Madden NFL 12 Online Impressions

Posted September 1st, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Though only a few days in Madden NFL 12 has delivered one of the better online experiences to date for a sports game. Typically this series, and many others, struggle with performance issues at and shortly following release but that has largely been avoided here. There is one problem being experienced by a small percentage of consumers but beyond that online has been nothing short of excellent and it is refreshing to say that after years of disappointment. 

Looking back on Madden 11’s online play that faced problems that had less to do with performance and more to do with design decisions. This time around both areas have been solidified showing more foresight than in the past and a dedication to a positive experience that has been distinctly lacking until now.

Astonishingly on release day online games were played with virtually no lag or disconnects. There can be a level of sluggishness at times but that has been rare and easily adjusted to, while other games have felt so good they practically could have passed for being played offline. That is something that could not have been said about any of the previous EA Sports football titles.

One area that troubled online last year was the kick meter and how lag adversely affected its responsiveness. An ingenious solution has been implemented in Madden 12 where the kick meter snaps back a tad after pressing the button. The responsiveness has been quite good but even then the slight adjustment made has resulted in much more accurate kicking. Field goals missed have been due to the fault of the user and not because of any lag.

All of my online games so far have been immensely enjoyable and in many cases incredibly dramatic. The offensive/defensive balance, pacing, and reward for playing smart football is just about as ideal as can be. It’s the most fun I’ve had with Madden online since 04.

Ranked Games
The settings are six minute quarters on All-Pro difficulty. The home team has the ability to set the game time (can even make it a night game), stadium, and weather. Ranked challenges can also be made from lobby rooms however no skill points are being awarded or subtracted for those games. It’s unclear whether that is a bug or if that was done by design – to keep skill points limited to only those games played against randoms through Quick Match. Remember last year they initially blocked the ability to make ranked challenges completely so it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to just not factor those games into the rankings.

Skill points will show following the end of the game along with the number of ‘coins’ earned. It’s nice to be able to see exactly what came out of each game as it is completed. There is an issue currently though with “consecutive games played” subtracting a large number of coins from the total after the first few games.

No matter when someone quits a win or loss will be recorded – and that is the right way to handle the situation. The proposed solution to preventing an exploitation of that is by deteriorating the value of each win against the same user over a 10 game frame. It’s difficult to determine whether that is working properly or not but the concept is sound.

Depth chart changes thankfully are reflected for all of the online games however any other type of change to the rosters will make it necessary to re-download them at the team select screen.

Online Communities
This has been introduced as the big online feature for Madden 12 and it will be valuable to some and likely ignored by others. For large communities such as ours it creates an environment where every game isn’t going to be a complete crap shoot of an experience – and competition through the leaderboards and stats can be recognized. Of course there are never going to be any guarantees about an opponent but it does at least improve the chances of finding a good game and with settings that may be more welcoming than the standard ranked game.

Within the community there is an online lobby for the Online Team Play but none for the regular games and that should be something considered as an addition. Competition with OTP is against other communities but there is no ability to challenge and instead it is random who gets matched up. OTP is structured the same way as last year with three vs three being the max.

Though the large communities will see the most widespread activity small ones could also be formed with just friends or really anyone who wants to track their record and stats without playing the standard ranked games. There is a limit of five communities that any one person can be a member of at any given time.

Will the communities matter in a month or two? That is tough to predict – even with them seemingly being received well early. There will likely need to be some level of leadership within the communities to drive interest or users will linger back to the regular ranked setting where they are sure to find games to play 24/7.

Custom Playbooks
Custom Playbooks can be used in standard ranked and unranked games. Despite EA’s statements they are not an option in Online Communities or Online Franchise. Leaving them out of Communities is especially baffling as those were designed to present as many options as possible and suit the needs of those looking for options. Spending all that time with the playbooks and not being able to use them in the community environment is a pretty big letdown.

Roster Updates
Two updates have already been released, with the latest bringing most rosters up-to-date. Final cuts come this weekend and the next update is expected late next week to coincide with the regular season kicking off. They are downloaded from the online section as they are somewhat hidden away there. Unfortunately Xbox Live Gold is required in order to access the roster updates on the 360.

Problem at Checking Rosters Stage
A number of users are reporting the inability to start any online games. Once connected into the team select screen the “Checking Online Roster” message comes up – and after a minute or so the user is disconnected from the EA server before reaching anything further. EA has been made aware of the problem and are investigating but as of publish time no solution had been determined – I will be following up on this.

On Wednesday night there was also a problem with the EA server where connecting into a game would lead to a “connection lost to peer” message, promptly being booted out and made to re-connect before getting a message that there was a high volume of traffic and that the request could not be processed at that time. It was probably not related to server load however as the number online was shown as being less than the night prior. That is the only hiccup I have personally experienced thus far.

•The wait for “Checking Online Roster” and “Checking Online Tuning Data” at the beginning of every connection into the team select screen is lengthy and somewhat discouraging.
•Had one console freeze when trying to view a highlight after completion of a game. Also not every play saves as several get the dreaded “no replay available” message, though this is a problem in all games and not just online.
•The streaming videos in the online area still pause to buffer every couple seconds. This has been going on for years.
•Not aware of anything being exploited online though a few reports of HB tosses and deep passes (with low trajectory especially) have been mentioned as potential crutches for the offense to take advantage of. I really haven’t spotted anything frustrating yet.
•I’d be remiss not to mention Online Franchise being neglected completely. It is definitely a disappointment considering how compelling the new features are offline in Franchise mode. At this point though expectations have been well set and wishing for something more there doesn’t mean ignoring what has been done well otherwise with online.

Online play for Madden NFL 12 has not just been a pleasant surprise but has provided a level of enjoyment well beyond expectations. Online performance has been excellent and the Online Communities have a lot of potential for those who are able to take advantage of what they offer. Once the “checking online roster” problem is solved for those being hindered by it the online experience will become arguably the best ever to have come out of the EA Sports Tiburon studio.