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The secret to Madden's player ratings, revealed at last

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

For years, I've bothered Donny Moore — the "Ratings Czar" for EA Sports' Madden NFL series — for a breakdown of how a player's all-important "Overall" rating was computed. It's position-specific. If you're creating a quarterback, giving him high marks in kicking accuracy doesn't mean anything, for example. But how important are a quarterback's running characteristics compared to, say, his ability to throw on the run?

Donny's never given me a straight answer, even though he is famous among his friends for his ability to instantly appraise and rate esoteric things — from Brett Favre's gunslingerability, to the quality of a rat-tail on a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. But I never got the kind of breakdown he just provided to FiveThirtyEight, in Neil Paine's engrossing profile of his work. (Full disclosure: Paine's story quoted me as well as Moore.)

Anyway, here at last is the Madden player's Rosetta Stone.

madden ratings rosetta stone

Why is this important? The ability for users to create players in Madden goes back nearly two decades. More importantly, recent editions of the game have featured a career suite in which users acquire experience points and use them to purchase improvements for their players, whether playing as a single superstar, or as a coach (or owner) controlling an entire team. While the game steers you toward upgrading things relevant to a player's position, there's never really been a definitive roadmap for optimizing their development.

That chart above shows you the contribution — by percentage — each attribute makes to a player's overall rating, by his position.

For example, say you're either creating a stud running back or trying to improve one. Does "trucking" (bowling over a defender) really matter more to his overall rating than acceleration (time needed to hit top speed, not the top speed itself)? For a wide receiver, should an attribute like "spectacular catch" be ranked up as soon as it's available, or should the experience points be banked for broader attributes like jumping? And on defense, where does "hit power" figure in to a defensive back's overall appraisal?

That chart above breaks it down. Those are percentages, showing how much each trait counts toward a player's overall mark, by position. If an attribute isn't listed, that attribute does not matter. That means that some qualities important to a running back, like strength, elusiveness and juke and spin moves, mean absolutely nothing to a quarterback's overall rating, even if he is one who has the talent to run as well as throw.

Some qualities that may seem important mean absolutely nothing to a quarterback's overall rating

Yes, if you're tossing created players into a custom roster, or throwing prospects into the draft pool (or recruiting class of NCAA Football 14), you can just give them 99s in everything and know they'll be best-in-show. But do you really need a linebacker with 99 mid-range throwing accuracy?

Another example: I would create two-way players in NCAA Football all the time — a fullback and middle linebacker, for example. The game would rate him at his primary position, and move him off the depth chart entirely for the second position, even if he had the attributes necessary to be a solid performer there. This chart — since NCAA Football shared a development team with Madden up to its cancellation in 2013 — lets a roster editor know which features matter most.

It's esoteric stuff to a non-sports fan, but for those who are deeply invested in Madden's career mode, it's very meaningful insight into what is worth upgrading with their hard-won XP.

Madden NFL 15's career suite, and the progression system in it, was harshly criticized last year despite the game's overall quality, and so some changes are expected when Madden NFL 16 arrives in August.

Still, this finally throws open Oz's curtain, and gives Madden players a full and objective picture of how to create and develop players.

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