Hello again Madden fans!
Donny Moore here, designer for Madden NFL 10. If you've been following me on Twitter (donny_moore) you've likely noticed that I have been working on player ratings for the game, but what I've had to remain pretty tight-lipped on so far this year has been my involvement with Online Franchise. EA SPORTS president Peter Moore just recently announced this feature last week at the E3 press conference, and we knew going in that there would be all kinds of speculation and discussion over the feature among our fans. So this week we wanted to take the opportunity to answer some of the most common questions that we've been seeing from the community and from the gaming media. Not everyone has a 100% clear idea of what all is included in the mode, and we have also noticed that some folks have expressed frustration over missing features. With that being the case, we felt it imperative to explain a.) why we made the decisions that we did and b.) our plan for the future developing on this new platform. This feature is extremely important to me, especially as a die-hard Franchise guy (for those that don't know I worked on NFL Head Coach 09 along with fellow designer Josh Looman), so it has been an incredible experience to be a part of building a brand new Online Franchise experience - something totally new and different for the millions of Madden fans out there.
Enough talk...on to the Q & A!
Q: How is Online Franchise different from the Online Leagues included in Madden NFL 09?
A: First and foremost, Online Franchise is an entirely new mode built from scratch (not an improved version of online leagues). We wanted to provide a real-world 17 week NFL regular season with playoffs instead of a flex-schedule tournament-style structure. The major difference between the two features is the fact that your franchise now persists from year to year, and your team evolves over time. You are now taking over as the owner of the Detroit Lions and trying to turn them into a winner (for example) over the course of multiple seasons. Online Franchise features player movement, retiring, yearly NFL drafts, progression/regression, and many other features that did not exist in Online Leagues. Above all else, the most important change is that Online Franchise is built around a server-based architecture. What that means is that very little support for the mode lives on the game disc itself…it lives online on our servers. The main reason we went that route was so we could add more features and do extra tweaks and tuning based on community feedback even after the game ships (so our fans don’t have to necessarily wait until Madden NFL 11 for something new to appear).
Along with all of that, thanks to our server-based approach, your Online Franchise can be accessed and changes can be made entirely from the web. If you want to change up your depth chart or propose a trade while you wait in line at the store, you now have the access to do so. If you can't get to your console when it's time for the rookie draft, you can now attend from a website (just like a fantasy football draft). This interconnectivity is what we are extremely excited about as we continue to work and develop this mode for the future.
Q: Why no flex-scheduling with online franchise?
A: In Online Franchise, you always play the real world NFL schedule. It is set up in a very similar fashion to NCAA Football’s Online Dynasty feature, where you play your current week’s games, and then wait until the commissioner advances to the next week. With us wanting to make a very realistic experience and include features like multi-week injuries, there was no way to make it possible for you to play your Week 16 game before your Week 3 game.
Q: Can I make my online franchise private?
A: Yes, you can easily password-protect your league so only people you invite to your franchise will join.
Q: How many years does online franchise go?
A: You can play 10 seasons in online franchise.
Q: Why did you limit the number of years to 10? Why not 30 years like offline franchise?
A: Couple of reasons…First off, we wanted to make sure the game was tuned as perfect as we could for the core experience. We felt it wasn’t a smart approach to support 30 years if the mode falls apart in year 11. We have also looked at the data from NCAA 09 Online Dynasty and our offline franchise modes, and the reality is that very few players actually made it to 10 years of dynasty/franchise. I myself participate in an NCAA 09 online dynasty, and we have advanced weeks very consistently (from the week the game came out) and we are only in Year 6 (we advance the current week 3 times a week!). That being said, we will continue to listen to the fans and give them what they want. As I mentioned above, with Online Franchise mode being server-driven, if we discover that 10 years just isn’t enough and a large amount of Franchises have pegged out at 10 years, we can make the necessary fixes without requiring a new disc or patch or anything like that.
Q: How many teams are there in the online franchise?
A: 32 teams. Just like in the NFL, there are always 32 teams. You can have every team in the league controlled by a human or you can play your online franchise against 31 CPU opponents to take advantage of the web team management. The choice is up to you.
Q: Do you have trades? If so, how do they work?
A: Yes, we have trades and they work almost identical to offline franchise mode. We support multi-player trades, 3 for 3 deals, 2 for 2, etc.
Q: Do you support 2 players for 1 player trades, i.e. unbalanced trades?
A: Yes, we support 3 for 1, 2 for 1 and 3 for 2 trades.
Q: Can I trade with CPU teams?
A: Yes, you are able to trade with CPU trades. You must choose turn the Trade Settings to “ON”. However, the CPU teams do not have logic as to whether or not they should accept/reject a trade.
Q: Why don’t CPU teams run logic for things like trade proposals?
A: That is something that we sorely wanted to squeeze in for Madden NFL 10, but simply could not pull it off in time. Because everything was built to be server-based for Online Franchise, things like CPU logic would have to be run on that server, so we were not able to make that a part of the online franchise experience by the time the game will hit the shelves. Based on usage once the game is released we will obviously look to update and change whatever the community feels is most important.
Q: OK, so can we trade ONLY with human teams so we don’t have to worry about CPU teams and their lack of trade logic?
A: Yes, you can play with the Trade Settings set to “ON – with no CPU trades”. This means, for all trade screens, only human teams will show up to trade with. This is the default setting for Madden NFL 10 online franchises.
Q: Do you have NFL Drafts in online franchise?
A: Yes, at the end of each season, the NFL Draft is there for you to re-stock your talent with brand new rookie classes.
Q: Do you have the option to start out the online franchise with a fantasy draft?
A: Yes, this is probably my favorite feature when it comes to the Madden NFL 10 online franchise. Instead of always having to load into an online franchise with the default, 2009 real-world rosters, you have the ability to do a fantasy draft and completely balance out the league in terms of talent. So if you are in one of those competitive Madden Leagues where everyone wants the ultimate challenge and everything to start out balanced, fantasy draft is the way to go.
Q: How many rounds is a fantasy draft?
A: Fantasy drafts pick an entire 54 man roster. So the draft lasts 54 rounds.
Q: 54 rounds!?! Man, that sounds like it could actually take an entire weekend to finish.
A: We’ve done some things to help you get around that. First, we give the commissioner the ability to change the time per round to draft. Once you get past the first rounds you can set the pick time to as low as 15 seconds per pick. Secondly, the CPU teams rapid fire pick. We realize nobody wants to sit around for the CPU to pick, so that takes up little to no time each pick. Finally, we actually give the Commissioner the ability to “pause” the draft at any time. This means you can pause it one day, and pick it back up at some later point to continue.
Q: What about if I cannot make the live draft…Is there any way to pre-rank my players?
A: Yes, we allow you to pre-rank your players in the event where you cannot attend the live draft. This is set up in a similar way to fantasy baseball or football leagues. You can pre-rank each position with the players you want; in the order you want to draft them. This applies for both NFL seasonal drafts and fantasy drafts.
Q: Can I draft from my PC?
A: Yes, you can draft from the web using our Madden NFL 10 online franchise application or from your console, and members of your draft can be mixed on either platform. I believe this represents the first time in EA Sports history that a player on a console can be directly interacting with a player on the web…which for us is a huge win. This is a great example of how a server-based architecture allows us to do features we never really were thought possible before.
Q: Does Online Franchise support the NCAA Import Draft Class feature?
A: No, unfortunately this did not make the final feature list this year. This is one of my absolute favorite features amongst all of our football games here at EA Sports, and we have some good ideas on how we can try to update this after the game launches based on community demand.
Q: Does online franchise have player contracts or the salary cap?
A: No, this was the hardest pill to swallow for the entire design and development team this year as far as cut features go. But the reality of this decision was that we were able to get all of the other features of online franchise, and we were able to make it all in time to get into the Madden NFL 10 box. Just like with CPU trade logic, we will balance what features are most important to the community and try to attack those first after the game comes out.
Q: So no free agency either then?
A: Actually, we do have a free agent wire. You have the ability to cut players in online franchise and then sign a free agent to replace him. That means when you release them to the free agent wire, they become available to the rest of the league. If you are in a Franchise with your friends, you could submit waiver claims to your commissioner and have him determine the order of who gets what free agent like a fantasy league (this is what we’ve been doing here at work). However if you are in a Franchise with strangers this will just be first-come first-serve.
Q: So how long does the player stay on your team?
A: Since we do not have contracts in online franchise, players stay on your team until they retire or until you trade them away.
Q: So no free agency, no contracts, and no salary cap…that stinks! Why didn’t you put them in?
A: Many have asked why we left these features out, and the simple answer is that there just wasn’t enough time to get it in before the game hits the shelves. Creating a 100% server-based Online Franchise mode with full stat tracking and numerous other features wasn’t a very quick task. :) It took a major effort from our team to get to what we were happy with in a 1st year feature. The good news here though is that we HAVE given you a way to simulate this important part of the NFL off-season. We have given you a way to handle all of your offseason player movement, player contracts, etc. with your own house rules. The commissioner will have the option to Add/Drop players at will during the offseason (this is a website exclusive feature). I can give you an example of what we are already doing here at the office in our online franchise…Each team in the league is forced to give up five 70+ OVR players to free agency (we all agreed on the CPU team players to release). We then took that list, and did a quick free agency draft with that list of players. The commish then went into the Commissioner Options screen and add/dropped the players to the new teams. While this is not exactly ideal, it does give those folks who are looking for a very realistic Franchise experience a way to have offseason player movement every year. We are actively looking at a robust, live bidding free agent type feature for the future, but a lot depends on the priority you all (the fans) give us on each feature once you get your hands on online franchise.
Q: Do you have multi-week and season ending injuries in online franchise?
A: Yes, we do. We also have career-enders as well (very rare).
Q: You mentioned retirements, so players retire in online franchise?
A: Yes, we have player retirements in online franchise. It uses basically the same logic as offline franchise here as well.
Q: Do players progress during the 10 year online franchise or do their ratings always stay the same?
A: Yes, we have the full player progression system as offline franchise mode does. Rookies like Mark Sanchez and Aaron Curry progress in their ratings while the old vets like Zach Thomas and eventually Peyton Manning will decline in skills as they edge closer to retirement.
Q: is Edit Player available in online franchise?
A: Unfortunately no, this feature was not implemented for year one. We felt it opened up too many doors for people to find exploits by messing with things like changing positions, ratings, etc. We would have had to spend extra, valuable time preventing ways for people to change Julius Peppers to a Punter for example, instead of getting features like Retirements or Progression in the game. Instead, we felt it was best to simply restrict what you could edit (at least for Madden 10). We do allow each owner to edit his player’s jersey number if he wants to (commish can edit any jersey number of any team – in case CPU teams need their numbers changed for whatever reason). If this becomes a large community demand we could look into opening this up on the web selectively (maybe for the commissioner only?).
Q: Is there complete stat tracking and league leaders in online franchise?
A: Yes, we have full team stats, box scores, and player stats for every game of the NFL Season. So you can go into League or Team Schedule and check out the box score of any game played. We also have Player Season Stats and League Leaders which show the Top 50 at each of the major stat categories like Passing Yards, Rushing TD, and Sacks for example. All this data can also be accessed from the web as well as the console, allowing you the freedom to check in on how things are going in your Franchise from work or while traveling.
Q: Do online franchise games have real weather?
A: Yes, you have a setting for weather. You can choose to always play in fair weather or you can elect to play with real-world, seasonal weather.
Q: How do I see what transactions are occurring in my online franchise?
A: We have a Transactions History screen for you to view any and all transactions from around the league, very similar to a fantasy football website.
Q: What kind of options does the Commissioner have at his fingertips?
A: The commissioner is integral to the success of your online franchise. Just like in Online Dynasties, if you have a commish that forgets to advance the week or doesn’t control his owners, the league might fail. To accomplish this, we give the commissioner several different options:
- Boot Player – The commish can boot any unruly owner at any time. Any CPU team can be replaced by a user team (or vice versa) at any time.
- Promote Player – The commish can promote any other owner in the league to commissioner in the event where the commish goes out of town or is unavailable.
- Settings changes: Skill Level, Quarter Length, Fatigue, Injuries, and Accelerated Clock.
- Post News – The commish can post news to the console so all owners can see what is going on around the league.
- Add/Drop – As explained above, the commish can manipulate rosters to more realistically create off-season player movement.
Well, that's it for today's Q&A. We fully expect there to be more suggestions, questions, and requests as we creep towards launch, but hopefully now we've given some good perspective as to why we had to make the decisions we made, the flexibility of future additions based on community feedback, and also the depth that this feature is offering in year 1. Online Franchise is easily the biggest technological investment that we've ever made here at Tiburon so we are really looking forward to continue to develop on this platform and create fun and immersive experiences in the months and years to come.
- Donny Moore
Designer, Madden NFL 10