Madden NFL 22’s latest patch is a big one. In fact, it’s hard to remember the last time a post-release title update added an all-new gameplay loop, to the staple Franchise mode, that is this detailed.
But will the Scouting update, available now on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions of Madden, at last satisfy the series’ restive base, one year after the #FixFranchise social media revolt snapped EA Tiburon to attention?
“We don’t expect — your words, not mine — that they would ever be ‘off our back,’” senior producer Mike Mahar told Polygon last week. “We think it’s absolutely fair that that community, who is absolutely core to the success and the popularity of the game, we expect them to be equally demanding.”
Perhaps, but Mahar and Franchise producer Tom Lischke still hope players will find plenty in Scouting to tide them over, and deepen the emergent narrative they build up over the multi-season mode. Scouting should, basically, make the NFL Draft a gameplay cycle throughout the whole season, similar to how Draft news is a yearlong story IRL.
How Scouting in Madden works
The Scouting update starts by extending the staff management tasks that Franchise introduced this year, with the hiring and firing of assistant coaches. In this case, players will be building up a staff of scouts — with national or regional expertise, and expertise at evaluating specific positions.
The better the scout, the more they’ll uncover about a player’s background and potential. Users assign scouts to their tasks in the first half of the season; at its midpoint, they can pick three prospects for focused workouts where they unlock a large portion of the player’s profile, to determine where (or whether) they should be picked. Obviously, a good scouting job is going to separate the chaff (or ignore players who will be taken before your pick) and build up to three prospects who are worth the attention.
Lischke said that Madden NFL 22’s draft class generators have undergone thousands of year-to-year simulations to assess their balance, their feel for realism, whether they generate players who are even interesting to scout. I asked, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but somewhat seriously, whether the fictitious name generator is the same as in previous Maddens, where world-class GOAT names like “Wolverine Justice” and “Hadrian Bellweather” became fan-favorite characters in their own right. It sounds like the game is still drawing from that library of possibilities. (“I know there are some surprises that Andre [Weingarten, Franchise designer] hides in there,” Lischke said.)
A higher priority, Lischke said, was making Scouting’s investigative process feel more natural and less like players are just ticking off boxes and having information revealed piecemeal. “We want it to be this unifying thing,” Lischke said, meaning that the scouting tasks fit into the overall “story” created by the on-field action and other departments of the football club.
“Not just you, like, hammering on running backs in the draft, and getting exactly all the information,” Lischke said. “It’s kind of gradually unfolding the player information, and you can’t go get it all the information at once. We don’t even let you spend a ton of time with any individual thing.”
Players will have to be careful about how much attention they are showing to certain prospects, too, especially if they’re part of a multiplayer league and trying to steal a gem of a player further down in the NFL’s seven-round draft. “Draft stories” will be a part of news feed Madden NFL 22 generates about the season in progress. Lischke said players will read about developments affecting the more visible prospects, and teams showing interest will be one.
Madden NFL 22 will also try to mimic real life by generating draft classes that can be unusually deep at one position, or thin (or simply dominated by one standout athlete) at another. “Not all years are created equal,” Lischke said. “For an NFL team, there’s a [positional] need and then there’s the best available player, right? Walking that line goes off what you learn about the draft class. It’s one of those interesting things that the more casual Franchise gamer probably won’t differentiate.
“But it should still be fun,” Lischke elaborated. “They can make kind of that needs-based [pick], whereas the deeper or more experienced Franchise player will know there’s value in the best available [player] and [they] can take that and live with leaving some weaknesses and trying to shore them up later.”
Some players, no matter how much they may play Madden NFL 22 or any other sports video game’s franchise mode, simply don’t care for player management at this level. That’s fine. Lischke and EA Tiburon developers specifically called out “set-it-and-forget-it” options to serve those players who are turned off by spending a lot of time in menu.
For those who are committed to scouting, though, Lischke hopes that the gameplay loop of decision, inspection, and information unlock is intriguing enough to keep players involved, especially as it’s spread out over a year with other gameplay concerns going on, and not just held out for the off-season when users are also concerned with free-agency signings. Above all, Lischke wants Scouting to feel like a fundamental part of Franchise’s gameplay routine, and definitely not just another raft of data for players to sift in their notebooks offline.
“When the hashtag [#FixFranchise] happened last year, it’s like, OK, let’s be really honest with ourselves, and look at the state of Franchise, and lay out a roadmap of what we want to deliver to the fans,” Lischke said. “We did some quality-of-life stuff in [Madden NFL] 21. In 22, launch, we went to some core systems, and even some systems where we’ve heard a little feedback ‘Well, this is just a thing you had before.’
“But I think the way we’re doing it is different than the way it was done in the past,” Lischke argued. “So, what’s the core play loop? Let’s build on that and make sure that the things we build relate to that core play that you get in a[n in-game] week on out. You do your strategy, you play the game, you come out of it, you improve your staff. That’s the loop, over and over, and those chained weeks build to years.”