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OS Chat: Do Franchise Modes Need To Be More Accessible To Get New Users?

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OS Chat: Do Franchise Modes Need To Be More Accessible To Get New Users?

Sometimes in the OS Slack channel we have some really good discussions that are completely organic and spur of the moment about sports games. We’ve shared a few of these with you all in the past and today’s was a really good one we wanted to involve the community within.

Today’s topic: Are franchise modes focusing on the wrong thing (depth) when they need to be focusing on accessibility and growing their user base?

The convo below has been edited lightly for grammar, spelling, and some context/content. 

Chris Sanner

Ok guys, we’re going to have a discussion today on what exactly sports games should do with franchise modes in the future. Should they deepen the experiences or is there a need for getting new players to actually play them?

I guess in other words, are franchise modes focusing on the wrong thing (depth) when they need to be focusing on accessibility and growing their user bases for the future?

Matt Llwellyn
Do you not feel it’s accessible now? The front end does a good job organizing everything that you need to do for that week.

Chris Sanner
Probably can be depth but the type that you don’t necessarily need to access to get a lot out of the modes TBH.

Chris Sanner
Franchise Modes basically throw you to the wolves and expect users to know what they’re doing. They don’t actually help you do things.

Chris Sanner
Like when should I trade, what should my roster size be, why shouldn’t I sign this 3B at 88ovr when my current guy is 81ovr.

Basically things like that. You need to have the modes really introduce ways to hold new users hands through the experience. That plus the creation of narratives you don’t have to make up in your head are the two areas franchise modes gotta go to next. The whole “let’s add depth for depth’s sake” is useless in getting new gamers on board at this point.

Operation Sports

Is the gaming landscape built for people who want things like complex contract negotiations with ascending bonus money or is it built for a different type of gamer completely?

Chris Sanner
Gamers aren’t as interested in nuance right now…which is actually becoming a societal problem that’s in your face every day now as well. Some of its is social media driven, and gamers lack of desire to put in hours into games is driven by the ever increasing amount of things to do outside of gaming. It all plays into it.

So you have to have more accessible, faster ways to do things nowadays and compelling single player modes have to kinda fit that mold. Right now franchise modes are wasted because people literally go a couple of seasons max on average.

Not saying you can’t have depth (I think franchise modes shouldn’t sacrifice stuff they already have) but I think the surface level experience needs a lot more automation and hand holding.

Matt Llwellyn
Madden already tells you that you need to train, resign x player, scout for the draft, etc. all from the first tab of franchise. Then once you click those tiles, what’s behind them is pretty straight forward. Letter grades for scouting, straightforward trade screen…How much hand holding do people need? Wouldn’t it be as simple as just adding a tutorial?

Joel Smith
I think maybe the addition of an option as “easy” as “Simple/Advanced”

Chris Sanner
I think its making it a literal checklist task oriented experience with an AI Assistant who can explain things more thoroughly. Like in a players needing re-signed screen “We shouldn’t resign Prescott. His overall has gone down 8 points in the last two years and we have some good options in free agency this next year plus a good draft pick.” Then you can push a button to get a list of Free Agent QBs or to enter negotiations and all that. Basically that sort of hand holding.

At this point the menus suck in every franchise mode and don’t actually separate out tasks. That’s one big problem.

Joel Smith
Beginners and rooks get the walkthrough hand holding experience sans analytics and really get introduced to the inner workings. Advanced would be for us lol

@Chris Sanner. Well frigging said

Chris Sanner
Also the ability to automate tasks with an AI you can trust is important. If you don’t want to manage contracts but would rather set the terms for who you want to re-sign vs. actually do the negotiating as one example of the above.

Just a lot of room to explore there to make the franchise experience more accessible.

Joel Smith
I know most of what we play inside out (I’d like to think) but having my head scout tell me “This dude is trash. Remember Ryan Leaf? Yeh. That bad. We should look at Joe Shmoe instead.”

Matt Llwellyn
To me that’s more depth than accessibility and depth is more important. Madden is far more accessible than 2k or the Show (before this season) but there’s not enough depth. You can have the most hand holding franchise in history and it won’t matter if the gameplay loop gets stale quickly because there’s no immersion to keep players hooked.

Joel Smith
That’d be HUGE. Like Chris said. ACTUAL smart Automated AI that does things to HELP the player.
And like Mill just said. Teaching.

Pretty sure the average of players that fully understand how things operate to casuals is 30:70

Chris Sanner
That’s also true. I think teaching alongside automating is more what I mean. Basically have the game explain things but give you the option to kinda let it handle any individual task the user doesn’t want to worry about. IDK, I’m old fashioned and just think the user should get to determine their experience in meaningful ways — but the software (aka game) should be the one creating the opportunities and not being in the way of the experience (or itself).

Operation Sports
Depth means something to OS’ers for sure. But is depth what gamers are actually looking for? Do games need more depth to endear themselves to newer gamers or is the answer something else?

Chris Sanner
Depth is overrated.

I’ve always wanted more depth but at this point I think sports games are way too complicated for their own good. I use my brother as an excellent example of why this is. He won’t play sports games because its too hard to play them. He’s an ideal candidate. Male. 30s. Loves Sports. Hates sports games.

Be it the franchise mode being way too complicated for him or (and this is sacrilegious I know) the on field experience is literally overwhelming for him.

Matt Llwellyn
I get that, but what’s the point of having a mode that teaches you how to play it, and then have nothing else really to do once you’re done learning it. With the Show you have several different types of free agency, multiple minor league teams, 2 separate drafts, arbitration, etc. Madden is literally retired players, free agency, draft rinse repeat. Without immersion and added things like better presentation, no one will stick with franchise. They’ll all migrate to MUT because at least MUT gives you a new things to get and new goals to achieve.

Chris Sanner
Because too deep and people like my brother are out instantly. That’s a loss for everyone eventually. We can say “oh he’s just an arcade gamer” or “he needs to play a game like Blitz” but he doesn’t want to play a game like Blitz. He wants to play a game that feels real enough but that he can actually play and feel like its ‘real’ to him.

Joel Smith
Big facts. My brother is the same.

30, DIE HARD football fan. Hates hates HATES Madden.

Chris Sanner
And both are a potential sale sitting out there waiting to be had for companies — but neither is buying into a sports game that they don’t understand.

Matt Llwellyn
I’m speaking of depth in more a presentation way. Not necessarily a gameplay way.

Joel Smith
I told him I did the Super Mega Baseball 2 review and he ran and downloaded it last night and will play the hell out of it. Still won’t play Madden ever.

Chris Sanner
Like there’s a point you make a game too real. I legit wrote an article on this in 2010 or 2011 that said just that — at some point sports games are going to cross a line that turns potential new gamers off. I got skewered for that point of view back then but here we are today with single player modes dying because new gamers don’t want to play them.

I just think the way games are played needs to be simple and easy to pick up on the surface with multiple levels of depth below for those who want that sort of thing. As one example: A casual gamer doesn’t need to know 50 different attributes of right guards to pick between 6 of them.

A small portion of the audience may want that, but most people just want to know if this guy can run block and pass block. You don’t need to show gamers much more than 2-4 different attributes at any given time. I think the depth you can add could still be accessible — but should be hidden behind the first layer which most people are going to play the game within.

Brandon Kosal
That’s a good point. For example, for me personally, as a hoops addict, I want 2K and Live as realistic as possible. But for football, hockey, and even baseball where I’m not as big a fan – I prefer a lighter sim that’s much easier to pick up and play.

Matt Llwellyn
The danger is you go too far the other way and you threaten to alienate the core of your user base. The same thing has happened with Street Fighter (which I play competitively) in the street fighter 4 was deep nuanced and a great game. Then they progressively made games to pull in more casual users like SFxTekken and SF5 that have done terribly because they’re too casual friendly. That’s where we will head with Madden.

I’m just at a point where Madden’s franchise is bare bones and boring to me.

Joel Smith
I’m with @Matt Llwellyn. I say I’m not buying Madden every year…then I buy it. Then I get pissed off two weeks later.

I’d think at this point companies make their money off of the loyalists no? Of course the card based games are killing it, but it’s the people that go back year after year no?

Matt Llwellyn
I also think that the conversation about accessibility is one where some have different definitions than others. I think they can make a game accessible and still add depth and immersion. I would also like to point out that even though all of us have turned it off, Madden does have a Larry Ridley voice over tutorial in Franchise for all the things you have to do as a GM/Owner.

Joel Smith
At the very beginning, yes. But I think it’s fair to say it’s “bare bones” in comparison to what I believe Chris and Mill are saying to guide a new player.

Elliott Jenkins
I definitely see both sides to it as well. I’d just hope that in the future there’s a game that caters to both.

I’m a huge football fan and haven’t played a madden consistently since 2009 or 2010. I think that the biggest element is gameplay. Tecmo Super Bowl had an exceptionally bare bones season mode yet it’s still revered. I bought madden in 2014 and 2016 and was out on them after about a week. However, at every single family holiday, we have a damned tournament of NFL street. the arcadey gameplay is fun, sure, but it’s the constant ebb and flow of chance and strategy that keep us locked in.

Chris Sanner
All fair points, perhaps the biggest thing I’d say (and I’ll get the last word here) is that adding more depth at this point is a giant exercise in missing the point. What’s the point in adding more things to do within a mode designed to go 30 years in the future where most people can only go 2-3 seasons max?

The crux of the problem within franchise modes isn’t that there’s not enough to do, and my stance isn’t changing on that. Its that there’s so much to do, especially for newer players, there’s no way a franchise mode is anything more than a glorified expanded season mode (or less) for a vast majority of people. If analytics data does indeed show franchise mode usage slipping, its likely because the focus on more depth has created a worse user experience because it hasn’t been done in a way that gets new users to cycle into the modes.

At the end of the day, franchise modes have to figure out what they are then need to give all gamers a reason to play them outside of some gimmicky ‘give them points to buy more card pack’ method. There needs to be depth to keep existing users yes, but on the other end we have to absolutely have a mode that’s easier to move through more than a couple of seasons for the average gamer. Not an easy challenge for sure, but its the one that has to be taken on if Franchise modes are going to thrive in the future.

 

So what do you all think? How can franchise modes endear themselves to more gamers to ensure their survival while keeping us OS’er interested?

8 Comments

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Discussion
  1. In trying to satisfy both the casual and more hardcore(for lack of a better term) gamers, you lose both. There were allusions in the article to creating different experiences for people that want more or less realism. I say take it further and create different game modes that cater to each. This way developers stop trying to find a middle ground that doesn't exist.
    Not a fan of Chris Sanner's position here as imo this thinking is pretty much everything that's wrong with franchise modes right now. Pitch it to the lowest common denominator. Make everything so easy and basic that it's not even interesting anymore. Divert tons of resources away from innovation and into hand-holding, marketing, and making the package 15% shinier. Only focus on the things that amp up microtransaction revenue...
    And why? To get someone's attention span on a new game or mode for 5 solid minutes before they drop out of it and do something else anyway? Never mind the guy who's been buying the title for 10 years and plays it year round--let's not worry about what that guy is looking for. Why are we always so concerned with new users at the expense of existing customers?
    Alienating your "loyalists" should be a major concern for development studios. Maybe not this year or next year--imo people are really ingrained in their purchase habits and slow to change--but at some point these people will just jump ship like I did with The Show this year and Madden 5 years before that.
    The 30-year-old male sports fan that hates video games is the exception, not the rule. You both basically have unicorns for brothers. And certainly "my brother won't play this game" is not really a sturdy argument for basing an entire "franchise mode is too hostile to newbs" position on. There is already automation out the yang in these games and frankly it's not even hard to learn how to use; it's just that most people who are unwilling to grasp the nuances of a sport/game are also unwilling to read a manual or participate in a tutorial or do anything really...and why should they? This is not the target demographic and no amount of coddling will change that.
    just rename season mode to  multiple season mode.  make it bare bones.  include a draft,  and allow trades.   all the financial contracts and resigning  of players could be handled  by updates. 
    the article is correct when they say most gamers dont want to spend the time doing the in depth things in sports games.   OSer's are the exception not the rule.  we want depth. 
    as a person who likes the in depth franchise experience.  I say those modes can always get deeper into Ai logic.   Bad contracts, poor fits on rosters, poor performance should all mean something when trying to move and sign players. 
    In addition salaries demanded by free agents also need to be reflective on what is happening in "said" franchises universe.    a year where there arent  quality 5 star athletes available, a 3 star athlete should command and get 5 star money.    things like that goes a long way in bringing out realism in franchise modes. 
    This article boggles my mind.
    Forget the whole hardcore player vs casual argument for a second, I'm not even going to get into that.
    What boggles my mind is that you successfully identified a demand to ease access to new players without realizing that the OS community exists for this reason. We are a community resource that is constantly helping new players acclimate to the systems of these games.
    The question you should be asking is what can we do to ensure we get and keep the attention of new players in order to fill the demand of learning these systems in an easy digest way?
    Can we outreach to developers to ask about putting links to our community resources in their front end?
    Is there a way we can improve our own front end to make things more appealing to the new player?
    Instead you guys are sitting around yakking about how you want game developers to take all of this potential revenue away from you.
    This conversation is confusing accessibility with approachability. Accessibility is a discussion where a game or game mode(s) is reconfigured to be playable and enjoyable by people who would not otherwise be able to play the game/mode. Whether it's through a disability, language barrier, or other element of the game, accessibility opens the game to a broader potential audience.
    Approachability is different. Here, the game is reconfigured to meet the expectations of an ever-changing demographic or audience. It's not a conversation about whether the game/mode can be played be a larger audience, but rather, if that audience is willing to invest their resources in the game/mode.
    These two definitions are very different conversations.
    I love franchise/career modes. I'm willing to invest my resources into them. But they do get stale after a couple/few seasons. Instead of making a choice between arcade, season, or franchise modes, I think there's an untapped middle ground out there....
    Just like a rent-to-own contract, why can't game developers build their titles so that a player can switch their mode on the fly? Why not start simple, maybe just for the action, then if things work out, switch the game mode to a 'career' style mode? Keep all the history, stats, etc in the background until the player chooses to commit. Maybe this option could attract a larger franchise audience through an 'inverse attrition' process, allowing players to start playing in whatever form they prefer.
    After all, how many people commit first, then start dating?
    Companies should not dumb down Franchise modes to appease new players. Give the new comers other modes to play around with and if interests peaks them enough to try Franchise then maybe add in some on screen menus/guidance that veterans can turn off and let the new person learn that way.
    Sometimes the best way to learn is to fail. Making a franchise bare bones would ruin the whole experience.
    And in all honesty CASUAL sports gamers probably do not care for Franchise because they just want to get into the action....which is fine for them...but why change Franchise modes for someone who isn't really even going to play it....
    I'm the opposite of Chris's brother. In my 30's, love sports, love sports games but only play 2K because (as much as I love football) Madden just doesn't have the depth that I want. I would say that Madden for 10-12 years ago had more depth than it does today. I need a game to me more than just playing the game on the field. I want interesting and realistic things to do off the field as well. And losing things like player morale, positions battles, realistic coaches, etc. etc. and lack of franchise innovation is the biggest reasons why I don't buy Madden anymore.
    You can always make things more simplistic by using automation, but outside of using our own imagination, we can't make games deeper ourselves. If the choice is over simplifying the game for potential news sales and risking alienating your base or making the best deepest game possible to keep your base happy and maybe adding more tools and tips for noob's to learn, then I know which one I would choose.
    If someone loves a sport, don't they already understand it enough to know some of the basic front office functions?  They should probably understand the basics of strategy on the field too.  There are a wide range of difficulty settings already for different skill levels.  You can also set some of the more esoteric functions to be automated and you would not know the difference.  People should not have to sort through 50 different ratings for a right guard, that's true, but is that not what overall ratings are for?  These are sports games, not rocket science, they do not need a huge commitment to be understood.  I bet a lot of hardcore franchise players would be willing to pay more for a deeper, better polished franchise mode that does not require hours of player editing, slider tweaking, and testing to get it to function like the real life league.  
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