Why Connected Careers is the new Franchise mode

Hi Madden NFL fans, EA SPORTS Game Changer Dave Searles (@RedZoneD25) here to talk more about Connected Careers in Madden NFL 13. It has recently been a point of interest amongst the Madden community that the experience formerly known as Franchise Mode is not present in this year's title. While it's true that you won't be seeing a place to select Franchise Mode in the main menu, the idea of taking control of an NFL team in all phases of the sport is something very much alive and well in Connected Careers as a Coach.

There are two things that are absolutely critical to have when you are in control of a virtual football team; objectives and accountability. This is an area where I feel Franchise Mode consistently fell short, offering little in terms of a sense of accomplishment (or failure.) What was the big deal if you tank the season to get the first pick every year in the Draft? Conversely, where is the reward if you manage to lead a Super Bowl-caliber team every year? Outside of patting yourself on the back, there was little incentive to continue past the first few seasons unless you truly wanted to for whatever reason. The days of wondering if you really want to continue onto Year 2 through 30 are over, since anything that can happen is on your watch now.

Let's talk about player progression. In previous years, it didn't really matter how well your players performed in any given season outside of winning games because if you had a player with A Potential, he would progress nicely regardless of what the statistics said. This effectively halted the ability to find a late round steal or use your 7th round choice on a player to groom for years down the road because if you drafted a D or F Potential player, that was it- he's done. In Connected Careers, you are in full control of who leaves a legacy and who doesn't. The reason for this is because of an all-new progression system based around XP (experience points.)

Each player on your roster will earn XP by completing goals. The more difficult the goal is, the more XP you will get as a reward. Weekly Goals are game-to-game, which could look like throwing for 250 passing yards with Sam Bradford. Milestone Goals also vary in difficulty and reward, however they also vary in length of time needed to achieve them. Some are single game Milestones, while others are geared towards breaking season and career records. Last but not least are Season Goals, which are based in four tiers (ranging from Easy to Very Hard) that vary by position, but for a quarterback an idea of a Very Hard goal is to throw more than 35 passing TDs in a season. Again using Sam Bradford, if you were to achieve that goal he would would net a 10,000 XP bonus for progression use.

Another opportunity to earn XP for progressing your players are through the new Practice scenarios in Madden NFL 13. Reminiscent of Madden Moments Live, Practicing pits your team in different phases of a game, ranging from a full four-quarter practice to a two-minute drill down by three points. Every completed practice nets XP, even if you don't succeed in the scenario itself. While actual XP isn't used by NFL coaches to make their players perform better, it is a more realistic process than what we saw before because it allows players ample time to build their skills regardless of how they come into the league. A common rule in the NFL is that you can't judge a Draft until three seasons after, and while some players will come in and make noise from their first day with a team, not everybody has the luxury of instant stardom. However, project players still have a chance to make impact thanks to the new progression system.

Coaches can earn XP, too. Like players, Coach Goals are based in Weekly, Milestone and Season (all of which have varying degrees of difficulty), however they are team-oriented. Instead of passing for 250 yards with Sam Bradford, maybe one of your goals will be to have 30 rush attempts or to have 150 total rushing yards. A Milestone for a Coach could be to go undefeated, or to average 30 points per game. Season goals are in four tiers as well, but for Coaches it's based on amount of wins. A tier one goal may be as simple as winning a single game, but a bigger challenge awaits if your tier four goal is to make it to the Super Bowl. Just like a player, the more difficult goal you achieve, the more of an XP reward you receive. If you don't meet your basic goals, that's where the accountability comes in. You can finally be fired as a Coach, which is something that I've wanted to see added into Madden for years. Not only is there just any incentive, it's the ultimate incentive. Like the NFL, Connected Careers won't let a waning Coach wear out their welcome too long.

What do you do with your Coach XP? You can opt to purchase boost packages like double Scouting Points, increasing the chance of QBs having interest in re-signing with you, or you can just keep saving them up until you feel like buying everything at once. It's up to you, but the common theme of these additions is spreading out the gratification of your experience so that you always feel like there is something to play for or something you can do better. If you aren't feeling like you have any room for improvement, you can check out your Legacy Score which is found in My Career. Your Legacy Score will tell you exactly where you stand amongst the greatest in NFL history, and it's a hefty challenge to get in front of the likes of Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. Many factors play into your Legacy Score, like how many Super Bowls or Conference Championships you've won to how many players have represented you in the Pro Bowl.

From more of a management perspective, two of my favorite features of Connected Careers are Scheme-Specific Overall Rating and actually having to know what scheme you run at all. Players never really felt different from a Coach perspective in Franchise Mode, as I could often get away with picking what should be a 3-4 NT at 4-3 DT with minimal regret. Now, if I'm running a 4-3, I can look for Pass Rusher DEs or Run Stuffer LBs to help me take my defense to the next level. This is clearly reflected whenever you try to re-sign a player in his contract year or anyone in free agency, period. Not only will it show if the player will fit into your scheme or not, but the game also shows both the team need for his position and the player's interest in remaining with your team.

Scheme-Specific Overall was one of my favorite parts of NFL Head Coach 09, and I'm thrilled to see it appear in Madden. It's actually what it sounds like, players will be rated differently depending on which scheme your team runs. This brings a whole new dimension to who you sign, who you may trade for or any player you may be interested in taking in the NFL Draft. You'll always see a player's rating based on how they would fit into your scheme, which presents the risk of me trading away my lowly 67 rated LB only for the team receiving him to be getting a 75 rated player who can make immediate impact. At the same time, you could score big in free agency provided that no other teams share your exact specifications for a certain player, but the moral is that there is finally a risk/reward system involving player movement. Teams routinely find diamonds in the rough who fit what they look for, so it's nice to be able to replicate that properly.

The last thing I'd like to mention is that the salary cap is very, very real. I've found myself in situations where I've had over $80M in spending money before, but I found out the hard way that true-to-life cap management is a muss this year. If you have a few bad contracts, I'd actually recommend sitting on them for a few seasons to lower your cap penalty because of the lower (but more accurate) base salary cap in Madden NFL 13. It will still rise every year, but I have found contract demands to be less outrageous (no more 77 OVR CBs asking for $60M contracts.) If you want to maintain a powerhouse team, you can still do that but it's more important to always have one eye on the future. It's exciting to have to keep track of dollars again after feeling invincible for so long.

In closing, after spending just short of a decade with offline Franchise Mode I can understand the apprehension some may have with having to learn a new system of play, especially one so feature-heavy. While I consistently went 20+ years deep in Franchise Mode, in more recent years I felt it was missing what makes the NFL so compelling off of the field. However, Madden's career mode of the future brings unprecedented depth not only from previous Madden titles, but sports gaming in general. In Madden NFL 13, the enjoyment is no longer forced. Tough decisions have to be made and consequences (positive or negative) will happen as a result, which is what Connected Careers is all about.