It’s not the best Madden. It’s not the worst Madden. After more than a dozen years of writing about the football series, I know it never is.
The sales figures of this past week and the review scores of last month make compelling and competing cases, though. Madden NFL 21 is the lowest-rated game in series history; and Madden NFL 21’s sales are up — way up — over the record-setting figures that publisher Electronic Arts posted last year.
US NPD SW – Madden NFL 21 was the best-selling title of August, with double-digit percentage dollar sales growth when compared to the release month of Madden NFL 20. Madden NFL 21 debuts as the #6 best-selling game year-to-date. pic.twitter.com/YAIuXzKrye
— Mat Piscatella (@MatPiscatella) September 14, 2020
Rather than this being the case of some trend overcoming another anomaly, or vice versa, I think the truth is a story that both combine to tell: Madden NFL 21 is a piecemeal update lacking a centerpiece mode, and it sells like gangbusters because it pleases its fans.
Oh, sure, COVID-related buying might play a role — multiple publishers have reported big sales tailwinds that they attribute, with good reason, to the quarantine lifestyle. But I can’t see it as being the whole story when Madden, every year, is thrashed by the conventional wisdom, and when Madden, every August for the past 21 years, has been the bestselling game of its month. You don’t reach that point year after year simply because you’re the only marketplace option.
This is hardly unique to Madden. EA Sports UFC 4 launched in the same month. It was the second-bestselling game of August. UFC 4’s reviews, although better than Madden’s, also call it an iterative release, more refined than remade over its predecessor, which launched in 2018. And we don’t have the sales numbers for NBA 2K21 yet, but that, too, is taking a critical and community beating. The 60s it’s dragging on Metacritic — for the same reasons Madden 21 is getting torched — are unprecedented, but it won’t surprise me to see the NPD Group, which tracks sales of games in the U.S., listing NBA 2K21 first for September.
I feel like sports video games have gone past the tipping point where an iterative release can provide its major modes of play with anything more than a good streamlining. Whenever I review one of these games, I find myself disappointed that Franchise in Madden or MyGM in NBA 2K doesn’t have anything to recommend it, other than a polishing.
But if I’m going to criticize a game for what isn’t in it, I better have a ready example of what should be there. I don’t. Do you? Fixing trade logic or midseason player progression might be necessary, but those are iterative improvements. It’s possible that developers have simply run out of big, new things to do with the core game.
No one — neither developer nor player — would admit this, but it makes sense. The console generation that’s about to debut will sell like gangbusters at launch, and provide audiovisual fidelity that is an incremental improvement over the current systems, rather than some leap forward. That’s a core feature. Well, similarly, I expect most of what I do in Madden NFL 21 and NBA 2K21 on PlayStation 5 to be the same as it is on PlayStation 4, where 10 yards gets you a new set of downs, and a ball through the hoop is two points, three if from 22 feet, 3 inches. Both games have been dotting that i for more than a decade.
(Here’s where, inevitably, someone wonders why we can’t have sports video games done MMO-style, where there’s a base game and then maybe a subscription cost, with iterative development served through expansions and regular updates. And here’s where, again, I say that if an MMO model made as much money — for the leagues and the players who license the rights to make these games — as an annual packaged-goods approach does, they would have tried it sometime in the past decade.)
In this console generation, the biggest breakthrough to career mode quality of life was in condensing lengthy seasons into their most action-packed games, and even individual moments. Madden, MLB The Show, and NBA 2K all brought this aboard years ago. Madden and FIFA gave a story mode two or three good whacks and found it not worth the continued bother. Fans are fine with such things being an on-ramp to the career mode (like in NBA 2K) or a background supplement to it (like in MLB The Show).
I know: The sports gamer really does not want to hear this. No one in video gaming does. But sports gamers — dependent as they are on the licensing whims of the leagues and big corporations — especially resent the idea that their tastes and informed appraisal are routinely drowned out by a consumer id that finds good enough, well, good enough.
Yet sometimes, that is exactly what the numbers tell us. These aren’t the best games, and these aren’t the worst games. They never are.
Roster File is Sports Grind Entertainment’s news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.
After Math: Quibi wins some Emmys and Ridley Scott’s ‘Wolves’ is renewed
While most folks were reveling in the news that Harley Quinn is returning for a third season of animated antics, Ridley Scott’s dystopian sci-fi series Raised by Wolves, has quietly been re-upped for its sophomore season. Wolves follows the exploits of a pair of superhuman androids raising the last remnants of humanity of a distant planet after the fall of Earth.
If you and seven friends have find yourselves in the enviable position of still having you economic recovery checks burning holes in your collective pockets, hoo boy has Aston Martin got the ludicrous luxury item for your to blow them on. Get a load of this limited edition racing chair, only 150 of which will ever be produced. Of course, figuring out whose living room it will reside in will be your next major challenge.
In an era where streaming services are fragmenting and offering increasingly niche content selections, ViacomCBS is taking the opposite tact. The two formerly rival platforms — with Viacom offering BET+, Showtime and Pluto TV while CBS has its popular All Access — joined forces in 2019 after $30 billion in corporate wrangling. Starting Tuesday All Access will reboot as Paramount+ with a slew of newly additional Viacom shows.
Seems like the longer you live the more expensive life gets, even if only incrementally. While we’ve apparently been spoiled by the current generation of games costing a measly $60 brand new, Sony announced this week that some titles for its upcoming console will get a next-gen $10 price bump. On top of likely needing a new 4K television to get the most out of the system’s juiced graphics card, upgrading to PS5 is quickly proving to be a pricey proposition.
Judge blocks US ban on WeChat app downloads
Beeler added that the government’s general national security concerns about China were “considerable,” but that evidence of specific issues with WeChat was “modest.” Like with TikTok, politicians have been worried that China might push Tencent-owned WeChat to spy on Americans.
The move stymies the Trump administration’s attempt to crack down on China-owned internet services, at least until the lawsuit comes to its conclusion.
It’s also a relief to both users and some US companies. WeChat is a mainstay app in China, and a ban would have made it harder for Chinese Americans to message overseas relatives. Also, firms like Apple and Disney have warned that they stand to lose if they can’t interact with WeChat. Apple’s iPhone sales in China depend heavily on access to WeChat, for example. If it’s not allowed to offer the app, its future in the country is in doubt. The injunction puts those fears on hold, however temporarily.
Trump approves TikTok deal with Oracle and Walmart ‘in concept’
The new company will also be required to have an IPO on a US stock exchange, and American ownership is expected to “grow over time.”
The Commerce Department simultaneously created a window for the potential deal by delaying the ban on TikTok’s app by a week, until the end of September 27th.
Some aspects of the deal caught ByteDance by surprise, Reuters noted — the Chinese firm said on September 20th that it first heard of the education plans at the same time the deal was announced. It said it was “committed” to education and would work toward the online classroom projects all the same.
As TechCrunch warned, though, this arrangement might not really address most of the key concerns. ByteDance reportedly holds the remaining 80 percent of TikTok Global, according to CNBC’s Alex Sherman. If the chief worry was that China’s government could pressure TikTok into spying on American users or spreading misinformation due to its majority Chinese ownership, that’s still a problem now. While US data is potentially more secure, this deal may be more about the appearance of action than a concerted effort to reduce Chinese government influence.
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