Monday, August 31, 2009

A Curious Reaction

I meant to write about this couple weeks ago, but the obsessive pursuit of Madden sliders slowed me down.

[begin tangent]
First off, and this is totally a tangent (like anyone is surprised), the average Metacritic review score for Madden 10 on the 360 is 86. The average for NCAA 10 is 83.

As a measure of the difference in the two games--based on the first hour--that might be accurate. The difference, though, is that NCAA, even after two patches, is fundamentally broken, and when I say "broken" I mean that parts of the core experience just don't work properly.

Madden, on the other hand, is fundamentally not broken. There are really three primary issues I'd like to see addressed in the patch:
1. Player's awareness of the sidelines.
2. The 2 minute A.I. when the team with the ball is ahead.
3. A bug that results in holding penalties being called far, far too frequently on field goal attempts.

I'm not saying that's all that doesn't work in the game right now, but the game plays extremely well with proper sliders. I can live with everything else.

NCAA is a broken franchise. An evaluation needs to be made to establish which parties are most responsible, and those parties need to be replaced. It's not any more complicated than that.
[end tangent]

There are 38 reviews of Madden 10 (360 version) on Metacritic, and for a while, the lowest review score was a 73 by Keith Schleicher of Gaming Trend. I know Keith, in an electronic sense, because he reads the blog. He mentioned his review when it went live, and I went over and took a look.

By this point, I already knew that, for my purposes, the game was outstanding. The sliders were more than flexible and powerful enough to fix almost anything, and the different speed settings (and relative speed slider) meant that I could actually watch guys run at real speed. Football geek heaven.

Keith didn't like the game nearly as much. Unlike many reviewers, though, he explained what he didn't like and why in detail. If you read his review, he specifically states up front that he played the game on the default settings and didn't change any sliders. He said he felt that after so many iterations, the game should play well right out of the box.

Well, that's an entirely fair comment. I don't need a sports game to do that--I need other things, like flexible sliders, much more--but many people who play Madden will never touch a single setting.

On the default settings, I think the game is boring as hell.

Like I said, Keith was very specific in his criticisms, and based on his review, he spent far more time playing the game than many of the other people who wrote reviews. He gave the game a score of 73, and even though Madden is a 95+ for my purposes, I would rate the game much lower on the default settings. So I'm in the strange position of both disagreeing and agreeing with Keith at the same time.

What I don't disagree with, though, is the specificity of the review. It wasn't half-ass, it clearly wasn't written by someone who didn't play the game, it wasn't a glorified preview, and it wasn't unfair, because he clearly outlined the conditions under which he did the review.

Unleash Internet shit storm.

Incredibly, instead of being angry about the review content, people were absolutely incensed about the score. Incensed.

EA was not happy about the score, understandably, and if you read this thread at Operation Sports, you can draw your own conclusions as to the degree to which Gaming Trend was pressured/not pressured to change the score.

What's not in dispute, though, is that the score was changed from 73 to 78, even though the text of the review seems to be intact. That's a separate issue (I think changing the score was a mistake).

What's most interesting to me about this incident, though, is that many of these annual franchises have, for whatever reason, themselves become sports teams for people. Their "team" is Madden, for example, or NCAA, and they'll give hell to anyone who criticizes their team.

They've become face painters for franchises.

I can understand identifying with a developer (I strongly identify with both Tarn Adams and Vic Davis, based on the products of their imagination), but the people who develop these annual sports franchises change on a regular basis. I loved NHL last year--thanks to my experience with Eli 8.0 in our Be-A-Pro career, it might be my favorite gaming memory ever--but that doesn't give the upcoming version a starting bonus of a single point.

I mean, Madden was absolute shit for YEARS. I murdered that game year after year in impressions because it just stank. But I still evaluate it every year from scratch.

I'm not rooting. I'm not dating. I'm just playing.

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