Response to NCAA Football 13 Should Act as Wake-Up Call for EA Sports

Posted July 18th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Those disappointed with NCAA Football 13 should take solace in the fact that even the usually forgiving major media sites have turned on the product this year. NCAA 13 is the lowest the series has come in since Metacritic has been tracking it with a current score of just 76 and just the second time an entry has come in under 80. This is something that EA Sports has no choice but to respond to. 

Reviewers are often a year behind in their assessments. Most don’t know what they’re looking for and instead base their general reception of a sports game on how the prior version was received. A great example of that was with Madden NFL 12 which got hammered almost to the extent that NCAA Football 13 has. The problem there was Madden 12 was a very good game yet was being penalized for Madden 11 or even just the general sentiment towards the series which has failed to live up to its potential and expectations. Yet those same reviewers praised Madden 11 which was the one that should have been met harshly.

Now take a look at what EA has done for Madden NFL 13 and you’ll see that low review scores actually do get them to act. Innovations in the way of “Connected Careers” and “Infinity Engine” physics are on the way. These aren’t easily marketed features but they’re intensely valuable. Compare that to “Heisman Challenge” in NCAA 13 which was solely about marketability.

Metacritic matters not just in sales correlation but also for developers who end up having their bonuses based on meeting score thresholds. The whole reliance on Metacritic creates a completely flawed environment but that is the world we live in right now. Companies will often craft games – specific features or levels of accessibility – to appeal to reviewers. EA likely expected “Heisman Challenge” would be a well-received feature for the more casual crowd (and reviewers) but clearly the deficiencies and lack of advancement elsewhere were too great to overlook.

Now EA will face reviewers were not afraid to rate NCAA 13 rather poorly and therefore will be looking for significant improvements and additions. They are well aware of this. Consumers also start to turn away from a sports series after consecutive disappointing efforts. So like Madden 13 it should be expected that NCAA 14 will tilt more creative an innovative. If that effort isn’t there then it could be a sign that the company doesn’t have a healthy long-term outlook for the series which is inherently at a disadvantage due to amateur restrictions that have severely hampered potential for growth in particular for digital revenue.