Madden 15 lets players take a personal interest in all aspects of their team's season, from the draft to training camp to gametime on Sundays.
About a week and a half ago I posted an article titled "A Videogame Study - Why is Madden So Popular?" in which I described my current blogging undertaking: in addition to my usual baseball analysis, I decided that I will break down the Madden videogame franchise, in an effort to find out why it has been so popular for so long, and then theorizing how such practices could be used to create a comparable baseball game.
Well, in that article, I asked you to vote on your favorite feature in Madden, and the results are in - 44% of responders say that they prefer, above all other things, to play the Connected Careers Franchise mode as an NFL Head Coach or Owner. And so, that is what we will talk about today - what makes this mode so good?
Now, make no mistake, any sort of Franchise mode will gain instant popularity; even casual players do at least one franchise mode with their favorite team - it's just what people do. But in all honesty, that is often a one-and-done thing; even given the fact that random things tend to happen in these sort of modes, doing them over and over again gets predictable: continuing a franchise over multiple seasons, unless you're either not very good or using a bad team, often ends up with the player winning every game of every season on the way to (yet another) Super Bowl championship.
So why do people constantly play franchise modes instead of, say, trying to move up the online rankings? In my mind, I think it boils down to one thing - a personal investment in the team.
When you break it down, running a football team as head coach, both in real life and in Madden, involves creating (and running) offensive and defensive schemes that make up a playbook, managing players as efficiently as possible, and developing young players to be (ideally) future stars. It is a very hands-on affair; you have to know your players and their strengths/weaknesses. After several years of adapting, tweaking, and occasionally overhauling, the Madden franchise has mostly gotten this down.
At its simplest, Madden Head Coach Careers work like this - you either create or become one of the league's head coaches, each of whom has a unique combination of offensive and defensive playbooks (schemes) and personality/skill traits. Based on these attributes, you then shape your team. While this is clearly an oversimplification of real football (in real life, the Offensive Coordinator largely determines the offensive scheme), it works for the game, and provides a lot more depth for very few changes.
You see, once you've established a scheme on the strategic level, now on the practical level, you need personnel. In Madden, a player's overall is not static, but instead varies depending on the scheme you run and the capacity he is utilized in that scheme. Running an offense based on deep passes and vertical routes? Tim Tebow is probably not your best bet. But you're running the West Coast Offense and borrow a lot from the Wildcat? Then Tebow is the man for you. And not only will you know this instinctively if you watch football, the game will now change the players' overalls to help you find those players who need much easier.
So now we've talked strategic...but where does it get personal, you might be asking? The answer is in the day-to-day operation of the franchise. Developing young backups in practice, following the seasons' storylines, monitoring the team's morale - the game forces you to engage with the world of the franchise, to become invested in it. In videogames, there are fewer feelings better than when you take that young but raw QB in the draft, develop him for three seasons as the team's backup, finally hand him the keys to the offense, and ultimately lead him to win the Super Bowl. It's a great feeling, because all the time that you spent with this team finally paid off. After spending all that time, it's more than just a game - it's almost like another world you've created and become a part of, and to see success after years of waiting (in-game) is a grand thing.
And, arguably, the best part is that you are totally allowed to just hand over duties that you don't want to do to the computer so you're never at a disadvantage. Want to just play some football? Then just play games, and let the computer do the dirty work. Want to be a coach, not just a player? Then take advantage of the game's wide array of options.
Games like MLB 14 The Show let you act as General Manager in the franchise and manager during games, but there's little correlation between the two, and little opportunity for the player to get truly involved with the day-to-day operations of the team.
Now we get to baseball, which has not come even close to the success Madden has here. Of course, to achieve that same level in baseball is a lot harder - there are only 16 regular season games in a football season, and even if you play every down of preseason and make it to the Super Bowl while playing in the wild card round, you've still got a max of 24 games in a season, compared to 162 in the regular season alonefor baseball. Nobody, and I repeat, NOBODY, plays every game in The Show or in MLB 2K; anybody who says they do either has literally zero social life or is lying. It's just too many games, too tedious, and frankly, it gets boring after a while - I'm a huge baseball fan, and I tried it once, and after 30 games I got flat-out bored and abandoned the franchise.
So how do you generate a personal interest in a franchise where you cannot realistically play every game, where there is no true way to do a "practice" system like in football, and where player development happens in minor league games, which even the biggest fanatics do not play. And the truth is...I have no idea. How do you? I have vague ideas that a more in-depth spring training and injury rehab system would help, that player and team morale is needed...but in truth, if I said anything specific would work, I would be lying. Truly, the first step in the right direction I think would be fully fleshing out roster mechanics - 40-man rosters, qualifying offers, the inclusion of Japanese/Korean leagues and the posting system, international free agents, Rule 5 drafts.....OK, you get the point.
But in terms of the atmosphere......I'm not totally sure, which is why I don't design videogames. What I am going to do, however, is throw the question back out to you, baseball fans - how would *you* make players feel personally invested in their franchise modes?