On Friday, I had an opportunity to cross off an item from my sports video game bucket list. I visited EA Sports headquarters in Maitland, Fla. Whether you're a hardcore Madden and NBA Live fan or not, there's no denying the importance of EA Sports to the sports gaming genre.
Being at the mecca of such an important entity is cool.
It was a pretty good day to be there, too. A special event saw the Madden Ultimate Team crew working diligently to create every first-round selection for gamers in the MUT community.
If you've never heard of MUT, I have to ask, where have you been? The Ultimate Team concept was pioneered by EA Sports, and the influence of the mode has reached every popular sports gaming franchise.
The mode blends sports card collecting and fantasy sports. To put mildly, the results have been successful. Per EA.com, the Ultimate Team modes spanning NBA Live, Madden, FIFA, NHL and NCAA generated more than $380 million in 2013.
Specifically, the Madden version of the mode grew by 90 percent.
In other words, this is a pretty big deal.
To somewhat bridge the gap between Madden 25 and the upcoming Madden 15, EA released the Ultimate Team cards for all 32 first-round selections in near real time on Thursday. I was there to see it all unfold.
Here's a look at the EA War Room, per Ultimate Team member, Andrew Hoffman.
The atmosphere was chock full of football and video game goodness.
One group of guys were in charge of obtaining and relaying the information about picks to the rest of the team. Another portion of the team handled the player ratings. Yet another aspect of the group handled player creation, screenshots and even the graphic design for the presentation on social media.
It was cool to see it all take shape.
In case you haven't seen what the card images look like, here's a look at a few pics provided to me by EA directly.
You may notice the elevated ratings for the rookies. Obviously, this isn't a realistic account of the player's skills at this young juncture of their career. But EA Sports product manager Tom Lischke told me: "to make them relevant within the Ultimate Team world, their ratings had to be elevated."
With so many gamers having already stocked their teams with the best current players and legends, no one would be interested in obtaining a Jadeveon Clowney that is rated an 80 overall.
Don't expect any of the players to have these sorts of ratings when they make their official roster debut in Madden 15.
The Future of Madden Ultimate Team
Speaking of Madden 15, I had an opportunity to speak with Lischke and Madden Ultimate Team creative director Kolbe Launchbaugh about features fans can look forward to.
Tidying up the existing features in MUT is the team's primary focus for the mode in Madden 15, but there will be some new flavor as well. Launchbaugh couldn't really expound at this point, but he said: "MUT will offer a different experience on gen-4 systems (PS4 and Xbox One)."
We'll surely find out the details on that moving forward. Here's some of the other new features to look forward to this year and beyond.
Revamping Pack Opening Presentation
Pack openings were a heavy part of the conversation.
Ask me why these things are so awesome in Ultimate Team. I couldn't answer the question, but I just know they are. Maybe it's something about the unknown being unveiled before your eyes. Perhaps it's the thrill of getting rewarded for a game achievement or pack purchase.
By design, it re-creates that feeling kids get when they buy a pack of football cards not knowing if their favorite player will be included next to a piece of hard, stale bubble gum. Either way, this brings all of the factors—minus the gum.
The MUT team gets that the community loves pack openings, and they are taking measures to make the experience even more exciting.
Per Launchbaugh, this year's pack openings will feature far more theatrics, drama and cool sound effects. Subtle things like the way the cards are revealed and clues that "something big" awaits will be part of the presentation package.
This is something that should especially appeal to YouTubers who feature a lot of MUT games on their channels. The suspense will create for a ton of intrigue for viewers.
Here's a few examples of pack openings on YouTube.
Having the ability to customize team jerseys, logos and even stadiums would add another layer to the MUT experience. MLB The Show's version of the concept is called Diamond Dynasty. The highlight of DD is the ridiculously deep customization tool provided for creating teams and uniforms.
It creates an entirely new world within the mode.
None of the EA titles currently have this level of customization within Ultimate Team—for now.
I offer that caveat because something along those lines could be forthcoming in MUT. It won't happen in Madden 15, per Launchbaugh and Lischke, but it has been discussed.
Here's a good reason to think it might one day make its way into MUT. Launchbaugh helped to design the customization system in DD as the former design manager for MLB The Show.
Hopefully, this level of customization makes it into the mode sooner than later.
Stay tuned for more information on Madden 15 and Ultimate Team in coming months.
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