Sports video games are one of the more controversial genres in the video game industry. With new versions being released every year, the companies that produce them are oftentimes criticized for releasing what is essentially the same game but with updated rosters.
However, most of their customers don’t care. If you’re a fan of 2K, The Show, FIFA, NHL or Madden, the roster update and surface changes are usually enough for you to spend $60 on a game every year. Usually, it’s enough.
But this year’s iteration of Madden takes the cake of laziness, greed and general disregard to their customers.
Let’s start with the major gameplay updates. The big update was a gameplay feature called Superstar X-Factor, which gave a special ability to 100 of the best players in the NFL. With it came a multitude of lower-level abilities that were applied to plenty of other players, and all of which improved how they played. Was it cool? Yes, but it feels like the minimum that they could do to update the game. Instead of making any major changes, they simply made the best players in the league play like the best – something they already should have been doing.
There were a couple of other changes that they made, like adding RPOs to playbooks and a new game mode centered around the new X-Factors, but overall the game is very similar to Madden 19.
But, like I said before, that’s usually fine. That’s not what the problem is with this game, because frankly, these gameplay updates are larger than ones they have made in the past. No, the problem is with their most popular mode, Madden Ultimate Team.
Madden Ultimate Team is a mode where you collect cards of players in the NFL to build your own custom NFL roster. These include players both past and present, and it grants you the most creativity and customization of any mode in the game. You could have Lamar Jackson at quarterback throwing to a combination of Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez and Deandre Hopkins while you’re going up against Lawrence Taylor, Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams on the other side of the ball. There are a countless number of combinations that can be made, allowing every player to put together their own, personalized football team. While the cards don’t start off at a very high overall, they gradually release better versions of them throughout the year.
These cards can be acquired in three distinct ways. The first of which is through challenges, which are offline games versus the computer where once you complete enough of them, you get a player. So far this season, they’ve released sets of challenges where once you complete them all, you can get players like Michael Thomas, Byron Jones, Baker Mayfield and Deacon Jones. Sure, it will take a couple of hours before you can add them to your team, but usually, the grind is worth it for a card that, at the time of its release, is one of the best in the game.
Then there’s the auction house, which allows players to sell the cards they have to other players in exchange for the in-game currency coins. It very much operates like a sort of stock market, with the prices of the cards being completely determined by how much the community values it. Once better cards are released, some cards start to get phased out and therefore become cheaper.
And the third is through packs, and this is the most egregious part about the game. Here, players can purchase packs with either coins or actual, real-life money for the CHANCE of getting a really good card. Boiled down, it’s essentially gambling, and it’s a system that the developer, Electronic Arts, has become famous for. In most of their games they offer an opportunity to spend real money in return for the chance at an in-game prize, while controlling the odds to make sure that very few people win.
It is widely accepted in the Madden community that buying packs with coins are almost never a good idea, because EA makes sure that the odds you actually get equal or greater value out of it are slim to none. That makes actual money the most popular way to purchase these packs, as their customers endlessly pour their hard-earned money into a game that has proven time and again to not care about their customers.
Well wait, how can you say they don’t care? Well, there’s one simple but very telling example. In the game, there is something called “limited time” cards, which are exactly what it sounds like. Essentially, EA will release a new card but the only way that it can be acquired is by opening packs, and the odds of it coming out of the packs are next to nill. Therefore, those that are pulled go for a premium on the auction house, much more than the average player can even come close to affording.
Last year in Madden, I opened well over 1,000 packs. How many of these did I pull? One. My friend, who probably opened around the same amount as me, got none. I will clarify that I just kept gambling coins, never real money, because I couldn’t stand to give them any more of my cash. I almost never won, but the few times I did kept me coming back for more. Sound familiar?
So what’s the big deal, it’s just a few cards that are hard to get, but that’s not the end of the world, right? Well, it’s plenty more than just a few cards. Name a big name star in the NFL, both past and present, and there’s a good chance that they got a limited time card. Aaron Donald? Limited. George Kittle? Limited. Christian McCaffery? Limited.
There are at this point probably over 100 limited-time cards that have come into the game, and they are almost always a big-name player. That means that players like Michael Vick, Deion Sanders, Randy Moss, Troy Polamalu, Travis Kelce, Ezekiel Elliott, Joe Thomas, Calvin Johnson and plenty of others are all essentially stuck behind a paywall. If you want these cards, EA makes sure that you’re gonna have to give them money so you can get them.
You had to have been expecting this though, right? Isn’t it the same every year? Not like this.
In previous years, you could essentially (it’s slightly more complicated but I’m not going to get into it) purchase the card with a different form of in-game currency. That way, if you weren’t fortunate enough to get a real version of it, you could still have that player on your team.
This year, that option is off the table. Instead, they decided to just release that card back into packs sometimes over a whole month later than it originally came into the game. Does it make it cheaper? Slightly, but as is the case with many of the cards, the odds the new versions are pulled from packs are still very small. By the time their values are low enough for average players to be able to afford them, it’s for a reason. By that time, they are no longer nearly as good as they were when they were released, having being overtaken by newer, higher rated cards.
This epitomizes their pay to win model. Want the good players? You better be willing to pay, otherwise, you can have them when they’re no longer good.
Michael Vick was released almost three months ago, except he was behind a paywall. I only just could afford to add him to my team three days ago. Why? Well, EA released a new promo, one that in previous years you could participate in if you had coins and played enough, but this year was strictly real money based. It flooded the market with new Vick cards, finally driving his price down to one the average player could afford. Three whole months after those who were willing to pay for him were able to use him in competitive play.
Only those willing to spend hundreds of dollars can afford to compete, and sometimes, that’s not even enough. This year’s edition is unabashedly a straight-up cash grab. They’re not even trying to hide it.
Then just go play another football game you say? Can’t. They’ve monopolized the market. You want football? It has to be Madden. You want to compete? EA is going to need an arm and a leg before they decide to even give you a chance.