The Surprise Onside Kick Debate

Posted October 18th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Ever since a surprise onside kick was used in the Super Bowl and its success cited as a big reason why the Saints were able to beat the Colts its absence in Madden has been notable. This has come up once again as there have been three attempts at surprise onside kicks in the last two weeks of NFL games.

There seems to be an argument against the implementation of surprise onside kicks in Madden and it sounds an awful lot like what was said about the Wildcat before it was finally added. There is concern that it would be exploited. However it is the job of the design team to present a proper risk-reward to any coaching decision.

I even have suggested that a decent compromise would be limiting surprise onside kicks to just the opening kickoff of each half or one per game. It really shouldn’t come to that though. There is a reason why gamers don’t run regular onside kicks, or fake punts, or other trick plays consistently and this is because the risk outweighs the reward in most situations.

The same would apply to surprise onside kicks. The difficulty resides in applying the element of surprise as the game really isn’t designed for users to take advantage of an opponent being caught off guard.

Last night I had a back and forth with Madden creative director Ian Cummings on Twitter with a few others chiming in as well. This is pretty interesting even if you don’t care one way or other about the issue at hand as it provides some insight into the decision making process. Continue on to check it out and leave any thoughts on the idea of a surprise onside kick being added to Madden in the comments.

Pastapadre: And yet another surprise onside kick. #missingfrommadden

Ian_Cummings: you’d rather have in essence a “cheese” play than fundamental gameplay improvements? I’m not a fan.

Pastapadre: why call it a “cheese play”? It carries risk. “Cheese” to me is exploiting a flaw. Not replicating real life NFL

Pastapadre: risk-reward tactic employed by NFL coaches to shift momentum. Only is done relatively rarely because of field position risk.

Ian_Cummings: because everyone will run it non-stop and there will be all kinds of backlash about fixing it. It’s not core to sim gameplay.

Ian_Cummings: NFL ratio is now what…1 out of 5000 kicks is surprise onside? How many do you think will be called in Madden?

Pastapadre: Why don’t people run onside kicks non-stop then?

Ian_Cummings: big difference…your opponent knows it is coming, and even if not, he can audible. This is a free hidden shot at an extra poss.

Pastapadre:  then you’re saying outlaw fake punts too? Just like surprise onsides they are high risk and only done selectively for a reason

Ian_Cummings: I’d rather focus on the core issues than adding a play that will just add trouble.

Ian_Cummings: I’d love to add everything, but we need to pick highest priorities (that also hopefully don’t cause griefing)

Ian_Cummings: obvious you aren’t going to budge on this. But those EXIST. This would have to be BUILT. Not worth it with other priorities.

Pastapadre: try not to feature a play unavailable in Madden on the intro video in the future then at least

Pastapadre: appreciate the dialogue regardless, I just don’t agree with the thinking on this.

Ian_Cummings: name something that drives you crazy about Madden AI or animation from 11, or for years…and we’ll prioritize together

Ian_Cummings: no doubt it will eventually get in…hell maybe in 12…but it’s not at the top for me due to prev-mentioned issues

Pastapadre: My #1 might be effective play action. Quicker/signature QB PA animations.

Ian_Cummings: good one…need to use rating better also. So which would you rather get- Effective PA (used >10x per game), or surprise onside?

Ian_Cummings: both require new CPU AI, new animations & mocap, and playbook support…very similar in dev cost.

Pastapadre: The answer is obvious, I dont debate that. Just consider things like SOK is somewhat symbolic for missing things in the game.

Note: Regardless where you stand on this issue and Madden in general the open dialogue is great and can really benefit the game going forward. Keeping ideas flowing and understanding the process can potentially lead to a better game. Thanks to Ian for being willing to discuss things even when opinions on the subject may clash.