The new energy is abundant; the development team has been demonstrating their confidence in themselves and their games earlier than ever. Between private community events in February and exclusive media sessions this April, the guys are exposing the fruits of their labor many months before release, a risky gamble for any game in general and for NCAA and Madden franchises in particular.
While soliciting feedback from your most dedicated user base is an admirable decision, it’s rife with potential pitfalls. Many features, while not completely finished, are ‘locked in’ for this fall; if the fans don’t like all or part of them, there’s little to be done to significantly alter them by now. In addition, if specific feedback doesn’t make its way back into this release, the number of misinformed voices that clamor how EA doesn’t listen to its community could grow larger.
Inevitably, though, these are the risks you always run with high-profile releases. What’s impressive is that the American Football group – the new department created shortly after last year’s pigskin games released – feels so strongly about their games that they’re in front so early and often.
While team members are effusive in their praise for the current leadership, it’s also interesting that no one – publically or privately – is knocking former team leaders like Ian Cummings and Phil Frazier; those longtime series leaders all left within a short timeframe while last year’s Madden and NCAA were in the throes of development.
“It was unfortunate, but sometimes in real life an opportunity comes up that they felt like they couldn’t wait on,” says Young about his former co-workers. “We’re not robots. It was sad to lose them as friends, but I feel like they’re in happier places and the team – because we have people who are invigorated to be in those roles and qualified to be in those roles – has kept moving, the game’s kept on moving and, in fact, it feels like an injection of freshness and quality.”
Game development is a brutal business, exacting incredible demands on the people responsible for their creation. From the impossibly long hours to incessant criticism and seemingly-arbitrary deadlines, it can sap even the most enthusiastic souls. Yet people are lining up at the chance to join the NCAA and Madden teams. Naturally, this puts even more pressure on the developers and designers, whose every move is scrutinized under an ever-demanding microscope. If they don’t deliver, there are 10 people queued up behind them ready to jump into their coveted spot.
NEXT WEEK – Part 2 of the series, looking closer at the past 12 months of Madden’s leadership team taking on the challenge of remaking the vaunted franchise.