The Connected Careers mode that debuted in Madden NFL 13 last year was a watershed moment for the Madden NFL series, representing one of the franchise's biggest leaps in a single year. But it also highlighted a couple of the game's greatest failings: a clunky interface and poor or nonexistent tutorials. Madden's developers at EA Tiburon are attempting to deliver one major addition to Connected Careers in Madden NFL 25 this year, and they're doing a lot of work on its existing pieces, but they knew they had to tackle those two issues first.
"Due to the massive amount of stuff we had put in the game last year, we really didn't get a lot of time to sit down and add that extra level of polish that walks you through understanding why things are happening," said Josh Looman, lead designer on Connected Careers, in a phone interview with Polygon last week.
Looman and Madden 13's creative director, Mike Young, sat down after shipping the game to discuss a few problem areas, and menu navigation was one of the major ones. "I don't think either of us were really thrilled with some of the ways our [user interface] finished out," he said, explaining that they particularly disliked the catch-all "More..." menu into which the team stuffed many important options. This year, they're redesigning navigation in Connected Careers to make it easier, and more consistent with the rest of the game.
In game development, especially in the development of an annual franchise like Madden, there are always features that get left on the cutting room floor for time constraints or other reasons. Aside from the aforementioned interface problems in Madden 13 that Tiburon wasn't able to address, the studio was happy with what it shipped in Connected Careers — except for a missing piece.
"From our standpoint," said Loooman, "career mode was not complete until you had the third character in the mode, which, to us, was the owner of the team." Owner Mode debuted in 2003's Madden NFL 2004, Looman's first year working on the series, and was last seen in Madden NFL 08. The feature allowed users to run a franchise as more than just the individual making personnel choices; they were also charged with budgetary decisions like prices for concessions and parking. To signify the expansion of Connected Careers with Owner Mode, EA has rebranded it "Connected Franchise" in Madden 25.
According to Looman, Tiburon approached Owner Mode as a "complete reboot" compared to its last-generation appearance. That's not to say the mode is a radical departure from previous iterations; instead, it features a similar framework, but the main metric of success is money, and it's the centerpiece of the setup.
"Making money as an owner isn't just kind of a cosmetic thing; now it's really important," Looman explained, describing the mode's initial pitch as "an 'NFL Tycoon' game within Connected Career mode." The idea, he said, was to "focus on finances, but not just make it about changing a hot dog price from $6 to $7 and not really having that really carry any weight or be meaningful.
"Let's get the finances to the point where they drive a lot of your decisions as an owner in career mode."
You'll be able to play as the real-life owner of any of the 32 NFL teams, or create a new owner and take control of a club. Your ability to do just about anything as an owner is tied directly to your budget and how well you manage it, whether that's clearing the salary cap room for a big free-agent signing or upgrading elements of your stadium such as its parking lot or bathrooms. As in the old Owner Mode, you can move your team to a different city — without changing your name or logo if you don't want to — or simply build a new stadium in the same town.
Setting prices for concessions and merchandise, including jerseys for specific players, is still an important part of the mode. Your team's profitability is ultimately tied to its on-field performance: Madden 25 tracks the past five years of your club's success to determine its value, which "drives the amount of profit you make," said Looman. Making the playoffs will allow you to sell playoff merchandise, which "sells like crazy." You'll have a marketing department to help put butts in seats, and your answers to questions in press conferences will also affect fans' desire to attend games. Fans and the media will make their reactions public through avenues like the in-game Twitter feed.
These elements will be new to people who didn't play Owner Mode in Madden titles of yore, and Looman said the developers wanted to ensure that "in adding something big like Owner Mode, [they didn't] just kind of drop it in there and hope that people figure it out." To that end, they've drawn upon the Civilization games to implement advisers in each department, such as marketing and fan happiness, to explain what you're doing right and wrong and provide guidance on how you can improve.
Tiburon is also trying to do a better job of communicating information to users with features like the new league-wide transaction log and revamped trade screen, the Trade Center. You'll see key details like the teams' respective needs and cap room, and when teams reject your offers, they'll tell you why they weren't interested.
Madden 13 players told Tiburon that they felt progression for players and coaches was too slow. So while the studio still wants to make sure "you don't feel like you progress too quickly," it's accelerating the pace this year for Connected Franchise, according to Looman. The team is increasing the amount of experience points doled out in both practice and regular games, and reducing the XP payout for career milestone goals in favor of game or season goals. Those cumulative career goals will now contribute primarily to your character's legacy score, the measure of his career success.
"finances ... drive a lot of your decisions as an owner"
Coaches will have to hire scouts and trainers in Madden 25, and they'll make significant contributions to the team. Scouts offer XP discounts in their areas of specialization, while trainers affect how well players recover from injuries. If a player with a low recovery attribute is paired with a poor trainer, he might not return to his original ratings when his injury heals. For a touch more realism in scouting, you can import a draft class from NCAA Football 14. And Connected Franchise now supports full 32-team control offline, letting you and some local friends enjoy playing in a league together.
It's all interrelated — your personnel decisions determine your team's performance, which affects its finances, which figures into next year's personnel options, which starts the cycle again.
"Everything you do as an owner," explained Looman, "there's a reaction to it."