Madden NFL 11 Online Impressions

Posted August 12th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

After a few days with Madden 11 online I’ve put together some impressions covering general ranked/unranked games, the addition of scouting reports, Madden Ultimate Team, and Online Team Play. Overall the online performance seems to be up to par but some design decisions have hurt the overall experience.

Standard Online Games
The Madden 11 online games I’ve been involved in have been fun and run relatively lag free without experiencing any disconnects, though the games don’t feel quite as smooth as offline. The biggest issue comes with the kick meter which has a tendency to show the lag much more dramatically. I have missed extra points because of this yet in the same game been able to nail long field goals because the consistency isn’t there. From what I have read pretty much everyone is experiencing this…it isn’t just some sort of occasional issue related to particular connections.

There are really two hot topics when it comes to online play and changes that EA Sports made this year. The first is allowing anyone to quit as long as it is in the first half and not recording the outcome. So quitters can get out of a game without being penalized with a loss while the person quit on does not get the win or even the opportunity to play out against the CPU for the win.

Listening to Phil Frazier on the Kotaku podcast it became clear this was a design decision. He explained that now people don’t have to play the CPU when they get quit on. While I can understand that people go online to play other humans and not the CPU the solution here just makes the experience worse by penalizing those who are actually trying to play the game the right way or are simply outplaying their opponent.  On the other hand EA can’t just make it so a quit a few seconds in would equal a win for the other party because then there will be win boosters. However how legitimate are the rankings anyway when those in a precarious position can just get out of a potential loss by quitting???

Essentially no one will want to jump out to a lead in an online game for fear of being quit on. Hell I found myself getting nervous because I got an early score in my first online game and I almost fully expected my opponent just to quit. What ends up happening is a team that will be at a disadvantage going into the second half, or that falls behind early, may just decide it is better to bail than face a loss. That can often mean 20+ minutes completely wasted for both parties involved and is totally unfair to the person that got quit on.

The other thing being heavily discussed is the removal of the ability to play friends in Ranked games. Up until this year you could play friends by challenging them or from a lobby room. However now the only Ranked games are against randoms. The interesting thing is that the instruction manual explicitly states you can play friends in Ranked games, and there is even still the auto-message in the lobby rooms “who wants a ranked game?”.  But trying to challenge someone to a ranked game will bring up the following message:

So given that they programmed that message in it would seem explicit that they have completely removed the option of playing Ranked games against friends or those in lobbies. My guess is that this is a Microsoft and Sony rule though that wouldn’t explain why it has been possible until now and why the manual and lobby messages imply that it remains an option.

I had a concern going into Madden 11 that applied to GameFlow and the ability to go into the full playbook online. This has resulted in some really disjointed pacing when one side chooses to utilize it and the other doesn’t. Add into that when one side is using the scouting it can have the same effect. In one game I found myself just waiting around and it became increasingly frustrating….worse than previously where some of my time would be spent in my own playbook. I do like the ability to take my GamePlan online and hopefully that is what most people will do if they don’t like using default GameFlow rather than digging through playbooks.

Scores in online games are trending high, with many people complaining that defense is completely lacking. I personally don’t feel that way, though there is certainly a lean towards offense having the edge particularly online. I wonder what could be causing that and think it could be that “normal” speed is used when offline default is “slow” and that the slight lag presents more problems for controlling a defensive player than the ball carrier.

In one online game last night I lost 30-24, I came away with 55 coins while the winner earned 70. Wow, for the winner, that is only 43 more games to go at that pace until he earns enough to buy 20 scouting reports (3000 coins = $1). Basically you won’t be earning enough coins from games and will have to turn to spending money when it comes to scouting reports, Madden Moments Live, or Madden Ultimate Team. In fact I’ve heard of games being completed where the user LOST coins which is just adding insult to injury.

Random Observations

  • Ranked games are seven minute quarters on All-Pro and “normal” speed. Those are good settings though I prefer “slow” speed.
  • The road team can pump up the crowd and not the home team. (Strange).
  • Have not seen any weather or night games in Ranked. Selectable in Unranked.
  • Why does EA continue to stream videos in the online area when they have to stop every few seconds to buffer? Annoying.
  • Great that after online games you can sort through every play and save highlights.
  • Fight for the Fumble is turned off online. Which to me is a positive.
  • Offline settings such as depth chart changes and presentation (coordinator turned off) carry over.
  • Replays/presentation are pretty much stripped out except for the “Doritos Crunch Time Play of the Game” at the end.

Scouting Reports
Everyone starts out with 50 reports. That could last a while, or go very fast, depending on how they are spent. 25 reports will scout the entire game or they can be used on a play by play basis. One report can be opened, which leads to a second, and then a third. So multiple reports can end up being spent on a single upcoming play. In terms of dollar value scouting a single full game equates to $1.25.

So at the very least you have to appreciate that EA provided that so people could at least try it first. After going through a game using the scouting at several points though I have found it is of little value. The breakdowns are based on the situation at hand, such as down and distance, showing things such run vs pass and man vs blitz vs zone.

I found myself spending the multiple reports on some downs only to have the screen disappear before I could even fully read what was being presented. That was really disappointing considering I had “purchased” them. Add to that there is little time even otherwise to evaluate what has been given and put that to use. You can read what is on the screen but by that time a play has quite possibly already been called and you’re on the field with next to no time to react.

Over time it would seem that the scouting reports will gain value as more data is poured in and a clearer picture presented. However what I found in that game, despite it not being either of our first games, is that the data appeared to be based just on that single game. I have been told this is not the case, but it goes to show how little what I was seeing really ended up meaning.

Madden Ultimate Team
I’m not going to pay money to build up a team that is able to compete against the CPU or especially against online opponents. It appears more so than even last year spending actual money is necessary do well here and have fun with the mode. Remember that 20,000 coins you would get from pre-ordering at Gamestop? Not even enough to buy a single Platinum Pack of cards. 20,000 coins by the way roughly translates to $6.66. Turns out that wasn’t a great pre-order bonus compared to some other retail outlets.

I actually have tried at multiple times to get into MUT but gotten the message below. Who knew that a game mode, that primarily operates offline, could be too full?

Again though you can’t play friends in MUT which is probably meant to prevent coin boosters at the expense of those who would simply enjoy playing friends. That though hasn’t seemed to solve what now is the biggest issue with MUT. People can quit, even with seconds remaining, with no penalty and without the person that got quit on getting the coins they would have earned.

Talk about a waste of time that would be, to spend nearly an hour playing a game and come away with nothing to show for it. In response EA is now threatening to ban quitters. To me that is an odd way to deal with a problem that is EA’s responsibility to rectify.

Online Team Play
There is no doubt this is a fun mode. It adds a totally different feeling of achievement by working as a team and a different feeling of pressure knowing others are relying on you. However what holds it back is there is really no long term hook. Stats and records for individuals aren’t kept and there is no MMO angle that drives OTP (EASHL) in NHL. Essentially these are just one-off games with nothing at stake. They tried to add a bit with the individual accomplishments tying into boosts but it really isn’t enough.

While the camera angles seem to work well enough what I would like to see in the future is a way to bring the drama in. As the QB throwing a long TD pass can be a guessing game of “did he catch it?” and then just standing around with no celebration or further involvement. Don’t even get to see what happened in a replay!

Unlike the standard online games there doesn’t appear to be a way to turn off visual indicators such as the coordinator text. This becomes a problem primarily for those controlling the RB. The text box covers up the player and makes it incredibly difficult to discern the assignment.

The “Captain” gets to do all the play-calling, audibles, and such. Which is great for that person but it leaves everyone else feeling somewhat uninvolved. If GameFlow is used and things move at a brisk pace that isn’t a big deal. However I played one OTP game where there was about 15-2o seconds of waiting in between plays and that was a big killer to the experience.

Boosts are a concern for OTP. While you can earn them by achieving certain statistical game milestones (for lifetime) they can also be bought (for limited terms). My understanding was the boosts wouldn’t end up being a big deal but IGN has gone as far as to say it completely ruins the experience when players are involved and boosted. I’ve yet to see it in action though so I can’t speak on it either way. It aslo appears that no coins are distributed by playing OTP games.

Hopefully the decision to allow quits in the first half will be reevaluated and if possible the ability to play ranked games against specific people will return. OTP has potential but needs a more compelling reason for gamers to go back to it. Solid performance (outside of the kick meter) have laid a good online foundation but the outside factors such as quitting and coin distribution/DLC have understandably overshadowed it in early evaluation.