The tipping point. I must admit, I am just about there.
Every year in both Madden and NCAA, there is a moment when, despite the overwhelming buildup, my franchise/dynasty (or “frynasty”) becomes stale. It is inevitable. And I know I am not alone.
It’s unfortunate, really, because quite often, this occurs far before the end of the actual college or NFL season, thus killing the magical fall trifecta of NFL/NCAA real-life football, fantasy football, and Madden/NCAA video game football. Thus, football is often restricted to only Saturdays and Sundays, rather than being an every-day affair.
This phenomenon is almost as certain as death and taxes, but occurs for various reasons. Today, I would like to look at some of those reasons, and ways to avoid (or at least delay) them.
The Reasons: World Domination
Usually, my franchises and dynasties follow an identical pattern each season. In NCAA, my beloved Illini usually fight through a tough first season, enduring anywhere from 2-4 losses, and make a solid showing in a bowl game. The second season (and many thereafter), my mastery of the new gameplay nuances and complete dominance on the recruiting front lead to many an undefeated season and many a National Championship.
In Madden, my first season with my beloved Chicago Bears runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-9 to 10-6. Sometimes I squeak into the playoffs, sometimes I don’t. Generally I do not do badly enough to warrant a top draft choice (eerily similar to the actual Bears) and am forced to fill player voids with mediocre talent. Somehow, from the second season on, I begin to dominate, routinely going 13-3 or 14-2 (and yes, sometimes 16-0) and winning a plethora of Super Bowls.
Now it’s not that I don’t like winning. I do. Why else would I play? It’s just that when a game ceases to be challenging, it ceases to be fun. Albert Einstein once defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." After 3-5 seasons of a dynasty/franchise, I begin to feel just a touch insane.
If you dominate the world in the SEC...you might consider Heisman dificulty, or retirement.
The Reasons: Unrealism
I am a sucker for meticulous parallelism. I want my franchises and dynasties to mirror reality (or at least a feasible reality) as much as possible. Thus, I am not a fan of fantasy drafts in Madden, nor playing on low difficulty levels to inflate records and stats in NCAA. I want my simulated seasons to be very true to life.
For this reason, I often find myself frustrated with my dynasties/franchises. As soon as they stray too far from a possible reality, I begin to sow seeds of doubt. Kyle Orton throwing for 4,500 yards and 35 TDs? Fun during the game, but aggravating after the fact. Juice Williams finishing second in the Heisman voting and forgoing his senior season? Just plain ridiculous.
The offseason also regularly throws in some fictional curveballs. In Madden, teams release players haphazardly. Although this is supposed to simulate cap casualties, it still does not make much sense for the Ravens to simply release Ray Lewis, or the Bengals to release BOTH Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. It also doesn't make sense when the Dallas Cowboys draft Tim Tebow in the first round. These little things (along with my pet peeve of being unable to edit CPU-controlled teams’ jersey numbers to align with NFL regulations) are little annoyances that can kill a franchise prematurely.
NCAA’s offseason is less turbulent, but also poses some little issues. For instance, the absence of unique names for recruits has always been a minor thorn in my side. After all, how often do we see complete WR corps with names like Matt, Frank, and Bob? Not very. And even with the ability to create recruits (which has become a particular hobby of mine, using the reports and information from Rivals.com), dynasties still feel lacking after the fourth season when my team consists of mostly fictional athletes.
The Reasons: General Monotony
OS writer Christian McLeod touched on this in his latest article entitled "I Am Nick Saban," but it certainly needs to be mention here as well. After a while, franchises and dynasties just get boring.
This is generally the last item to occur on my list of frynasty-killers, but it is also the most powerful. After a while, games just lose their luster. Breaking a long run for a TD seems painfully routine, and that last-minute TD bomb becomes an event repeated ad nauseam.
Although dynamic gameplay (and thus dynamic seasons) can stave off the boredom, playing with the same players, same playbook, same stadium, etc. has a tendency to become a rectal itch that you cannot scratch.
But is there any hope? As long as football games fall short of our lofty wishes and desires, this phenomenon is a certainty. However, here are a few ways to extend the life of your frynasties.
The Solutions: Bring a Wingman
Flying solo can be fun, but utilizing a wingman greatly enhances your chances for the ultimate frynasty experience.
Cute little metaphors and rhymes aside, playing through franchises/dynasties with multiple human opponents extends each mode's longevity substantially, especially if said human opponents are of equal or greater skill level. Rivalries become more intense, and championships are no longer a certainty.
Thankfully, NCAA has made this possible via online dynasties. This has been a godsend not only for those of us old fellows sentenced to a life of post-collegiate NCAA solitude, but to all gamers in general. Human competition forces everyone to elevate his or her game, moving beyond the instinctual motions that grind into a person's subconscious; the result of countless hours of CPU play. I always experience an extra little wave of excitement and tension prior to kicking off against a human adversary, and this has done wonders for me in NCAA 09’s online Dynasty mode.
Sadly, Madden NFL has some catch-up work to do in this department, and MUST include an online franchise mode next year. If not, I expect to be playing NCAA 2010 much longer than Madden NFL 2010.
The Solutions: Start From the Basement
We all have our favorite teams, and we all use them for our initial franchise/dynasty in NCAA or Madden. And we always get tired of them.
One simple (and obvious) solution is to change your team of choice. Swap out the Indianapolis Colts for the Kansas City Chiefs, or Florida for San Jose State -- and while you are at it, increase the difficulty as much as possible. Suffer through a few seasons of mediocrity and build your team up from scratch. Put more emphasis on recruiting or the draft, and really try to build a program. Hell, sometimes I will even simulate games, and spend the bulk of playing time in the war room, thinking about how to upgrade my squad.
Starting from the bottom of the league (or the entire NCAA) will give you a much greater appreciation for winning, as it becomes less frequent. After a couple of seasons, you may still find the your frynasty suffering from the same shortcomings as always, but at least this time there was some different scenery along the way.
Just give it up and start imposing restrictions on yourself buddy.
The Solutions: Make Your Own Rules
This is kind of a hodgepodge solution, but the best way to prolong a frynasty’s fun factor is to identify your own little annoyances and find ways to fix them.
For example, I mentioned that I strongly dislike the "Common Name Syndrome" of NCAA’s recruiting system. To solve this problem, I peruse existing NCAA rosters, Rivals databases, and even baby name databases to create unique and different first names for my recruits (the ones I don’t create on my own). It just feels more authentic to me to have a player named Shavodrick Jackson, rather than just Frank Jackson.
I have seen other forum posts, where players create recruiting rules. One interesting system I recall, was self-imposed stipulations on recruits you can pursue. Targeted recruits are restricted to athletes ranked either equal to, or below your school’s prestige ranking, with the allowance of one "big recruit" (ranking of one start above your school’s prestige ranking) each season. Although I have not yet used this system, I do find it intriguing, especially when starting a dynasty with a low-end school. Recruiting run-of-the-mill athletes is more of a standard, realistic practice for smaller schools (thus appealing to my "realism fetish"), and also prolongs the ascent to national domination. Overall, it's a win-win.
Madden is a bit trickier, because the overall landscape of the NFL is much less dynamic than that of college football. While there is more parity, there is also less change and volatility from year to year. The best thing to do is to try and follow your team’s true-to-life trends for at least a couple of seasons, prior to making any large-scale changes. For instance, in my current franchise with Chicago, I have not added any big-name playmakers to my roster during the first two seasons, focusing mainly on defense and bolstering the running game. In year three, when I suffered a disappointing 6-10 season, I fired my entire coaching staff, and began the following offseason by drafting the best QB on the board, and choosing a more wide-open playbook. The key is to try and display the patience of actual NFL owners (sans Al Davis), and not throw in the towel and do something completely out of character the first chance you get. Although it will impede your path to victory to some degree, it will also make the top of the mountain seem that much more satisfying.
While ultimately, I will fall victim to frynasty boredom, these little tweaks here and there will help me to avoid the monotony for at least a few more months.
Sound off and let your fellow OSers know how you solve this perpetual plight.