Madden 23’s ‘Face of the Franchise’ Tries to Solve Two Big Problems With One Small Change

The polite way to describe Face of the Franchise’s biggest problem is that Madden NFL players just wanted to get to the NFL faster in the game’s single player mode. The blunt way of putting it is that for the past three years, they’ve been forced to play a slow preamble littered with story cliches, laughable dialogue, and barely deserved progress.

“There was a lot of feedback about the prologue, or Road to the Draft, whatever you want to call it,” gameplay producer Clint Oldenburg recalled during an interview at EA Tiburon’s new studio in Orlando, Florida. “It was like, ‘I want to play in the NFL; take me there.’ […] And this is a big headline: ‘The story feels aimless and meaningless and lacking context’, something like that. That was in one of the reviews.”

Whether that’s two problems or the same thing with different names, EA Tiburon will try to solve it by starting Madden NFL 23‘s Face of the Franchise mode, The League, in the fifth season of the created player’s career. No more college, no more drafts, no more fumbling through half a dozen games stuck on Madden’s easiest difficulty only to be picked up by the horrific New York Jets or Jacksonville Jaguars.

Face of the Franchise players start after the end of their rookie contract, as a free agent who can sign with any team they choose. By my calculations, this is the first single-player career mode in a sports title where a created player starts out as something other than a rookie.

“This is the first year of re-prioritising what’s important in that mode,” Oldenburg said. In the three years since Face of the Franchise has picked up from two chapters of a true narrative mode – Madden NFL 18‘s and 19‘s Longshot — the developers had given top priority to the story, Oldenburg said. That’s a somewhat humiliating admission, given the stories I’ve read from Maddens 20 by means of 22

“The most important thing this year is the gameplay and the progression at the core,” said Oldenburg. “We have taken a more modular approach this year; you’ll see far fewer longer, drawn-out scenarios that lack any context in what you’ve been doing in your career. What we’re going to do is get you into the weekly loop of preparing for your game, playing your game, getting your feedback and rewards from the game.”

Any cinematic content will follow the performance, and by modular Oldenburg means those scenes will react to developments in the player’s career, rather than dictate them. “So, sure, the cinematic content you and I see on our travels will be the same, but when you see it, and when I see it, it will be at different times,” he explained.

To be sure, many fans are conditioned to see a fifth-year player as a star or a bust, not one who has a lot of room for growth (the whole point of this career mode, of course) but still gets the choice of his teams in free agency. “The story we’re trying to tell is if you remember Matt Flynn [a quarterback from 2008-15] or Michael Turner [a running back, 2004-12]guys who didn’t have a great chance to play under their rookie contract, but when they played they played really well,” said Oldenburg.

Receiver vs. cornerback interactions will be spotlighted in the upcoming gameplay changes Madden 23and designers hope Face of the Franchise will show them too.
Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

“So now that you’re a free agent there’s a lot of buzz about your potential, but you never really got the chance,” said Oldenburg. Created players get a new position chance, cornerback, in addition to the returning options of linebacker, wide receiver, running back and quarterback. They get a one-year contract with their favorite team, which means they have to pay attention to the depth chart and the offensive or defensive schedule of their choice. A New York Giants fan looking to make a running back might think twice about challenging Saquon Barkley unless they think they will develop to the point where management will give them a new five-year deal and competition will be abandoned or traded.

In this way, that one-year contract functions as a free agent like the prologue did in previous years; it just takes place in the NFL and skips the nonsensical storylines and cameos the university offered. If the player moves to a different team than their favorite because it offers more playing time and better development, they will have the opportunity to sign a longer term contract, as a much better player, after just one year of seasoning.

This pushes the player in a direction that Madden’s designers have been selling in recent years: an avatar that can be worn across multiple game modes and positions, arrange their attributes class by class, and get additional gear to replenish them. In Face of the Franchise, Oldenburg hopes the replay experience will come by bringing that avatar to an overall ranking of 99 in one position and then starting that mode in a new position. While careers of 12 or more seasons are still possible in Face of the Franchise, players should be able to reach 99 after five seasons of progression, he said.

And that will be supported by Madden’s “99 Club” – which the game’s marketers have touted when a real-life superstar reaches that number – also for created players. In this case, reaching the overall rating milestones will unlock perks, cosmetics, and gameplay abilities for their character.

Oldenburg also hopes that Face of the Franchise: The League can become a showcase for many of Madden 23‘s gameplay changes. “These gameplay mechanics were built with Face of the Franchise in mind,” said Oldenburg. “Face of the Franchise: The League is now a true player-lock mode; we’ve removed full team control as an option.”

While the quarterback’s new passing system and ballcarrier’s new 360 cuts will likely be featured on most displays, Oldenburg pointed out other gameplay nuances to give life to positions that don’t see the ball as often. For example, wide receivers can hold both left and right triggers and combine that with right stick movements to get more fakes, stutters and cuts-to-full-speed when executing their off-line routes. Cornerbacks will benefit from a new press defense mechanism, which Oldenburg compared to defending on the ball in a basketball video game.

“We’ve had these before in our game, but it was more like paper rock scissors where you would pick a side, either side of the ball, and watch the interaction play out based on who picked the wrong side or the right side,” said Oldenburg. “These are more branching and reactionary mechanics where you can see your opponent’s movement, which way [the play] goes, and you can branch out in a small window of time to take that direction away.” Players press the A/X button while making their press coverage of the snap, then send the left stick to the side of the field they want to decline.

Overall, Face of the Franchise: The League sounds like a stronger dedication to the things that make a single-player sports career distinctive and fun, and one that removes components that pushed me toward a standard franchise run. Oldenburg noted that designers paid attention to the fact that many Madden streamers and content creators are still broadcasting their Face of the Franchise careers, and the developers want to give them something that is as fun to watch as it is to play. .

The past three FOTFs were not at all; it seemed like they did everything they could to prevent me from continuing, and their core experience could be substantially reproduced elsewhere with just a few menu tweaks. In other words, EA Tiburon could have simply dropped this disappointing wrinkle in single-player careers after three years and sent everyone back to the created superstars of the 10-year Connected Franchise suite.

They didn’t. We’ll see if what they saved was worth saving when Madden NFL 23 launches August 19 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The game will also be available that same day for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One, but this mode (and other features) will not be available on those platforms.

[Disclosure: EA Sports invited Polygon and paid for its flight and accommodations at the one-day preview event at EA Tiburon’s studio.]

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