How Madden 16 Can Take MUT To The Next Level
Madden Ultimate Team is perhaps the most beloved mode in Madden NFL these days, and that’s good news for EA, because it’s quite the cash cow. MUT is a fine example of a happy medium between a developer’s responsibility to introduce and maintain income-generating features, and the desire of players to have something not only fun, but wholly fresh each season.
The idea of MUT is a simple one, really: Owners open packs and collect cards much like they might have in the glory years of their childhood, but with the added twist of being able to use those cards to assemble in-game roster for Madden NFL.
For some, taking that first step into Madden Ultimate Team is a laborious task, which no doubt helps explain why EA put so much focus this past year in streamlining its menus for the mode. For those that can get past that initial hurdle of learning all the ins-and-outs, there’s an incredibly fun experience awaiting that often hooks players in a very real way. The MUT community, in fact, is probably the strongest and most die-hard sports gaming community online these days.
There are, however, some serious cons about the mode that have driven players off in the past. For starters, MUT is very much a pay-to-win model, where if you spend more money to buy more packs, you’ll have a better chance of acquiring the best players, and the best chance to win games. This is somewhat offset by matching teams against one another based on their card value or overall team rating, but it’s still not everyone’s cup of tea. It is, however, integral that it works this way because that’s how money is made.
Another downside to MUT, is that even though EA works hard to find ways to innovate and freshen up the mode each year, there is only so much they can do to improve upon it. The primary interest for players is really just the fresh start and grinding out games and packs to discover their new team, but the mode itself doesn’t lend itself to much innovation — You buy packs, you collect players and you set your lineup.
Today I want to talk about an idea that has been itching at me for quite a while: The MUT Draft.
The Hearthstone Arena Draft Concept
I’ve never been a huge fan of card games like Magic, but conceptually I always liked the idea of drafts, where players are given cards at random rather than having games dictated so heavily by who spent more money to bolster their collection. It’s a concept of parity that works really well, and turns a game into more of a challenge of skill and decision-making than simply collecting.
Random drafts on their own, however, are historically quite complicated and not particularly kind to the end-goal of generating income. That’s what I thought, of course, until I started playing Blizzard’s free-to-play card game Hearthstone and took to an innovative draft system they call the “Arena.”
The Arena is fantastic in Hearthstone, because it combines elements of parity, with that of decision making, skill and of course positive-feedback loops for your well-spent time. It’s an elegant system, really, and one that I really like: Players are told to choose one card out of an option of a semi-random three, and repeat this process until their deck completes at 30 cards, and you take your deck out to compete for a limited time. This turns out to be a really fun draft system as you hand-craft your deck step-by-step, and have to make hard decisions left and right en route to your completed “team.” While some cards are simply better than others, there’s always the question of card synergy that comes into play when assembling your deck that makes things really intriguing.
Still not sure how it works? Here’s a quick video of the drafting process.
Players then go on and attempt to win 12 games with a maximum of three “lives,” with their post-Arena rewards increased alongside with the wins achieved, part of which includes most if not all of your entry fee to begin with, creating quite an addictive cycle of “just one more run.”
I think a similar system could be used in Madden Ultimate Team that would very quickly become a fan-favorite for both casual, and hardcore MUT fans. While the logic behind card selection options would need to be thought out a bit, as well as how many cards are drafted in the first place, I believe there is a good starting point by which EA can build upon.
The Madden Ultimate Team Draft
Madden, and the NFL for that matter have a unique identity and with that comes plenty of creative ways to expound upon the arena draft concept. The following are a few ideas of how EA could help make a system that would ooze with flavor by utilizing the many unique elements brought on by franchises, players, and the attribute-driven world of football games.
When players enter the MUT Draft, they begin by choosing their preferred franchise (Patriots, Giants, Jaguars etc). At the start of each draft, you’ll receive a “Franchise Pick” that contains an option of three premium-level players from that Franchise’s history to choose from. This ensures that you will have at least one elite player on your roster in the theme of your team. Perhaps you select the San Francisco 49ers and get one of the many unique Jerry Rice cards floating around, or maybe you are a defensive minded player and choose the Pittsburgh Steelers in hopes of snagging a Mean Joe Greene to lay down the foundation of your defense.
The difficult decision of who to take with your Franchise pick will set the tone well for the Draft mode, as it’s quite likely a good case could be made for any of your three Franchise options. Following the Franchise pick, players will be given an option of 3-4 cards to choose from for each selection going forward. These cards won’t be position-specific, but rather open to allow you to make difficult and fun decisions throughout the draft (Should I take this quality corner since I don’t have one yet, or do I take a gamble and grab the elite receiver when I already have two?).
The process of picking your players continues throughout the rest of the draft, with the selections mostly tied to groupings (selecting from a choice of common cards, a group of rare cards, etc). Additionally, to further differentiate teams and stir up the decision making process, cards that match your franchise should receive a small stats boost, or perhaps more interestingly, only have a stat boost when you draft a certain number of franchise-matching cards. Little things like this can make drafts quite fun as players have to decide between the sure-thing of a quality player, and the potential for acquiring more value by picking up that third “Class” card in hopes of picking up enough along the way to get that stat boost.
You could even take this a step further, by adding more nuanced cards that may seem weaker on their face, but potentially stronger with synergies, like a rare Matt Stafford that gets a small ratings boost if any Calvin Johnson is on the roster. Even more interesting would be the addition of non-player cards during the draft that may cause players to make a choice between improving a player on the roster or drafting another body. This might be a Gold Upgrade card that turns a card of your choice after the draft into a Gold version of that player, or a Remix card that when applied to a player turns him into another random version of that same player (How much are you willing to gamble?). There’s also something to be said about individual-stat enhancement cards that might appear to select from, like a Speed Booster (+3 SPD to a player) and more importantly, figuring out who you should apply it to.
Don’t worry, those rosters will get filled out for you.
At the end of each draft, players are given a “Scrub Pack” (see: Bronze-type pack) that when opened will automatically fill out the blank and poor-depth’d spots in a drafted team’s roster with most-likely-to-be scrub players. This will ensure that players won’t feel compelled during the drafting process to necessarily fill every single position and their backups, and give them more flexibility in their team creation process. This also allows you to make hard decisions like picking up that Speed Booster card and accepting that a scrub will fill your lineup somewhere else as a result, or picking more bodies over enhancements for a more well-rounded starting roster.
There are really a ton of options available for an Arena type draft system for MUT, and certainly much more than I alone could come up with. There are already so many different types of cards, and so many different ways to build a team during a drafting process like this (Do you go deep at receiver, or cornerback?), that I really think players would get a ton of enjoyment out of the mode in concept.
Just Win, Baby! (And Get Rewarded)
A huge driving force of the interest players have in the Arena in Hearthstone is the positive feedback loop it contains. Players have to spend an entry fee in “gold” to enter the draft, however if they are successful enough they will at minimum get roughly that value back in rewards of both “gold” and a mandatory card pack for their investment. The great part of the Arena is that it’s such a fun and fairly balanced way to play, that players desire getting back into the Arena just to play it just as much as they desire the rewards at the end of their successful runs.
Hearthstone Arena runs run up to a maximum of 12 wins, or 3 losses (whichever comes first), and similarly MUT could run in many ways. A Draft run could last for eight games, it could include playoffs or championship games at the end, or it could run until the player loses a certain amount of times (how far can you go, type of deal). Something like six games (or two losses) might be the best compromise considering the average length of Madden games (games don’t need to be completed in one sitting, either, just like MUT seasons).
Over a year ago we wrote an article about how Madden NFL could improve d-line controls, and a few EA Game Changers did an awesome job of picking up the story and passing it on to Madden developers to ultimately see its inspired integration into Madden. I feel like this idea is even better, and I think it could potentially be the most refreshing and fun mode Madden has ever had. I wouldn’t consider myself an MUT fan at the moment, however a draft mode like this would give me much more incentive to collect and play, because the draft method of grinding out coins and collecting cards would be much, much more fun.
Madden NFL 16 will mark the third installment of the franchise on current-gen consoles, and it would be amiss to see it come and go without a truly interesting and refreshing addition such as an MUT draft system. In a time where fan criticism continues to mount over features that are added and removed due to their lack of success or real playing time, an MUT draft mode strikes me as a feature that would have long-standing appeal, and would help to further ignite an already booming sub-community within the Madden world. The fact that the MUT draft will also act as a fun and exciting gateway into becoming an invested MUT player should make this a no-brainer part of Madden’s future, whether that be in Madden NFL 16 or beyond.
So, Let’s Wrap Things Up Real Quick
How does the MUT Draft/Arena function?
• Players spend a fee roughly equal to that of a card pack to enter the draft.
• Players assemble their roster through the random drafting process.
• Players see how far they can take their drafted roster against others.
• Rewards are given at the end of the run based on win/loss success.
• Rewards may include: Card packs, coins, or rare cards on occasion.