IF IT’S IN THE GAME, IS IT STILL IN THE
– JAY HUHN 6/1/17 – 9:25PM
Sports gaming is a worldwide industry that brings in billions of dollars per year for publishers like EA, 2K Sports, and Sony Interactive. Once built on in-depth single player gameplay modes, the rise of internet multiplayer in the mid-2000s has led the sports gaming industry to move from its roots to a focus around online play. This has led to more of the instant gratification and pay-to-play game modes such as EA’s Ultimate Team, NBA 2K’s My Team, and MLB The Show’s Diamond Dynasty.
For our purposes, and to not turn this into a novel,we will focus on the EA Ultimate Team modes which have been around since it was a small, $10 add-on to FIFA 09. Since then it has grown into a monster revenue-generating entity that has effected the development focus of FIFA, NHL, and Madden.
The FIFA community differs greatly from that of the Madden community, as they never had the experience of an immersive online league system like Madden fans enjoy. The first real bit of online, stat-tracked game play began with Ultimate team, and it has been embraced. FIFA is EA sports biggest title worldwide, and accounts for a large portion on what EA makes from their Ultimate Team modes.
EA CEO Blake Jorgenson spoke to a Morgan Stanley conference at the end of February to relay some good news; EA had seen its revenue from their Ultimate Team modes raise from $650 million in 2015 to over $800 million in 2016, a 23% increase in that span. EA has continued to innovate their Ultimate Team modes across their three main sports titles (and with NBA Live making a return to consoles this year that would make four) including bringing the coveted Team Play feature back to Madden for their Madden 18 title, but making it a feature of the Ultimate Team mode.
Is that a negative? Someone will say that this increase in revenue due to the monetization of these game modes is a “a rising tide raises ships” scenario. However, there is an ever-increasing vocal and very angry minority that feels as if this is a money grab, and the people left holding the bag are the consumers.
Statements made by Madden Creative Director Rex Dickson have angered fans of the Connected Franchise Mode (CFM) over the past few weeks. Dickson appeared in an interview with Twitch Streamer Mr. Golden Sports (Twitch.Tv/Mrgoldensports) and blamed his development team’s focus on sim(simulation) football over the past three years for issues with the Ultimate Team and competitive communities.
We spoke with a prominent member of the CFM community, JP, who is part of the administrative team at Red Zone (daddyleagues.com/RedZone), a league that has been around for soon to be 4 different iterations of Madden.
“Felt Left behind. The only NFL option available to us should be as close to the NFL product as possible. Hearing that pushing that possibility was something “holding back” tournament players and ultimate [team] was almost a slap in the face to the large group that pays $60 every year for a true NFL experience. I have always had respect for Rex seeing him on twitter as a fighter for a sim experience, and that quote really left a taste of being put on a back burner and without our own representative.”
One could look at the release of Madden 18 information since it began earlier in May as an indication of the crowds they are looking to persuade and wow with their new features primarily, the Ultimate Team player. There has been a steady stream of information about the MUT TeamUp feature and other Ultimate Team related information, but the development team has stayed quiet on Franchise Mode, except to say they will release information at a later date.
When asked if he felt a lot of Madden players felt the same way he did, JP had this to say:
It’s hard to say what “a lot” is. But I would say the majority of us do feel like we do not have proper representation. Admittedly we are the minority, but we are still consumers. Consumers who pay, who care about the product and see what the game is CAPABLE of. I understand it’s a business, but at the same time the majority of us are older, and have been buying the game, providing feedback and promoting the game for quite a few years.
Five years ago EA began a new program called EA Game Changers. The EA Game Changers Program was built to get input and help from the community, but a quick look at the roster of community members that make up this position shows you a heavy lean towards twitch streamers and competitive players.
A counter argument often seen when the angered CFM community becomes vocal is that “CFM is very deep already. It doesn’t need to be touched.” That strikes a cord with most CFM-focused players, including Cave, a long-time member of CFM leagues.
“EA has more than enough resources to improve CFM & cater to the MUT. The [CFM] community’s biggest issue is it’s all or nothing with Madden. It’s MUT, Draft Champions etc or bust. What about the kid that wants to know & understand football? What about the plus 30 crowd that just want to play a legit NFL franchise experience with a bunch of guys across the world?
Our money matters as much as anyone as we was the backbone that stood in line for hours for Madden. Now, it’s all about MUT & who can open the best packs. I fear for my next generation of franchise players.
I say that’s complete BS. NFL has RFA, tenders, backloaded & frontloaded contracts. The said part is all these things was in past games. The games me, you, & the “sim” crowd enjoyed playing. CFM is nothing more than a complete exhibition mode with free agency & a draft.”
The common thread you’ll find in the CFM community’s hostility is the fact they feel their money should matter as much as those who play other game modes, but feel that hasn’t been the case and that is hard to argue. One could not fault EA for focusing on a game mode that should eclipse $1 billion this year, and only seems to be continuing to grow in popularity. The key for them may be to keep their older core happy by investing more time into alternative game modes such as CFM.
However, their current Creative Director Rex Dickson may not be the right person to lead that pursuit. Dickson seems to enjoy engaging in Twitter battles with disenfranchised members of the CFM community instead of listening to their concerns and assuaging their fears.
Dickson seems to bask in the adulation he receives from the Ultimate Team and Competitive communities, while using the CFM community as an excuse for issues, and insulting them for likes and retweets.
At the end of it all, EA has continued to make more and more money while their former bread-and-butter core has become increasingly frustrated with the direction of the game, and the game mode they enjoy most. CFM players tend to agree at some point there is a breaking point where they will no longer support the product, and they fear that the game will continue to become more focused on creating new avenues for microtransactions like Ultimate Team has been for them. However, that point differs for each of them. Some believe the only way to forceEA to continue to innovate in all game modes is a new competitor in the market. With the EA exclusivity contract with the NFL set to expire next season there is a chance in 2018 we could see another entrant into the market place, as there is an ever-growing desire for something different, perhaps a return of the 2K NFL franchise that pushed EA to pay the NFL for the exclusivity.
One thing is for sure, not everyone will be happy, but in what looks to be an increasing money grab by EA, many of its most fervent past supporters have been left with a foul taste in their mouth.