EA Sports is set to release the 25th version of the ever-popular Madden NFL series on August 27. If my job didn't require me to cover the game and its release, I'd probably be using a Maddenoliday to play it.
Over the years I've watched the game grow from an eight-bit title to a life-like simulation. Aside from the visual transformation, the player ratings have also undergone a huge maturation process.
The man at the helm of that aspect of the game is Madden NFL Live Content Producer and Ratings Czar, Donny Moore. I got an opportunity to speak with Donny about a ton of details relating to the ratings process.
Here is the audio of the interview:
In case you're ever wondering if the man behind the ratings truly loves the game, don't worry. Moore says: "I don't see how you could [do this job] if you didn't [love football]."
There was so much information conveyed, it was best to segment it into three articles. In this article, I'll share the evolution of the ratings process from when Donny joined the team in 2001, up to now.
We'll also talk about how much goes in to individualizing each player; we'll also shed some light on a few key ratings. Let's get into it.
The image above is from Madden 2001. The ratings process was obviously very different then. When I spoke with Donny, he said:
When I came on board, back in 2000 or 2001, there was somewhere between 15-20 player ratings total.
Earlier Madden games focused on speed, strength, throwing power and other physical traits. But we all know there are far more factors involved in differentiating players.
Few Madden gamers likely pined for tendency-based ratings 12 years ago. However, the evolution of technology has allowed developers to take steps towards creating an even more realistic simulation.
While many fans loved yesterday's Madden games, today's creations further blur the line between video game and real life.
Once the genre moved on to the Xbox 360 and PS3, players began to have tendencies and traits added. Over 250 points of information goes into individualizing each player these days.
Those points of information dictate 60-70 ratings for each player.
Just how much research does this entail? Quite a bit, beginning with the rookies, the process is in-depth.
Donny starts immersing himself in game tape on prospects from a variety of online sources early in the year. One of those sources is the scouting reports from B/R's own Matt Miller.
Donny reads the scouting reports from experts like Miller. He compares their findings with what he sees on actual video of the players.
When there are conflicting accounts, he uses his own knowledge and experience to determine the prospect's starting point for the disputed rating.
In today's Madden, the initial rookie ratings—and any other player's rating for that matter—are not set in stone. Because Donny and his team are in charge of updating player attributes on a weekly basis, the ratings can be ever-changing.
The advent of updated rosters has made the weekly changes an event for the Madden universe. It is part of the reason Moore is one of the most followed men in the sports gaming industry on Twitter. Everyone wants to be the first to get a glimpse of the changes.
This feature helps to keep the game current for gamers as it not only reflects injuries, but it also rewards and demotes players for on-field performance in real life.
Because of ratings updates, Madden gamers can watch sleepers and little-used backups go from unknowns to stars in reality, and on their gaming console.
When I discussed this dynamic with Donny, he pointed out examples of three players who had an unexpected rise.
A guys baseline ratings will stay with him for a while until he proves they aren't applicable anymore. We'll then do a big change of the ratings. The guy that stands out to me is Tom Brady. The classic sixth-round pick who no one thought would be a star, including the Patriots because they waited until the sixth round to take the guy.
Guess what he's going to be rated when he comes into the league? In the 60s range. It would be silly for us to rate him any higher before he's proven what he can do.
Another guy is Victor Cruz of the Giants. An un-drafted free agent out of UMass. He catches on in the preseason, but doesn't make an impact the first year. But the next season, this guy is a guy we need to rate as a Pro-Bowl receiver.
We can't rate him as a Pro-Bowl receiver as an un-drafted player out of UMass. That's sort of the beauty of watching a player progress. We have no problem in saying: hey we had no idea about this guy either. But we're darn well going to make sure he's rated respective to what he does on the field.
As a person who has dabbled in making realistic player ratings, I can assure you it is difficult. Second-guessers have the luxury of looking at what has already happened. When you're creating the ratings based on scouting reports and the previous year's stats, there is no exact science.
The weekly updates create the opportunity to fill in any misconceptions from the initial ratings rollout. Randall Cobb, the player pictured in this slide, went from a 76 overall to begin the season to an 86 in the final roster update.
That's what an 80-reception, 954-yard, eight-touchdown season can do for a player's Madden rating.
When you're picking what quarterback you're going to play with or draft for your user-controlled team, do you look at his awareness rating?
If the answer is yes, stop wasting your time. If you're controlling the quarterback, you control his awareness. That rating only applies to CPU-controlled signal callers.
When speaking to Donny about this, he said:
"In the video game, especially at the quarterback position, it's you. You are the quarterback, the awareness type things don't matter because it's your awareness."
You should still take into consideration throwing and running ratings, but the otherwise very important trait of awareness doesn't apply.
Another rating that I asked about was route running. The definition is not completely obvious and it is the most underrated skill a receiver can have.
Donny shed some light on what this rating means in Madden:
It determines how much of a cut and how much separation the receiver gets from the defensive back. It's funny I'll have some people say: I thought route running was their knowledge of the playbook or how many routes they knew. It's not, it is about separation.
That should help gamers decide who to play in certain situations.
Don't expect to see an influx in perfect 100 ratings. As great as Adrian Peterson was in 2012, even he isn't likely to see a 100 rating, unless there is some sort of special promotion.
Right now, that's been something we've done in the past that allowed fans to give players 100 ratings. In general, we don't give out the 100s. In fact, the 99s are rare too. We try to limit those to say one category. Having like one guy top things out per stat category.
If you've listened to the interview included in the opening slide, you know, we discussed a lot of things.
Be on the look out for how the ratings philosophy could affect specific position battles and some of the rookies who will be a blast to control.
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