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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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.

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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.

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.


No Internet, No Problem – Planning For Gaming When Online Isn’t An Option

In the coming weeks I will be experiencing something that I haven’t had to deal with in over a decade.  I will be without a broadband connection for gaming.  It isn’t necessarily something that I’m upset about, as it is providing me with the opportunity to live in the geographic region I prefer (that of which I also happen to call ‘home’).  While I will most certainly be alleviated of this lacking high-speed internet connection in the hopefully near future as well – I believe this is a great time to throw this situation into the wild.

Initially, I thought that the most negative aspect of this situation was going to be not having the opportunity to play games like Battlefield and Call of Duty online with multiplayer components.  Then it occurred to me that the primary downfall to this is the fact that I have purchased quite a few games digitally.  This essentially makes it next to impossible for me to download any of these games while I am without a connection.  So, Madden 18, MLB 17, Battlefield 1, Call of Duty Black Ops 3 and WW2, the list goes on… will have to be downloaded and installed before going back home.

This situation is one that many gamers don’t have to think about often.  However, it is worth considering which games you’d like to have installed in an internet armageddon situation.

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As it stands for myself, I have to consider first and foremost deleting the digitial  games that I only play online – Call of Duty and Battlefield – I’ll see you when I have internet once again.  The next to go will be any game that I have played out for the foreseeable future – Madden 18, I wish I could say you were worth keeping (maybe when they fix CFM in 2053).

Which games are left at this point?

My digital purchases in terms of single player games is rather limited (fortunately).

So, welcome to the download family – Deus Ex – Mankind Divided, Just Cause 3, and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.

These are all games I own digitally and have yet to beat the story mode within.  I wish I could say I was driven to finish the campaign for Battlefield 1 and COD WW2, but seriously – these are games I wish I could buy the Multiplayer separately for anyway.  Speaking of – I think $30 for these games with only the online multiplayer would be a great way of doing things someday.

Personally, one reminder and the main suggestion I will make is to download the biggest open world games you have with all of their DLC.  That should at least make it somewhat easier to decide some of the first games to take care of prior to moving.

Which games would you download if you were going to be without the internet for gaming?

I must say my first vote will be The Witcher 3 with all of the DLC, followed closely by Skyrim and Fallout 4.

Post your comments below.

Madden 18 CFM and Gameplay House Rules

House rules for Madden 18 are here for you to start planning your Madden NFL experience!

Madden 18 – Franchise Mode and Gameplay House Rules

As most of the Franchise Mode players out there know, sometimes we have to make our own unwritten rules in order to keep our team from dominating the CPU in every facet of the game.

Draft Picks – It has always been easy to horde draft picks as the CPU becomes dumber as the seasons go on.  This year, we saw the Browns end up with three first round picks.  It doesn’t happen often, but it also happened – so I understand the view of ‘I do what I want to the cognitively disabled CPU.’.

This year will be the toughest draft house rule set I have ever made.  Also, I highly recommend you create a Franchise Journal in order to track your yearly performance.  I will be posting updates of my own Franchise story this year.  It helps with immersion and also to keep you honest in your franchise!

  • Trading Down – You can trade down three total times during the draft.

  • Scouting and Draft Board – You must fully scout every player you begin scouting.  This will keep you from seeing the first rating being a C+ and moving on to the next guy.  It will also limit how many sleepers you can find every year.

  • Big Board – You must draft according to your big board.  This will make it necessary for you to plan through the season and off-season.  You must also take it upon yourself to rank your big board through the season and build your draft each year.

    • Top Three Rule – While you don’t have to pick the top guy on your board in any situation you must select from the Top 3.

    • Sleeper Rule – You can choose any player up to one round before their projected position.  This will keep you honest and give the CPU a chance to take these sleepers before you get the chance.

  • Draft Pick Limitations – You can only hold a limited amount of picks in each draft.  The rules for your draft pick amounts are somewhat complicated, but they will make for a better experience.

    • Maximum of 13 picks in any draft

    • You can have two first round picks for up to two years in a row

    • If you end up with three first round picks during any draft you must trade one of them to a division opponent for their lowest pick in the next season’s draft.

    • You cannot draft two QBs in two consecutive rounds

    • You cannot draft more than two QBs, HBs, or TEs in any draft

Free Agency and Re-Signing –

  • You can only sign one 90+ OVR free agent player per season

  • You can sign one player outside of each of your schemes during free agency bidding (1 on Offense, 1 on Defense).

  • You can make ONE offer to any player on your team with 90+ OVR during the re-signing period while in regular season.  If they turn down your offer they must be allowed to test free agency.

  • QB Specific – If you have two QBs with 80+ OVR you must allow one of them to test free agency when their contract expires.  If both are on expiring deals you must choose one to re-sign.  This will allow CPU teams to have access to quality QBs and drive realism.

Spending XP –

After finding a serious issue with some ratings creating a broken gameplay experience in Madden 17, which will most likely be the same issue in 18 (WR Release in particular) I have decided to stop spending XP manually.  XP will also be set to ‘Every Four Weeks’ to allow for a better development system for all teams. 

Trading –

During the pre-season you are permitted to make a maximum of four trades (one per week).  Two trades can involve acquiring draft picks.  Two more trades can be made that are player for player.  Any player you acquire must have a lower OVR than what you are giving up OR if they are a greater OVR they must be over 30 years old.

GAMEPLAY HOUSE RULES

  • Play Calling – You must pick a play from as many formations as possible during each game.  I recommend choosing a new formation for every play or every other play. This will add a tremendous amount of depth to your experience and how you play each game.

  • Hot Routes – You can use one hot route per series.

  • Money Plays – If you find a play that works often enough against the CPU that it becomes a go to play, you must either remove it from your playbook or stop using it immediately.

  • Running Up The Score – If you are up by 21+ points in the fourth quarter you must switch to Chew Clock and choose a running play while rotating new HBs as well as a new QB in the final two minutes.

  • Passing No Switch – Do not user control a WR until after the catch has been made. This will add realism, challenge, and more animations! 

  • No Huddle – This can be used only on the first drive of the game and during the final two minutes of either half.  It cannot be used to keep other personnel on the field outside of the situations above.

  • 4th Down – You can go for it if you are losing the in the fourth quarter or if there are fewer than five seconds left in the half and you are within fifty yards of the endzone.

Madden 18 – Hiding Behind A Bad Movie

Everything is falling into place as we prepare to enter August.  The Dallas Cowboys have another problem with a star player just as the season is getting ready to start and they might have to place all of their hopes and dreams on the back of their one year wonder at quarterback.  NFL Camps will start very soon, and with that excitement blowing in the soon to come autumn wind – we have another year of Madden NFL only a few weeks away.

The crazy part about this is that up until this point there hasn’t been any gameplay footage released by EA.  With the fans clamoring for some proof of life in that regard it is hard to have a lot of pity for them.  They should know what the game looks like by now.  EA is trying their best to market their version of NBA 2K’s My Player Mode with The Longshot.  I wish I could say that this was going to be some sort of huge jump in sports gaming – but it quite simply won’t be anything close to that. According to some of the tweets and interviews, this mode has been in development for around three years. To think they have been working on this for three years and we still don’t have functional Challenges, sideline detection, real-time injuries, and many other simple football gameplay needs… Longshot had better be a masterpiece with zero bugs.

The problems that Madden NFL has faced for over a decade involves more than not measuring up to 2K’s basketball story mode experience.  It is everything that 2K would have done if EA didn’t have the monopoly on NFL Football.  It’s hard for me to think about how great an NFL 2K18 would be and by how much it would most likely outsell Madden 18. Madden has made some strides in recent years, no doubt… but, compared to where either game could be had there been competition?  We would have seen gameplay footage by E3, if not sooner.

Madden continues to push the line that they are leading with their new Longshot Mode for marketing.  I find it interesting that this is their strategy.  This is mostly because I can see through their thin veil of BS.  They aren’t showing gameplay footage because, frankly… they don’t have to show anything and the game will still sell.  Madden hasn’t changed in any major way since Madden 10.  Now that we have come to the point where they don’t even have to market the game itself with any actual gameplay footage it does beg one to ask yourself as part of the Madden horde… why are any of you pre-ordering this game?

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.