The first of three planned upgrades to Madden 21‘s franchise mode was included in a November 12 title update in an attempt to provide the vocal contingent of the Madden community some of the necessary improvements that they have long been seeking for a mode that’s been largely ignored or — at best — re-painted for years now. It’s worth remembering that these changes only came about thanks to a public outcry following Madden 21‘s release that eventually saw #FixMaddenFranchise trending on Twitter. EA was forced to acknowledge their shortcomings in the franchise department and committed to meaningful changes in Madden 21 and beyond. This leads up to the Madden 21 franchise mode patch I’m now discussing.
So the big question is, are these initial changes actually any good?
Bearing in mind that there are still two other updates to franchise mode to come (with the next slated to drop in mid-January), the improvements here may not be all that mind-blowing at first glance, but they do include some nice superficial touches and, for commissioners, a little more control over how you would like to see your league and its players develop as the seasons go on. In one case, there are some legitimate concerns about the specific way a new feature has been implemented but more on that later.
Let’s countdown these alterations one by one in order of their importance and break them down for the actual impact they will have on franchises.
5. Retirement Improvements
Obviously, this isn’t a huge deal or anything but it does have its worth. True story: in the league where I am commissioner, I just had a guy frantically ask me what happened to Richie Incognito at the end of a season, and the answer that he had retired wasn’t as easy to find as it will be now with these new changes.
The fact is that it was a challenge to learn when a player retired previously is unsettling. If you went searching through the news feed from the league, you might find a line hidden in among all of the other end-of-the-season housekeeping, but not every retirement was posted there. Sometimes you’d have to just look at the advanced age of a player like Incognito and assume the worst, leading to the unenviable task of having to inform the Raiders coach that his player had left our digital realm.
Now, there will be a screen where you can see all of the retirements across the league at the end of every season. Let’s be honest: this is the kind of “improvement” where the mere fact that EA has to implement something so rudimentary into the game and include it in the patch notes is in its own way an embarrassing admission that the company dropped the ball by not having it in there already.
4. Playoff Bracket
Another one to file under “how wasn’t this already in the game?” is the addition of a playoff bracket that you can view from Week 13 on displaying the teams that would be in the playoffs if the season were ending now and the potential matchups that would occur. This will also start populating with the scores once the playoffs actually begin, and you’ll have the ability to click on each game to be able to see the detailed box score.
This is a nice change that provides a small but vital way for people to stay more in touch with what is happening in the league. Prior to this, users who weren’t involved in the playoffs were forced to have to go into the league schedule to view the matchups, so it’s better now that this will be prominently displayed and easily accessed when people log into the franchise, even if there isn’t anything for them to actually do while others are finishing up the season.
3. Player Card Career Stats
One of the key areas where Madden has consistently lagged behind other series like NBA 2K and MLB The Show is in the breadth and depth of stats at your disposal. It was only recently that Madden added career stats where you could see the numbers for your player in every season over the course of his entire career. This new update will now allow you to zoom in a little further on those stats and view the stat line, opponent and result of the game as part of a player’s card.
Somewhat confusingly though, the three pictures accompanying the notes that went out with this recent patch don’t actually show this week-by-week statistical breakdown, but instead simply the season-by-season stats that were already part of the game. Suffice to say, that probably wasn’t the best way to properly showcase this new feature to the community.
But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that this is still a valuable new tool within franchise and should create a lot more enjoyment when you go into a player’s card and look back at the season to analyze when he flourished and when he disappeared. This can also be helpful in breaking down matchups against opponents and seeing what kind of teams certain players struggled against to evaluate if there are any trends that might be able to be exploited for an edge.
2. X-Factor Customization
Easily the most controversial item on this first list of franchise updates, they’ve now allowed users to select their own Superstar X-Factors for players rather than being stuck with the ones that the game assigns. While this is obviously great for owners and coaches within franchises who were previously stuck with an X-Factor on a player that maybe didn’t suit their style of play, or even just didn’t like all that much, it does create some headaches for stricter commissioners of leagues who are trying to maintain their command.
Along these lines, the biggest issue for these commishes is bound to be the fact that there’s no way to really tell when someone has edited an X-Factor on a player because the league’s transaction log doesn’t flag it in any special way, making it indistinguishable from cosmetic updates like jersey numbers or attire. You can see why this could potentially create huge problems for leagues that don’t see this kind of toggling between abilities as especially realistic and there will likely be some leagues that choose to turn X-Factors off altogether as a result of this change.
Personally, I don’t feel like this is as big of a deal as some will. The fact that these X-Factors are still tied to a player’s abilities and requires them to meet a certain threshold in order to utilize an ability helps ensure that no one should be able to abuse this feature in any impactful way. It’s not as if anyone will be able to take a bigger running back like Derrick Henry and equip him with an X-Factor like Juke Box so he’s suddenly bounding around the field like he’s Barry Sanders.
In my own league, I’ve allowed people in the past an opportunity to “re-roll” a player’s ability once a season and give them a chance to be randomly assigned a new X-Factor. Sometimes they got one they liked more, sometimes they got one they liked less, and in the case of some, they’d often end up getting the exact same one because there weren’t that many available for that particular archetype. That’s why giving people a chance to pick their own X-Factors within their archetypes feels like a chance to allow a little more customization without making it game-breaking or anything.
1. Dev Trait Regression Tuning
The item in this first batch of franchise updates that can easily affect league the most is the opportunity to now influence the shape of your league by dictating a set number of players at each dev trait (stars, superstars and superstar X-Factors) within your league. These new sliders within a league’s settings should allow you to ensure that there are never too many elite players in the league at any given time, which seems like a good idea in theory.
However, the actual impact of how this will play out in a league with 32 users is something that will take a lot of time and trial and error to properly assess. The patch notes indicate that certain players will be eligible for regression in the offseason, and if there are more players of a certain dev trait than desired then a number of players will have their dev traits regressed in a way that makes sense. If people in the league aren’t happy about having their players’ dev traits regressed, there’s also the ability to turn this feature off entirely.
There’s also mention of tuning the criteria to receive a Breakout Dev Scenario during a season to prevent an overabundance of high dev traits, which could certainly help to balance some leagues where people end up with a stockpile of players with these high dev traits. Additionally, they’ve added three new QB Breakout Dev scenarios that can occur during a season. If you use the option to turn off these breakout scenarios, players will progress their dev trait only by their season stat rankings and awards. This still doesn’t address a fundamental problem that Madden’s franchise mode has had for years of having players improve solely by performing well in games and thereby dooming the players on lesser teams to never become elite by trapping them in a vicious cycle of sorts.
All in all, this is the most important of the changes because of how much more control it allows a commissioner to have over a league’s progression over the seasons. It remains to be seen from a testing standpoint what all the sliders will really accomplish and what kind of tangible ramifications they will ultimately have on leagues in the long term, but opening things up for more customization can never really be considered a bad thing in principle.