Thoughts on Madden 11’s Online Scouting

Posted June 8th, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Last week the online scouting feature was revealed for Madden 11. This was to be an compelling addition, something that could lead to more balance in online play and the ability to better implement and execute strategy. No team in sports goes into a game without having knowledge of their opponent so this is a natural extension of the sport to gaming. Then the disappointment set in when it was found that “coins” (used to buy scouting reports) will be for sales on the marketplace and the scouting would not apply to Online Franchise mode.

When it was discovered how GameFlow would work online my initial concern primarily regarded pacing. If one side chooses to use the GameFlow suggested plays they may end up waiting around for however long if their opponent decides to go into their full playbook for each play. It also applies the other direction with a speedy offensive selection leaving the defense to rush through a playbook faster than usual. That worry about pacing is magnified now considering that the opportunity to purchase scouting reports will be available before each play. I’m really not looking forward to waiting out play clocks as an opponent studies my tendencies. It would’ve worked better to be able to study the scouting reports before games and maybe just during timeouts.

EA Sports has stated that you will earn coins just through playing online games. However anyone who played Madden Ultimate Team will know how that is likely to turn out. With MUT you could go through the mode without spending money for coins but it would be practically impossible to build a team that would be nearly as talented (or fun to play with) as those which were built largely through purchasing coins for card packs, contract extensions, and limited edition cards. Forget taking one of those organically built teams online and having a chance to win. In fact some people even hit a wall where their teams had deteriorated to a point where they couldn’t continue without spending some real money. So while theoretically one could play MUT without spending money they were at a huge disadvantage and could not get near the same level of enjoyment out of the mode.

That same situation is likely to be the case here with the earning of coins from each online game played. People who spend money and load up on coins with have a huge advantage in each game. There really is no getting around that unless EA has decided to put a max on how many reports can be purchased in each game. That seems unlikely to happen considering they will want people to spend as many coins as possible so they will have the need to buy more of them. Obviously playing a single online game will not provide the number of coins needed to spend freely in the next one in the same manner as someone that bought coins for heavy use.

How does EA even get away with offering the opportunity for clear advantages in ranked games? We can’t even get different difficulty or quarter length settings in ranked games because Microsoft and Sony require a uniform set of options for ranked. Not that leaderboards are taken seriously by anyone but how legit could they be when those people spending money will have clear advantages?

One of the positives that could come from all this is that quitters don’t get any coins. Once a certain amount of time has been invested in a game that could make a person less likely to quit. They may decide it is best to stick it out and get the coins for completing a game. However one has to wonder if the experience of playing someone who really doesn’t want to be playing at that point will be a good thing or not.

The most puzzling decision in all this was excluding Online Franchise from the scouting and this statement did little to make any sense out of the decision.

“What ultimately drove this feature was the hard-core, competitive, head-to-head gamer who wanted the ability, just like NFL coaches, to have a tool to understand what their opponents are doing. And that’s why we’ve focused this feature on online head-to-head and not carried it over to online franchise, which we feel is a more social aspect of gaming.”

Saying that Online Franchise players are less hardcore than ranked players? Where does that idea come from? If anything online leagues and franchises that progress well contain some of the most hardcore players out there because of how much goes into making them successful. So in an Online Franchise environment where there is actually something on the line, and scouting would be a perfect fit, it is deemed unnecessary? Instead scouting is saved for random games? I just don’t understand the thinking behind that.

The real reason why it is being left out of Online Franchise could be money related. Given the potential for complaints about balance in franchises where certain owners spend on scouting and others then face being at disadvantage because of it. There may also be the thought that those users who play in a dedicated franchise are then less likely to play ranked games and spend their money buying credits there. Unfortunately the most simple answer may be that Online Franchise is not considered to be important and that certainly doesn’t bode well for the future of the mode.

A simple solution would seem to be to offer complete online scouting reports for the full league. Let the commish purchase access that would apply to the entire league for a couple bucks or pass over the option to have scouting included. Of course no one wants to pay for it and it really should just be included, but given the full experience of playing through an Online Franchise the cost would be justified especially if a few owners chipped in.

Essentially the concept behind online scouting is great and in theory there could be some significant benefits that come out of it assuming everything works as indicated. However how things will be balanced online between those who just play the games and those who purchase coins, and its exclusion from Online Franchise, have definitely dampened any excitement.