EA is releasing a major Madden NFL 22 title update today, addressing many of the issues that have bedeviled the community over the past month. The update marks the release of the long-awaited scouting update, which comprehensively overhauls one of franchise mode’s key systems. The lengthy patch notes touch on almost every part of the game, from player likenesses to progression issues in Face of the Franchise.
The mood around this year’s release has once again been fairly negative, with Madden 22’s Metacritic score sitting around 68 and user reviews being much lower. I opined in my own review that it was a “grab bag of decent – if frequently underwhelming – ideas hurt by poor execution,” and that fans hoping for a large leap forward on PS5 and Xbox Series X were apt to be disappointed.
In an effort to better understand where Madden 22 stands a little more than a month after launch, I caught up with executive producer Seann Graddy, who generally denies that Madden 22’s issues are as serious as they are made out to be on Reddit and other venues.
“Certainly there are bugs that a fair amount of players will see, and we’ll react to those as quickly as we can, but there’s also bugs that get exposed that very few of our players see,” Graddy says. “We will still treat them with a high importance and react as fast as we can, but they’re not impacting the millions of players that are playing our game. So I have to say that because, again, I just think the world we live in with social media makes it feel like any one-off bug that’s out there is happening to everybody.”
Have you played Madden NFL 22 [Next-Gen]?
Throughout the interview, Graddy also discusses how EA’s Madden team handles internal testing; its goals for the much-criticized Face of the Franchise mode, and the roadmap for the rest of Madden 22 and beyond. You can find the full interview below.
IGN: So we’re about a month out from the release of Madden and it’s been a pretty tough launch. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about your perspective on what has happened over the past month or so?
Seann Graddy: Well I’d say we’re actually excited with the engagement we’ve seen in the game, that a lot of players are playing in all the modes that they love — including the new ones that we’ve added the last couple of years in The Yard and Superstar KO. We’ve certainly been listening to a lot of feedback from the beta into the EA Play week that we launched. We had a title update at the launch of the game that had some improvements […] Obviously coverage has been a hot topic this year. We’ve made a big change at the launch of the game and then another one in September.
So I think the game has been improving since launch and I’m excited about our next title update, which will add some new ways to engage. Obviously you’ve heard about the scouting, the most requested new addition to franchise [mode], and a new way to play The Yard with a new ranked mode, along with some improvements across the entirety of the game. Quality of life improvements, I would say.
When it launched, [Madden 22] was quite buggy even by the most generous standards. I’m curious what led to Madden having these issues at launch?
Well, I debate a little bit “quite buggy.” There were certainly bugs, and I can tell you I’m frustrated and the team is frustrated […] I’m playing in an online franchise with seven other team members as well. There was a bug that we hit related to the head-to-head games early on in the season that has since been addressed, but that’s frustrating as a consumer for me as well. So anything that gets out there is frustrating for us, and I think we’ve done a good job listening to players and reacting as fast as we can to the most painful issues. The reason why I say that I debate a little bit of the bugginess is that on social media — in Twitter and Reddit — you can post the bug once or twice from a couple of viewers and it feels like it’s happening for everyone; it looks like it’s happening across the board.
Certainly there are bugs that a fair amount of players will see, and we’ll react to those as quickly as we can, but there’s also bugs that get exposed that very few of our players see. We will still treat them with a high importance and react as fast as we can, but they’re not impacting the millions of players that are playing our game. So I have to say that because, again, I just think the world we live in with social media makes it feel like any one-off bug that’s out there is happening to everybody.
That said, we’ve taken a very measured approach to our title updates this year. We obviously had one at launch, we had another bigger one in September, and then we’ve got the one coming up here on October 12th. In each of those we’re improving the overall quality of the game with feedback from the fans. So I think we’re getting into a really good state that feels comfortable from a gameplay perspective, and we’ll continue to listen to the players from here on out.
I think that from the viewpoint of a lot of people, myself included, defensive coverage in particular was quite broken at launch. You already said that you pushed an update almost immediately to try and start addressing some of that. I’m just curious how the game can launch with that serious of a problem with defense, a fundamental issue with the game.
I think, again, I have to challenge that it’s completely broken because “broken” sounds like you can’t call any defense and play the game at all, and that’s just not the reality.
The data within our game would say that the amount of passing yards on average per game was about the same year-over-year. The number of interceptions in the game was actually slightly up year-over-year. What we find is that our most competitive players know how to really dive deep into the playbooks — dive deep into preplay adjustments — and figure out matchups that can exploit a coverage. In some cases it is a problem with an assignment on specific zone coverages, and those are the types of things that we look to address as fast as possible.
Like I said, we did probably the most important one right at worldwide launch back in August, and we continue to tune other ones. But for the vast majority of our players, it’s not broken. Most of them don’t hit that or feel that. And again, it doesn’t make it any less important for the really deep competitive players, and we look to it to improve that. But, again, what we would say is that the way the game plays out overall, there are other defensive coverages that are available. There’s other ways to adjust to one specific defensive assignment on some specific zone coverages.
So the scouting update is coming out [October 12]. I think that update is pretty anticipated by a lot of franchise people, especially me. It looks neat, so I’m curious what led to its delay.
Well, I think this is a good thing. We were pretty non-specific when we said it was coming. We said we were shooting for September, and as we were getting closer to the finish line for the title update we felt like we needed some more time to get it right, polished… get some more of the bugs out of it, and that’s the right call. We can’t have it both ways where we push really hard to get everything out, and it’s like, “Oh, there’s a couple of bugs here that frustrate me,” or, you know, give us more time to get it right; get it in the hands of players when it makes sense. So we’re going to ultimately be a few days past September when this comes out, but we feel better about what we’re releasing when it does go live.
I know that you all said the team had made adjustments during the pandemic and work-from-home. Obviously that was really challenging for Madden 21. That gave me some hope that the game would be in a stronger state when it launched with Madden 22, but the perception I’m getting is that the pandemic is still posing significant challenges for your team.
Well work-from-home is definitely different than working in the office together, and we continue to learn even pushing two years in […] At the end of the day what you see as a gamer and a reviewer and a journalist is the game. Behind the scenes there’s a ton of things that go into how we build the game, play the game, test the game… all the processes that nobody ever sees that we do. And we’re constantly evolving and evaluating those. We did it coming off Madden 21, we’re doing it coming off Madden 22. And we think that there are things that will always give us a better chance to make the game better at launch and through the continuous dev life cycle, as we’ve done the last couple of years.
You were alluding to a lot of processes that happen behind the scenes. I’m guessing that a lot of that has to do with tuning, getting the game into shape and everything. I would be curious if you could shed at least a little light on that, because I feel like a lot of people see Madden as a bit of a black box, and having some insight into how the development team is approaching the design of the game would be useful.
I think on the testing front we debate and discuss things like the beta that we started a couple of years ago, where we get it out in the hands of our players ahead of launch. We lengthened the amount of time on that beta this past year; we put more players into the beta than in the past year, but there are sometimes things that you see at the scale of millions of games versus thousands of games that are just unanticipated. Or maybe you see it as a one-off bug in alpha, and you test a ton around it. You try to find what the core issue is and you can never reproduce it. And then when you get to launch, it shows up for more players than you expected, and then obviously you work really fast to fix it. So one thing we do, or one thing we are doing, is thinking about the beta — that is a place where we could go wider with more players with more of the game and get more testing at scale.
That could give us the opportunity to find some more things ahead of launch. Internally we’re actually looking at our QA department size and some of the automation that we do. We do a lot of automation on the game in terms of bot runs where the game plays against itself and logs crash issues and things of that nature. […] And there’s other processes that we do around… if you’ve ever heard a term “hardening weeks” where you stop at the end of a sprint and spend maybe an entire week just really hardening features or working on bugs that were introduced with a new feature to make sure that it’s solid before you move on to the next thing. So those are just some of the processes that we’re thinking about.
I just think the world we live in with social media makes it feel like any one-off bug that’s out there is happening to everybody.
I’m wondering how you’re feeling about home-field advantage now that we’re fairly deep into launch, particularly in terms of tuning. Has it been everything that you hoped it would be?
Yeah, honestly, for me as a gamer… you’re honestly a stronger Madden player, I think you play more deeply… I would qualify myself as a bit more of a casual Madden player, but I still play in a franchise and love to go deep with the guys that I play with. First of all, I guess to answer your question from a community perspective, we are really happy with where home-field advantage ended up. We have tuned it a bit over time, but it’s added another strategy element that players are enjoying at scale. It’s just another thing that you have to manage and think about, it feels good when you kind of have it engaged your way. And as I was saying, from my own perspective it feels really tough when it’s counter to your team. Being a bit more of a casual player myself, I often find the team having more of a home-field advantage against me. It’s a thing that I have to think about, and our players have to think about and strategize against. So what we like about this new element is that it’s added to the way that you play,
This is Year 3 of Face of the Franchise, and I’m having a hard time a read on what the intentions for the mode are. So I’m just curious, how are you feeling about Face of the Franchise, and what is Madden trying to accomplish with this mode?
I think if you look at Madden players, they tend to mostly fall in one of two categories. The bread and butter for years has been team builder, team manager, team owner. That’s one bucket, you know, and that’s Ultimate Team. That’s core franchise. That’s online head-to-head. […] What Face of the Franchise is trying to be is the other bucket, which is a single-player campaign mode where you get to experience the onboarding into the NFL and playing at a certain position… growing the skill set of your character.
And then in our case, going even beyond that with the addition of The Yard, where you have another mode that allows you to compete socially with friends or the world in more of an online teamplay experience or just an avatar-based experience. So we’ve been kind of chipping away and adding to that and improving it over time. […] When we talked to our players at scale, through our own internal testing, a player-based campaign mode was typically the number one or one of the top two ways they wanted to play our game. And so our intent is to deliver on that experience.
Do you see it as kind of a casual-oriented mode that functions as a bit of a tutorial for the rest of the game?
I actually do. I think we find that newer players tend to go into that mode. First, younger players tend to go into that mode first, and like a lot of action games where you’re playing as a single character, they open up the tool belt of that action game to you over time, and then 10 hours in, 20 hours in, 50 hours in, you’ve got the entire tool belt. That’s kind of how we have thought about that mode. As you go into it, you learn some things about Madden, and over time you become a more experienced player and probably graduate onto some of the other modes — maybe even some of the team-building modes. But we have tried to incorporate both NFL and Madden learning mechanisms into that mode because we see that type of player gravitate towards there first.
I think there’s a perception within the community that while you all put out Gridiron Notes and have a streaming show and everything, there’s still not a huge amount of communication from the Madden team to the community. You all will kind of go head down and disappear for awhile, and then eventually re-emerge with a big title update. And I’m just curious what your perception is regarding the community feeling like there’s not enough communication.
Well I’m open to hearing that and figuring out a way to improve it. I am not super active on Twitter in terms of posting, but I do pay attention to what players are saying, and I’m always looking for things. There’s unfortunately, you know, some negative negativity out there in the social networks, but there’s also constructive feedback where we can listen in for themes. And even though we may not specifically be saying, “Hey, we hear that thing,” you know, directly from me on Twitter, we’re listening. And then when we’re ready to share what we’ve got, we put it out there.
Some of our team members are a bit more active on Twitter and sharing what’s going on. I think our brothers and sisters on FIFA are doing something a little bit different that I just saw with the launch of their game, where they’ve got a QR code and a Trello board where they’re being pretty proactive on what they’re working on. You know, that could be some inspiration for us that we look at and see how that plays out with their community, and maybe we borrow some ideas from there. But I’m not committing to that right now, I’m just saying that there’s examples within our company that we may look to keep our players informed.
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You mentioned that there are millions of games that you’ve been following and that you’ve picked up data from them. I’m wondering if there are any unexpected trends that you’ve observed as you’ve parsed through all of this real-time data?
I wouldn’t say there’s any unexpected trends. In fact, that’s usually what we’re looking for, especially with the feedback, as you said, around coverage. Are we seeing an outlier in passing yards in the game, and are players passing the ball more and not running as much as a result? In terms of just overall gameplay, it still looks pretty balanced. The scores are in the territory that we would expect, and they map generally to real NFL scores assuming you’re using the quarter lengths that we default to. We’ve seen a little bit of movement around the different modes as we add more depth in franchise and things of that nature, but there hasn’t really been an unexpected trend that I could point to.
What are some of the takeaways that you’ve had from the launch and reception of Madden 22, and how will you implement them going forward?
I think the first one is that we’re always listening to players. Even if they don’t feel like we’re communicating as fast or as often, we are monitoring, listening, and looking to react as fast as possible. As I said earlier, we took a more measured approach to the title updates this year and spread those out a bit to make sure we had time to test and get clean updates out. We haven’t had a lot of title updates that immediately followed a previous one — we haven’t had any this year, actually… that’s an ongoing lesson.
And then, as I said earlier, you guys all see the game that we ship on day one and that we update throughout the entire year, but there’s a ton of processes and hardworking people that put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears. So there’s lessons learned around the process that we do behind the scenes, before any title update gets out, before the game gets out. And we continue to evolve as we update Madden 22 and as we start on Madden 23.
In the past you’ve shadow-dropped new modes and other features with title updates. How ambitious should fans expect Madden 22’s roadmap to be going forward?
I would say probably slightly less ambitious than years past because we are really focused on a few core areas of Madden 22 and also getting started up on Madden 23 in a big way. So I will stand by what we’ve always said the last couple of years: we’re a live service and we’ll continue to update the game, but we’re definitely not going to be talking about a brand new mode. We’ve got a lot of interesting ways to play in the game right now, and I think there’s an opportunity to improve and evolve them.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN