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Why We Need Stronger Franchise Modes


Why We Need Stronger Franchise Modes

As a lifelong Houston sports fan, franchise modes have been my bread and butter. Conjectures and what-could-have-beens can finally be realized in a digital testing environment. My beloved Texans can play the 2017 season again as if we had never signed Brock Osweiler. My beloved Astros can play the next 15 seasons with Kris Bryant drafted instead of Mark Appel. What if I was to separate players based on their home state, city, or country, and battled it out that way? Franchise modes are a uniquely bizarre sandbox where teams can correct mistakes, rewrite history and even time travel.

The thrills of taking a bottom-dwelling franchise and slowly but surely rebuilding it your way is an experience that only video games can provide. Elevating your favorite team to a perennial powerhouse through shrewd trades, signings and immersive clutch performance is unlike any other experience in gaming. Sports games yield the only universes wherein you, the fan, can implement your ideas and explore for seasons on end. It is one of the reasons that, year in and year out, MLB The Show takes up far more of my time than it should.

The doldrums of a losing season are skippable in minutes. Would-be trades can be vomited on a poor unsuspecting digital GM without any repercussions. Otherwise impossible, franchise-altering player moves are possible. You can start fresh at a moment’s notice. And the best part is it can be extrapolated for as long of a time as your real-life schedule allows.

Ultimate Team-style card collecting modes are fun — there is no debate there. MLB The Show did a marvelous job this year allowing players to earn cards in any mode, and providing incentives to return to the mode long after the real-life season concluded. These modes are a unique platform to appease both casual and hardcore fans, and they have seen their own remarkable growth since their inception a few years ago. Throwback cards and new card-earning elements extend the life of these modes for those ill-equipped to buy the cards outright. However, improving franchise mode is just as important. While the card-collecting modes are innately more profitable, perennial sports titles ride or die with their franchise and owner modes.

Additionally, individual player and career modes have seen rapid improvements and innovative experiments. Year-to-year jumps have been remarkable, and NBA 2K has made tremendous progress packing the modes with additional content. Focusing on one player provides its own dimension of immersion, but it does not provide the exact same experience as franchise mode. Furthermore, players can be put off by not being able to control all the players or managerial moves.

That is not to say that improving franchise mode is easy either. Trade logic is not easy to implement with an AI. How do you account for real-life GMs that have consistently made poor or excellent trades? Do you ignore or try and force the fact that not all of these players enjoy their new environments? Consider the titles that are considered masterpieces of their sport. MVP Baseball 2005’s franchise and owner modes were nearly flawless, but trades were extremely difficult to pull off. Algorithms to determine a player’s happiness and team chemistry are not perfect. Some games even have severely flawed and almost non-functioning free agency periods. How often have you seen your team leading the pack in courting a certain player in both mutual interest and money offered, only to see them scooped up by someone else? Is there even a correct answer?

Consider, say, even the most casual FIFA fans. After a while, playing online or local multiplayer will become tiresome. Or, perhaps, they want to get better to defeat their digital or in-person adversaries. Which mode allows them to learn more about their favorite team (that they have supported forever, no doubt), get consistent in-game practice, and hone their overall knowledge of the game? Practice mode provides drills, career mode focuses on a single player, and Ultimate Team does not allow them to play with the same teams they would in local multiplayer. Even then, franchise mode becomes their best option.

Create-a-team features are making a comeback, which is beneficial for the industry altogether. Despite appearing in certain entries yet being inexplicably absent from future releases, taking a created team into franchise mode provides a refreshing storyline from which players build teams. NHL 17 made the most recent strides as a direct result of player feedback.

The breakthroughs in individual player career modes and genre-changing card-collecting modes are essential to sports gaming innovation in the post-monopoly world. Previously, rampant competition from other sports drove these upgrades, but consider the amount of companies creating perennial titles with full licenses for each sport. Soccer is the only sport that has a remotely competitive marketplace, and PES is competing without full licensing. As a result, PES has been forced to convert FIFA gamers by offering direct changes to die-hard FIFA players’ most consistent gripes and complaints.

Given the “great, but not quite excellent” overall cycle of feedback for current-generation sports titles, developers have a lot of room for revolutionary experiments and breakthroughs. However, as a life-long franchise mode supporter, I hope franchise mode does not get lost in the shuffle.


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  1. I don't play as a Single Team/Franchise. I like to play out a season more in an administrative role. Picking games to play at random whilst controlling the roster management of teams in regards to Injuries/Signings etc. I'm probably in the minority in this respect but if the logic of the game is fundamentally sound then it should be playable in any given way.
    Agreed! CH2K8 Legacy mode still one of the best "franchise" modes I've ever played and I believe one of the best ever created in a sports game.
    Excellent write up and read, thanks!
    I think that franchise mode will always be an after thought now that the pay-to-win, ultimate team type game modes are huge money makers for sports titles. As someone that played franchise mode the majority of the time growing up, lately I just haven't been able to get in to them. It is extremely disheartening to see title after title, year after year, the franchise mode aspect of sports games ignored in favor of UT (Fifa, Madden, 2K, etc).
    Take Madden for instance, you feel so disconnected (pun intended) from what's actually going on within the team, other than the games you play and if you sim games, the stats are usually so unrealistic that it's almost unplayable. Or how about Fifa, about 80-90% of players have generic faces that look nothing like the players themselves. So if you do play a Career mode, you don't feel like it's realistic at all and lets not even get started on how the mode hasn't really changed in the last two gens. In Fifa you still can't even build your own stadium, create a team, properly edit players (w/o glitches happening), player progression is still random other than a few mini games for 5 players a week, the list goes on and on.
    I say if these games are so hard up for cash then make a DLC that allows people like myself and other that love these modes. If you've ever played any of the PC manager games, basically something like that but with the ability to actually play the games, practice, etc. Obviously they wouldn't be as deep as those games are, but if they could find a happy medium I think we would be more than happy to pay this point. Will this ever happen? No, not a chance. Even if they charged an extra $60 for DLC, it still wouldn't compare to how much people spend on packs for their UT modes or in 2K's case VC, but I don't even want to get into the whole VC scam.
    MVP 2005 had the best franchise mode imo. It was so immersive. Had me coming back for more. My favorite sports game of all time. I still have a copy of the game and play it occasionally. CH2K8 Legacy mode was amazing too. Sadly we haven't seen anything that has come close to this.

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