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.

Madden_NFL_16

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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Top Needs of Madden Connected Franchise Mode (CFM)

There are all sorts of needs when it comes to Madden from a game-play perspective.  As many of you know by now – I almost exclusively play Offline Madden Franchise Mode.  There are so many aspects of the NFL that keep us interested all year and today we are going to focus on some of the things that Madden (or any other future football game… Are you listening 2K?) needs in Franchise mode.

Benjamin TD

Player Contracts, Morale and Agents 

If you have paid attention to any of the contracts signed by NFL players in the last few years you will see that many of these contracts are not nearly as simple as just throwing out a number and having it accepted or declined.  Madden has always had a problem with making contracts too simplified.  In that regard it has also made Franchise Mode exceedingly easy from a management perspective.  You can always low-ball a player or get someone on the cheap if you know your way around the salary cap.  Here are a few ideas on what would make this a bit more realistic and more challenging as you advance through multiple seasons.

  • Tiered Contracts – We should have the ability to front load or back load contracts for players just like in real life.  (NBA 2K has been doing this for years)
  • Incentive Based – There have been numerous contracts in recent memory laced with performance incentives.  (See Ben Tate’s deal with the Browns for an example).  This could be something that gamers need to focus on as they are building their teams around specific players.  You want that young WR you have made into a superstar to sign an extension?  Make it worth his while with money up front and incentives based on performance or staying healthy.
  • Battling Through Injuries – In this regard I like to see it being somewhat tied to the incentives listed above.  If a player tweaks his hamstring or maybe has a sore shoulder and needs to play a certain % of snaps to earn an incentive.  A good example of this is the contract of Jason Campbell for the Browns in 2013.  He did an admirable job trying to tough it out and play.  When it comes to staying healthy and getting paid to play a certain % of the snaps – you bet that is an important aspect for some players.
  • Morale – Something that never ceases to annoy Madden gamers is the thought that many features have been added and taken away as the wind blows at EA.  Morale was in Madden 2005 and played a large role in realism.  Players in the NFL have serious egos and morale swings almost daily.  In this case, a simple morale bar would be nice to see when it comes to making players happy to be on your team.  In that same breath, it should effect their performance as well.
  • Holdouts – Yet another part of the game that was removed is player holdouts.  This happens quite often and has at times caused many teams to lose important players or show them the money they demand in order to stick around.  This needs to be back in the game.

Another part of Franchise Mode that has been getting better incrementally over the last couple years is the NFL Draft.  As we enter the final week before the NFL Draft (in real life) there are many things that are becoming more apparent when looking at the draft and scouting in Madden.

  • Big Boards – I’m not talking about the main screen where they have thrown up the top players based on the CPU’s programming.  I am talking about as the GM/Coach/Owner making your own Big Board.  This could be as simple as taking a lesson from the NCAA Football team when they made a recruiting board for up to 35 players to recruit.  In this manner it should be expanded quite a bit (maybe to 50-70 players) so you can work your way through the draft like real teams do.
  • Measurables and Grades – I am  sick of the simple scouting method of paying to find exact ratings.  At most there should be grades or maybe a rating range made available through scouting.  When it comes to the combine in real life it is the biggest part of the pre-draft experience.  I want to see 40 times, bench press reps, interview notes, etc.
  • Coach Input – If you have seen the movie Draft Day you will know what I am talking about when I refer to Denis Leary’s portrayal of the Browns coach that basically tells the GM he is quitting if he takes a certain player or doesn’t help him fill the missing pieces in the draft to fit his system.  This is very important needs to have a greater presence in the game (perhaps Coach Morale as well?)
  • Scouts – This is something that is desperately needed in Madden for the sake of realism.  It would be great to not only streamline the process but also to add some variation to how players are rated based on what qualities that scouts have.

Madden 25 Connected Franchise Mode – Don’t Settle For Anything!

After Madden 25 announced a recent Gamestop promo for ‘Connected Franchise Mode’ and an article surfaced on Bleacher Report talking about the supposedly tweaked Connected Careers Mode; there seems to be a lot of work for us to do in order to make Madden better instead of simply allowing EA Tiburon to give us old features and call them ‘new’.

There is a poll on the Brian Mazique article asking if editing rosters, fantasy drafts and controlling every team are enough to make you completely satisfied.  These aren’t new features!  Madden 12 had every single ‘feature’ they are trying to re-implement into a mode that essentially disallowed them.  While these features are a must and will only add more depth to the game they by no means should satiate your desire for a better football game.

Reyna BOOM

Some of the (many) additions Franchise Mode needs in order to mimic the real NFL are below:

  • Player Morale – Player morale was in Madden 2005 and has been in the NBA 2K series for years.  If there is one thing that Madden lacks in terms of bringing life into the players it is morale and mood when it comes to the actual players.
  • Free Agent/UDFA Signings – Madden seems to think that free agency is something that allows a team to go and simply sign anyone they want if they aren’t on a team.  After this weekend’s draft there were many players that were picked up just seconds after it was over.  These players don’t simply go to the first time that calls, they weigh their options and choose.  Some players have no desire to play for a team that has too much depth or a team that simply doesn’t win.  Madden needs to make this more realistic and that starts with a more true-to-life free agency.
  • Storylines – The addition of storylines for some of the draft prospects in Madden 13 was awesome.  It was a nice way to give some of the players in the draft a personal touch.  The downfall is that their stories all seemed to stop once they were drafted.  The commentary doesn’t follow any of them and the updates on the ‘news feed’ seem to leave any of those stories high and dry.  Continuity is something that Madden’s career modes always seem to lack and while it will take some work to fully implement – it will be worth it.
  • Fan Bases – Some teams sell out almost every game.  Some stadiums are lucky to be at 50% capacity.  Somehow, almost every game in Madden is a sell out according to the stands.  While some games have low attendance due to weather it doesn’t seem to matter what is going on in a given city for a game to be sold out.  I can promise you one thing, if the Browns ever host an AFC Championship Game and it is snowing like crazy… the stands will be FULL.  On the other hand, if the Bengals are playing a game in the middle of the season at home and they are 2-7, they will be lucky to have any ‘fans’ show up.  The NFL is nothing without the fans and that needs to be made apparent in Franchise Mode.
  • Team Movement – While this poses some sort of strange issues with licensing, etc. there were some serious shortcomings when Madden allowed you to move a team to a new city.  Outside of the issues listed in the fan base section, you couldn’t keep the team logo and there wasn’t any real support for the gamer to create a team in a new city because the commentary was terrible and franchise mode lost its luster.  If you look at the fact that many teams are looking to move to new cities because of stadium issues or simply for more money it is something that will be happening soon and should be given the proper attention in the game.
  • Injuries – Madden finally put in some sort of real-time physics last year with the Infinity Engine.  The downfall was evident in many areas but injuries are one of the most obvious.  As much as the NFL wants to censor Madden and try to convince people that it isn’t a violent sport – football is a violent sport and that is why we like it!  Real time injuries need to be in the game and big hits need to matter.  It makes no sense for my 6’4″ 260lb MLB to have a random injury when he crushes Joe Flacco or Mike Vick in the backfield and they get up like nothing happened.  Fix the injury system… please.
  • Player Progression – While I have always been a proponent of performance based progression I do not like how Madden 13 allowed the user to simply accumulate points by stats and put them where ever we wanted to in each player.  Abilities should progress as the player uses them and performs them.  How can a strength rating go up randomly or just because we decide we want it to?  Follow the lead of MLB The Show and let the user have the option to determine what areas players will work on in a given week or set it to auto and let the coaching tendencies determine it.
  • Player Value – After Joe Flacco won the Super Bowl he got a healthy contract renewal.  I drafted a QB in my Browns CCM, Mark Mallett… He has thrown for over 4500 yards and 35 TDs in his first three seasons.  He then won a Super Bowl in 2015 and is up for a new contract offer from our front office.  His OVR is 84 but his abilities have been growing with his performance.  His contract demands?… 5 Years, $4.6 Million per year.  There is no thinking about this from my perspective – Mallett is never going to ask for the money he deserves and that is sad.  Players with great speed or players we like using are typically going for crazy statistics in our Franchise Mode.  We should have to pay a premium price to keep them around if that is the case.  Player value shouldn’t be determined by OVR but by performance and that should make it harder for teams to sign players they want to abuse the other teams with and keep them forever.

We will continue our efforts to make Madden a better game and you shouldn’t let EA get away with calling old parts of the game ‘new features’.  What are your thoughts?  What is Madden missing the most in Franchise Mode?

Madden 25 – The Hype Train Is Leaving The Station

Now that we are getting ready to start football season in the minds of most NFL fans with the coming NFL Draft this Thursday there are a few things we can start sorting out when it comes to what Madden 25 will be pushing from the marketing end of the annual title.

The first thing we can plan on is the inclusion of some sort of ‘interview interface’ when it comes to CCM.  This is primarily due to the fact that NHL 13 is taking up where NBA 2K has been for a couple years now.  The idea of interacting with the media and having a simulation experience

It has been twenty-five years since John Madden demanded a true simulation football game. We are still waiting on EA Sports to provide us with one.

isn’t really new but EA is starting to take more of 2K’s features to heart.  My personal hopes are that Madden’s CCM (which is still going to be in the next iteration) will feature an interaction for people that prefer to be a ‘coach’ rather than a single player.  This will add depth to a mode that was off to a decent start last year.

Better physics and refined tackling are something that people have been clamoring for ever since the 360/PS3 released.  Last year we got the Infinity Engine and got to see some interesting animations play out (a lot of Gumby motions, especially).  Regardless, we can be almost certain that Madden 25 will have more refined player physics and tackling animations assuming they keep working with the same engine.  This leads us into one of the more intensely discussed topics on hardcore Madden forums – OL/DL interaction and blocking in general.

While it is highly unlikely that we will ever see a true end to ‘suction blocking’ it has been mentioned for NCAA 14 that there has been serious work put in towards improving blocking decisions and interactions.  This has been highlighted in discussing the inclusion of a deeper CPU intelligence that focuses on second-level blocking.  What is ‘Second Level Blocking’?  Second level blocking is basically any blocking that occurs after an initial block has been made.  So, if the Right Tackle blocks the defensive end and then starts running up the field – they will actually look for the next opponent to block rather than running blindly past a defender that will be looking to bring down the ball carrier.  Sounds like something that should have been in the game for years, right?  EA Sports isn’t exactly on top of things to pay attention to what seems like fundamentals sometimes.  Hopefully they will make good on the improvements in blocking for Madden 25 as this will be a positive direction for the direction of the gameplay in general.

 

Why MLB The Show is King In Sports Gaming Quality and Why Baseball Is Dying

Before jumping into this explanation, please understand when referring to baseball video games we are referencing the MLB The Show series.  In no way is 2K Baseball close to being as good as The Show.  That is a different point for a different day.

Today we are focusing on comparing MLB The Show to any other sports gaming platform out there.  The top competitor is actually soccer/futbol but in the United States you will be hard-pressed to find anyone that knows how transfers and team management works in soccer (present party included).  If it seems that I am coming from a somewhat biased perspective it is because I am.  The best selling games in 2012 have been the more popular titles of course, but are they really the best?  No.

The Show has been one of the most consistently high-quality and true simulation sports games over the lifetime of this console generation.  SCEA (the developer of The Show) has been one of the most highly rated sports gaming developers because of the quality of The Show.  Between the actual gameplay and the depth of modes like Franchise Mode as well as the new Post-Season Mode there is little more to be desired.  However, that is where The Show really shows why it is the best sports game out there with so many details like ball trajectory and other physics based implementations that you will start asking where it is in other games like Madden.

While The Show is by far the best baseball game when competing with the awful 2K Baseball, its only competition in terms of quality comes from EA Sports’ NHL and FIFA games.  The one thing you will notice is that baseball, hockey and soccer are all ‘niche titles’ with relevance to a select number of people in the United States.  Baseball has been dying a slow death in terms of popularity among sports fans.  That may be a big reason why The Show flies under the radar when compared to games like Madden and NBA 2K (which are typically the higher selling sports titles in the U.S. every year).

The trend of baseball gaming has been on a down-slope as far as game sales go.  But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the fact that if you enjoy baseball and want to play a great video game version of the sport.  Go out and buy a PS3 if you don’t have one (as this game is only available on the PS3 console) and get The Show.  It is that good.

Why Is Baseball Dying?

I am of the opinion that baseball was both saved and destroyed by steroids.  The 1993-94 strike made many fans turn their backs on baseball.  It wasn’t until the home run explosion between 1996 and 2001 that people started to care about baseball again.  Say what you want about the ‘purity of the game’ but steroids brought fans back and brought more money to owners as attendance went through the roof.  Then, as if someone called the cops to bust up a great party – the Mitchell Report destroyed the game from the inside out.

Kiss your career good-bye, Alex. You’re done.

The legacy of steroids in baseball goes back to the 1980s where there was a tremendous boom in the overall use and production of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).  This is also the same time period that saw the beginning of Free Agency (players were able to look for new teams as their contracts expired).  While this was something that happened a few times before, it became quite normal as the 1980s and 1990s came and went.  This should make you consider the motivation that players had to use PEDs – it was about the ability to command more money in their contracts.  If a player like Barry Bonds could increase his output as a batter from an average of 25 HRs during his time with Pittsburgh to 39 HRs during his stay in San Francisco, why wouldn’t he use what he could to demand more money?  The same goes for players like Alex Rodriguez who could be on his way to a Lance Armstrong collapse in the coming weeks.

People suspected that players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were on some sort of PEDs as they started having numbers pile up that no one had seen in the history of the game.  Why is it that some fans were so appalled when the report came out.  Many people started making these players they all but worshiped at one point into pariahs to save face in some sort of non-existent social witch hunt.

The Three Musketeers

I am not suggesting that steroids should be legalized or that they don’t artificially inflate statistics.  I will demand that society takes a look in the mirror and honestly asks what they want from entertainment.  Society doesn’t want purity in sports.  Society wants to appear concerned about safety and legitimacy while demanding more power, speed and violence.  We are living in the greatest example of hypocrisy in entertainment and the only thing we can do is edit our video game rosters and change every player’s ability rating to 99 – call it digital steroids.