3 Up/3 Down: Madden NFL 16’s Connected Franchise Mode

3 Up/3 Down is a new type of article feature here at Stat Box Stories which analyzes aspects of upcoming or already-released video games for their strengths and weaknesses.  Today we take a look at the recently-announced Connected Franchise Mode details of Madden NFL 16.

Say what you will about the Madden NFL franchise from EA SPORTS–and plenty of people have and will over the years, particularly since the exclusive deal with the NFL effectively shuttered the doors on legitimate competition–but in the world of sports video games today, its Connected Franchise Mode is one of the best examples of a built-in competitive league experience, even acknowledging its shortcomings.

Since the franchise made the move to the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One with Madden NFL 25, a concerted effort has been made to return many of the “legacy” features from past career efforts which were largely absent from the series on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 titles.  In an unexpected and bold move, this year the details of Connected Franchise Mode for Madden NFL 16 have been explored through a deep dive blog even before the annual appearance at E3, where such information is usually shared.  Full details can be found in a blog from EA SPORTS here.  Read on for my 3 Up/3 Down take:

3 Up

1. Sim-A-Win

League commissioners can influence wins by using the League Schedule. Sim-a-Win allows you to set the winning team for any game that has not been played.

This tool allows players to craft the season of their dreams, and also helps facilitate large multiplayer leagues.

Over the years, this has to be one of the single most requested features I’ve ever heard regarding Connected Franchise Mode, and honestly, any online league mode in a sports video game.  The ability to Sim-A-Win opens up numerous possibilities for commissioners, allowing games which could not be played due to scheduling difficulties to have a finite result, and also allowing there to be some measure of “griefer protection” if somebody is operating outside the rules in a CFM experience and needs to be dealt with at the commissioner level.  As stated in the quote above, it also allows people playing along with a season at home to simulate all of the games in a given season as they happen, which could actually allow us as gamers to essentially set up our own “Playoff Mode” by getting the seedings and match-ups exactly as they are in real life.  It’s not the simple “Playoff Mode” feature that I’ve often requested myself in the past, but it’s definitely a workable workaround in the meantime.

Madden NFL 16 -- Combine Events

2. Combine Stats

Players can now access Combine Reports during NFL Combine Week, which includes a Combine Grade and results from six Combine events: 40-yard Dash, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump, 3 Cone, 20-yard Shuttle, and Bench Press. These results can be seen without spending any Scouting Points.

Combine Reports not only include results, but also how players stack up compared to others at their position. Will you draft the fastest running back in the class, or look for a well-rounded player?

The scouting dynamics introduced in Madden NFL 15 were certainly functional, but they left a little to be desired in their actual implementation compared to how other games have used scouting in the past.  Although everything in the NFL has ballooned in importance far beyond what it actually represents, having the Combine represented more thoroughly in Connected Franchise Mode for Madden NFL 16 is a great step and allows players to have just that much more information about their scouting targets before the day of the NFL Draft.  It’s a nice nod to real-life that access to the Combine Reports will not require the expense of Scouting Points in-game, as that felt a bit contrived in the past to have to spend precious points in order to access data which is common knowledge due to the public nature of the event.  Finally, the addition of comparative results is also welcomed, as it does allow a better immediate context for the Combine results, hopefully in a single glance in menus which will minimize menu fatigue in the mode.

Madden NFL 16 -- Dynamic Drive Goals

3. Dynamic Drive Goals

Each new drive contains a Drive Goal that can be completed for bonus XP and/or Confidence.

Specific goals are tailored based on events in the current game to give players a unique challenge each and every game.

Dynamic Drive Goals truly influence the way you play. The more goals you complete, the faster your players improve.

Anytime a career mode institutes goals, it’s very difficult to evolve beyond simply ticking the box on statistical milestones which seem to largely emphasize the sport as a game of individuals and not as a team game.  Although Dynamic Drive Goals have not been detailed very explicitly with regard to the variety of goals that you’ll be tasked with completing in the game, it’s nice to see that consideration is being made here to go beyond the bare statline.  As shown in the screenshot above, a specific Drive Goal might be simply to achieve a certain number of completions to regain your quarterback’s composure; presumably after a turnover on the previous drive.  Having some micro-level goals like this which pop up on a drive-by-drive basis could be a key facet of compartmentalizing the game experience and making your actions feel more immediate instead of placing such a large emphasis on macro-level goals like breaking season records.

3 Down

Madden NFL 16 -- Post-Play Goal Feedback

1. Post-Play Goal Feedback

The team listened to fan feedback and made it easier for players to see which goals have been completed in-game. This year, players will now see goal feedback throughout the mode.

XP and Confidence updates appear next to your player at the end of each play. A new ticker at the bottom of the screen tracks goal progress and shows updates to all the goals influenced that play.

Players will also notice new broadcast interface elements that celebrate completing goals. This adds up to a groundbreaking broadcast experience for Connected Franchise.

It may seem odd that I can include Dynamic Drive Goals as one of my 3 Up but then include Post-Play Goal Feedback as one of my 3 Down, but the issue I see here is a continued muddling of the overall approach to broadcast presentation in Madden NFL as a franchise.  I still maintain that NCAA Football 14 had a nearly perfect broadcast package which addressed the completion of player goals while simultaneously functioning within the ESPN-branded presentation with BottomLine scores and in-game Studio Updates.  Based on the screenshot above, it looks like Madden NFL 16 may still be lagging behind NCAA Football 14, as we are teased with information on the “BottomLine area” of the screen but it’s being used solely to report the completion of a goal milestone in-game.  Now, it may be that Madden NFL 16 has more broadcast presentation than we’ve learned so far and it’s just going to be revealed at a later date, but based on what we’re seeing in this deep dive blog, it looks as though another year will pass where broadcast is still behind the college series which has been out of development since 2013.

Madden NFL 16 -- Visual Depth Chart

2. Visual Team Depth Chart

One major overhaul this year is the all-new Visual Team Depth Chart, which allows players to easily see each side of the ball and make adjustments.

Your depth chart is the heart and soul of your team, which is why we brought it to the forefront with the Team Panel. Simply drag and drop players to reorder the depth chart.

Maybe I’m just being too much of a traditionalist here, but the change to a visual depth chart in Connected Franchise Mode feels too much like somebody got their Madden Ultimate Team menus crossed up in CFM.  That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with changing up how the depth chart is reviewed in-game, but it does seem to overly simplify the comparative experience needed in reviewing your depth chart.  The screenshot cited shows that each position shown has easy comparison between the OVR ratings of each player, but depth chart reviewing by veteran Madden NFL players rarely stops at the OVR; often times, multiple separate ratings are consulted–as well as the comparisons between players based on those ratings–before the decision is made to promote or demote a player in the depth chart.  There’ll need to be time to see this depth chart in action, but in a static screenshot it appears that this might be a step back.  I do like how each individual position is graded based on the team’s overall depth, however.

3. Free Practice Confusion

Players voiced a desire to practice with their Franchise team, so the team went ahead and added Free Practice to Game Prep this year.

Coaches or Owners can take their team on the field to experiment by using Free Practice. When Game Prep is available during the week, Free Practice can also be used at no additional cost.

Free Practice is a great way to a look at how a team plays, and lets players stay ahead of the curve.

Before you get out the pitchforks about this one–because, I know, practice using your team in Connected Franchise Mode is another one of those wishlist items that everyone has been asking for–my reason for including it in 3 Down here is because of how it’s worded in the deep dive blog.  Specifically, where it says:

  • “Coaches or Owners can take their team on the field to experiment by using Free Practice.”
  • “When Game Prep is available during the week, Free Practice can also be used at no additional cost.”

This, of course, begs a few questions: what type of practice access will or won’t a Player have, since this is being mentioned specifically with regard to Coaches and Owners?  Also, what happens when there is no further Game Prep available during a week?  Does that mean that you won’t be able to take your team out on the practice field if you have fully exhausted your Game Prep for the week?  If it does, this will need to be more clearly communicated to the player so that they get their practice in early in a given week, before they use their Game Prep and prevent themselves from practicing further.  If it doesn’t mean this, then it’s certainly not a problem at all, but it would be nice to have some clarification about it.

Madden NFL 16 from EA SPORTS will be released on Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 for Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, Sony PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Xbox 360.  Let me know your thoughts on this deep dive into the game’s Connected Franchise Mode in the comments below!

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