible Defensive AI (especially with DBs and WRs).  One of the easiest things to do after leveling up during the first season or two is increasing your WR’s Separation ability along with a few other mechanics.  I did this with Corey Coleman and managed to not only turn him into an unstoppable force, but also made RG3 into one of the best QB’s of all time.  All that needed to happen was for the CB on Coleman to play him in a Man To Man Press (up close to the line of scrimmage).  Coleman has great speed and acceleration already.  By the time I finished building his separation and strength attributes in 2016 all I had to do was call a hot route in 2017 if he was being pressed.  Even with safety help, he would burn the opposing team for a huge TD on a fly route over 60% of the time. 

The results?

I built my team into an absolute juggernaut on both sides of the ball.  The fact that I could score 70 points a game on All Madden without blinking made the entire experience feel as disposable as the developers seem to believe it is. 

That said…

One of the aspects about Madden 17 that I really enjoyed was feeling like I could play defense most of the time.  This took a lot of slider adjustments and house rules (including a ‘no switch’ rule).  The no switch rule will actually improve how your defense plays through the game.  Why?  Because your AI players will stick to their assignments for the most part if you stay with one player during each play.  The AI will start to break down as soon as you switch players at the wrong moment.  This includes run plays especially as your entire defensive squad will essentially be rendered useless and the CPU will break off a big run most of the time if you have to switch to the other side of the field to defend against a run.  (You are actually better off trying to run with the original player than to switch to the closest defender on CPU run plays to the opposite side.  It doesn’t make sense, but then again… neither does Madden.)

Madden 18 won’t have editing for Draft Classes.  It will have the same relocation mode, but no expansion options.  CFM also won’t have any real changes to the injury system other than supposedly including off-ball injuries.  It seems like Franchise Mode effectively died after Madden 2005.  With the PS3/360 consoles bringing high speed online gaming to the forefront of almost every gaming experience it’s really no wonder that this mode has lost so much momentum if not gone backwards a few steps over the last decade-plus.

This genuinely feels like a Madden CFM experience that most would be better to wait on for a purchase rather than buying on release day.