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Madden NFL 21 to get fixes in Franchise mode — in November

EA Sports developers plot out the first improvements coming to a much-criticized mode

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray extending the ball forward as he dives toward the goal line in Madden NFL 21 Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Madden NFL 21’s developers have announced the game’s Franchise mode — whose lack of improvement has infuriated players — will receive three significant updates. The first won’t arrive until November.

Players have been tweeting under a #FixFranchise hashtag since Madden’s Aug. 28 launch. Many complaints echo the familiar inflammatory accusation that Madden is yet again a copy-paste job of the previous year.

But the grousing does have some merit. Franchise last received a significant upgrade in 2016. Since introducing team owners to Franchise’s playable roles at the beginning of this console generation, the mode has usually received incremental improvements.

The first update to Madden NFL 21’s Franchise will address four community requests, developers wrote in a blog posted Thursday afternoon. The first is the ability to customize the X-Factor or Superstar Abilities of players inside online or offline Franchise modes. Once a player in the league has met the proper progression threshold to unlock an X-Factor ability, league commissioners will be able to edit that (and the Superstar Abilities) by selecting one available to that player’s position group.

EA Tiburon developers will also try to balance out the number of Superstar and X-Factor players that develop over a multi-year Franchise. This will be accomplished by tuning the player development traits and their regression over a long-term career.

Finally, players will get two UI changes they’ve asked for. Individual statistics reports and player cards will will be revamped to provide more context in season stats. For years, it’s been a lump aggregation without much flavor or context. Postseasons in Franchise will also be served by a playoff bracket, helping players visualize the NFL’s new Wild Card format.

Players will not have to restart Franchises in progress in order to see the improvements and changes, EA Sports said.

EA Sports said this package of updates is due for a mid-November launch. It will be followed by two more post-launch updates to Franchise. These were first discussed in an Aug. 3 blog — well before the latest iteration of the game even launched — where Tiburon developers laid out long term commitments to Franchise through Madden NFL 22 next year.

Those will include refinements to Franchise’s trading logic, to keep it from being abused by players or distorted by the AI; better AI personnel management; and improved and refreshed postseason presentation. Players have been banging on Tiburon’s door for these kinds of changes for years.

Many players took the Aug. 3 blog a sign that Franchise wouldn’t be getting much attention in the Madden NFL 21 available at launch. Now that we’re on the other side of it, it appears they were right. In drawing the lowest review scores (per Metacritic) in the series’ 32-year history, Madden NFL 21 has been sharply criticized for giving little attention to Franchise, a staple mode that has changed only incrementally from Madden NFL 15 onward.

Madden NFL 21 on the PlayStation 4 has an aggregated 63 rating on Metacritic. On the Xbox One, it’s 69, and on PC, it’s 60. User scores are a lot worse. Polygon’s review praises the gameplay’s enjoyability and refinement, but that cannot overcome the lack of attention given to Franchise — aside from a cliché-strewn narrative for the single-player career. Madden NFL 21’s de facto centerpiece mode is instead The Yard, which is a variant of backyard football featuring trick plays and lots of cosmetic customizations for the players.