5 things you need to know about Madden 20 franchise mode

At long, long last, Madden 20 franchise mode is getting a complete overhaul. Once the most revered feature in all of sports gaming, the NFL series’ traditional long-player has been de-prioritised in recent times thanks to Ultimate Team – but this season developer EA Tiburon says we’ll experience an altogether different beast. College football is back, the Pro Bowl gets proper implementation, and a new scenario mode should see the match-match-match grind given a shoulder to the thorax. 

There’s work to do elsewhere now that Patrick Mahomes has been named the Madden 20 cover vote winner, but that’s a concern for another day. Below are the five things you need to know about the Madden 20 franchise mode ahead of its August 2 release date…

1. It’s the closest you’ll get to NCAA Football 2020

Madden 20 franchise mode ticks one fan-service box by re-introducing an element AWOL for the past half-decade: playable college football. A legal dispute regarding likenesses brought an end to Madden’s kid-brother series following NCAA 14, to the lament of fans who considered it the superior choice for console Gridiron. Here it makes a brief but welcome comeback.

The college element is exclusive to ‘Face of the Franchise’, in which you control a single player rather than a whole team. Here your first task is to pick the college you wish to play for, by selecting one of ten caps lined up on a table. Your choices are listed below. College play-off performances then determine where you’re selected in the draft. There’s no option to use real prospects – likeness disputes, remember – but you could always create yourself as Justin Herbert or Jalen Hurts to offset that.

  • Clemson Tigers
  • Florida Gators
  • Florida State Seminoles
  • LSU Tigers
  • Miami Hurricanes
  • Oklahoma Sooners
  • Oregon Ducks
  • Texas Longhorns
  • Texas Tech Red Raiders
  • USC Trojans

2. Overall ratings mean something tangible

Fancy taking the traditional franchise route and looking after a team as opposed to a single player? Then the most exciting change is something called Ratings Spread. 

One reason franchise mode felt samey in recent years is you could draft a rookie rated 75 OVR and feel little difference in his play when he’d increased to, say, 83 three years later. Or pick up an 88-rated safety in free agency and discover that he wasn’t much better than your rookie incumbent. Tiburon has sought to transform that, with ratings spread out so you see starting players rated 50-60, and a tangible onfield leap when going from 89 to 90. 

In theory this will make a difference off the field as well  – you’ll need to use skill points more wisely to build the abilities of specific players. I’ll have to test it for real before being all-in, but in principle it sounds transformative. 

3. Specific scenarios provide narrative and direction

A classic element of franchise mode’s wonder years was the Tony Bruno radio show in Madden 05, where on-air expert opinion and fan reaction lent the feeling that each fixture, and season, meant something. That real-world sense has long been lost, but new mid-season scenarios may yet restore it. These see branching dialogue choices and other events pop up between matches depending on the results of your season so far, which in turn shape its future.

“We’re going to give a lot more identity to teams and players,” explains senior designer Hugh Shelton. “Let’s say you get a text message from your offensive coordinator saying you’re going up against JJ Watt – ‘how confident are you against this guy?’. We’re going to let you choose what objective you take into that upcoming game. Are you just going to [try to] win? Do you think you’re going to be able to avoid being sacked [by Watt]? Do you think you’ll throw for 400 yards? The harder the goal, the better the rewards [if successful].”

4. It looks more like Ultimate Team

No, don’t throw stuff. Madden 20 franchise mode is still very much its own bespoke mode, but from a visual standpoint it will feel familiar to Ultimate Team devotees thanks to the depth chart screen, where large player image eschew the former squinty blocks of text.

“We’ve given users a full-screen experience for managing their roster,” says Shelton. “The colour in the background of each player makes it easier to see their development traits at-a-glance. A player with an X-Factor will have a red background, [while] a superstar is going to have a gold background.” 

Scheme fit screens are also cleaner and more concise, making the process of seeing how many of your players have the correct archetype for each position a simpler, swifter one. Neat.

5. Fan service is a key theme

I mentioned college ‘ball ticking one fan service box, but it’s not the only key tweak. Also important, if overdue, is the Pro Bowl’s return – and it’s not only your players who get rewarded with a place at the NFL season’s curtain call. You need to win six games across the season to earn the right to coach at the Pro Bowl, providing personal incentive to pick up victories even if your team is out of play-off contention. 

Contracts and team trades have also been overhauled to make them more realistic and prevent you signing half-a-dozen elite players as soon as free agency opens, with specifics still to come. On the field, I also love the improvement Sherman outlines regarding quarterbacks’ gun-slinging capabilities. 

“Some of the mechanics [have been reworked]”, he reveals. “Throw power is something that’s been updated. The trajectory we were seeing from some our pass types wasn’t exactly what we wanted, and [an improvement] is coming.” This likely means a significant reduction in low drilled throws being picked off by linebackers, and is something which should improve the game as a whole – not only Madden 20 franchise mode.

Madden 20 is out on 2 August. For potential improvements beyond career mode, check out 11 Madden 20 features that need adding according to fans. 

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.