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Madden 21’s last round of Franchise fixes rebalances trade logic

Studio calls changes ‘a foundational piece for our tuning in the future’

a running back, No. 44, struggles to regain his balance after avoiding a tackle attempt Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts via Polygon
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 will launch, on March 4, the last of three rounds of updates promised for the game’s Franchise mode. Although very granular and technical in the areas they address and improve, the updates still answer long-running demands from Franchise lifers who felt the latest game did little to improve the core mode.

Central to the changes on deck is a reworking of the game’s player-trading logic, and the overall player valuation that behavior rests on. The changes EA Tiburon’s designers described in a blog post on Wednesday are meant to make trades for superstars “closer to what we’ve seen [in real life] based on changing perceptions of ‘realistic’ trades over the years.”

This means fixing inconsistencies and issues where highly rated players were inexplicably less valued by CPU teams. For example, a talented player who wasn’t a starter on his old team, but would be a starter on the one being offered, was viewed as a backup-level value by the old trade logic. It should work in reverse, too. Middling-rated players could sometimes get one-for-one trade value with stars simply because both were at the top of their respective teams’ depth charts. Now the CPU will either expect more in the trade, or simply refuse such offers.

In other cases, players whose archetype didn’t fit with the playbook scheme of their current team (a power running back, for example, in a system built for receiving backs) would be undervalued when placed on the trading block, too. Both of these incongruities are resolved with the patch, EA Tiburon said.

The trade logic overhaul will also address assets whose trade value is somewhat unique to professional American football: draft picks. Madden’s franchise mode has had the means of trading upcoming draft picks since Madden NFL 13 in 2012. EA Tiburon says it has “completely realigned the base value of Draft picks to work with new Player Value changes.” Moreover, “teams will have more nuanced perspectives of valuing players and draft picks from their own and opponents.”

A note from developers expanded on this concept with an example: A star player might objectively be worth a first-round draft pick in a one-for-one trade. But the fact he is an older star who could conceivably retire soon lowers the return value to a second-round pick, because the team who gets the star won’t have him for long.

The other major change is a quality-of-life feature that Madden lifers have long requested: A record of all award winners, Super Bowl participants, champions, and other data, over the multi-year lifespan of a Franchise playthrough. In Maddens to date, players’ career total statistics were kept, but not broken out by individual year. And, unless someone was writing it down in a three-ring binder, the outcomes of the alternate reality that users had created were lost as soon as they began a new season.

Madden NFL 21 launched in August on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One, and was so underwhelming on that generation of hardware as to earn the lowest review scores in series history. On the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, though, stronger visuals and more authentic player movement and gameplay (particularly in the running game) gave the game a modest lift. It was still bought and played in record-breaking numbers.

But longtime fans still resented the lack of attention to Franchise mode, whose most recent significant upgrade came in 2016. Tweeting under the hashtag #FixFranchise after Madden NFL 21’s launch caught the attention of EA Tiburon developers, who promised the three rounds of Franchise updates culminating in Thursday’s patch.

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