Madden 20 is here at last, and so is the annual debate that divides its players.
Since Madden 25, Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) has been a core part of the game - growing in popularity every year.
It moves the game away from a sim style game and allows players to collect and trade players for their own franchise and then face off against other players online.
Where you sit in this debate will rest on what you like to play, and as with everything there are 3 sides to every debate; your side, their side and then the truth.
A lot has been made of pay-to-win in games. The severity of this came to a head with Star Wars Battlefront and led to a huge uproar and changes being made in the game.
The mobile gaming world has been infested with free-to-download games that have 'in app purchases' that the player has to do to keep progressing through the levels.
It feels like it is only a matter of time before Madden, FIFA and other EA games are given away for free, with then in game purchases driving all the earnings. EA makes $1.3 billion a year off of extra content, according to Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen.
Let that sink in for a moment. That means 25% of all revenue that EA takes in comes from in game purchases like MUT. Jorgensen adds he expects full-game downloads to be 50% or more within five years. At a game-by-game level, it is likely to be much higher.
Don't think this is anything other than a financial exercise for them. In 2017, Jorgensen said, "The good thing for us is that every single percentage point move towards full-game downloads adds to our margin.
It is a great tailwind for our business, combined with the fact that more and more of the extra content that's added to games is also all digital."
Underlying the issues of pay-to-win games is the fact they play on human emotion. Dopamine (chemical driving achievement) is a hugely addictive but naturally occurring chemical that helps to govern human behavior. Prehistorically, it encouraged humans to keep achieving and surviving. In the modern world, it plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior.
Put simply, the pay-to-win plays on your innate desire to keep progressing up levels. That is why we play video games.
We love the sensation of progressing and developing teams and characters. Attaching the ability to skip through this and get instant gratification can often be too tempting and there are many stories of kids stealing their parents' credit cards to fund their Ultimate Team's. If all our friends are doing this it is a very difficult choice to not keep up with them.
EA themselves describe MUT as "the most fun and addictive features of video gaming" as early as 2014, pretty blase way to admit there's a dangerous level of addiction to this game mode.
Ethics aside, the other issue with MUT is that is consumes the entire focus of the developers at EA. Gameplay improvements are required for all game modes and therefore always get attention, but outside of this for the best part of 5 years the franchise mode has been ignored.
When 2K Sports attempted to dethrone EA as the premier NFL game in 2005, their Franchise mode was heralded as one of the most immersive in sports gaming. They were shut down by EA gaining the exclusive rights, but you can see what they have continued to do in their NBA gaming franchise.
EA has consistently under-invested in the franchise modes of all their big sports titles, and it looks like with the resurgence of PES - they might rue this in FIFA. With Madden, the exclusivity means they have an utter stranglehold, with no rival prompting improvements.
For a long time, Madden's franchise mode has been anything but immersive. Unrealistic contract negotiations, poor attempts at "reporter questions" and a rudimentary relocation model are just some basic examples. Big time franchise players have been waiting year upon year for some meaningful updates, but some have given up waiting.
There is a debate to be made that this is simply not EA's core audience. There is no doubting the popularity of MUT which shows that they are making a certain customer demographic thrilled with the change in approach.
This reflects societal changes somewhat, but considering some points raised earlier, instant gratification is considered a generational change that EA are reacting to. Personally, I'm a big believer in a free market approach. If people don't like EA's model, stop spending any money in MUT, and they will soon change tack.
But the numbers speak for themselves. They have a separate Twitter account, purely for MUT, that has nearly 750k followers. One of the other benefits of MUT it the sense of community. Playing online against other humans allows you to broaden your horizons and a different gameplay that cannot be simulated by the CPU.
That said, after a few games online you may yearn for the CPU approach when dealing with the same play 29 times in a row.
MUT also keeps Madden in play throughout the year. Whether this is chicken or egg, EA continue to work on updates to MUT long after the Super Bowl which keeps annual engagement going for longer into the year.
In the past, roster updates would stop around February and so would user play - Madden fatigue is real for franchise players.
Whilst I recognize the benefits that MUT can bring, I would recommend those that enjoy the competitive play but hate the cheese online to join a Madden league. I have been part of a sim franchise league for the best part of 5 years and it completely changed how I see the game.
It allows for a community feel, improved game experience but also personal growth and a different level of enjoyment from the game.
Luckily, Reddit leads the way in keeping these games companies honest, but with the average gamer continuing to consume, and pay, for their gaming - it is unlikely anything will change.
What do you think of MUT? Do you yourself pay-to-win? Let us know in the comments below!