Online franchise is the most anticipated new feature in "Madden NFL 10." And for good reason. Gamers will be able to participate in live drafts, make trades from the Web, and even decide to bench struggling quarterbacks via iPhone (hey JaMarcus, can you hear me now?).
ESPN sat down with EA Sports' Phil Frazier and Ian Cummings to find out more about the mode, including all the dirt on free agency and importing your draft class.
ESPN: What are the basics of "Madden 10's" online franchise?
Phil Frazier: You can play with up to 32 users, so you can have a league of all users, or you can play with just one user if you want. That's one of the questions we're getting a lot on the forums, so yes, you can play online franchise by yourself, we'll support it. You get the real NFL schedules, the playoffs, and the Super Bowl. You can make trades, there will be a live draft that you can participate in from both the console and the Web at the same time, and there will be multiple seasons.
ESPN: How do you think this will change the way "Madden" online is played?
Phil Frazier: I think we've not only delivered a feature our fans wanted, and quite frankly expected, in online franchise, we've done it in a way where they can access it anytime, anywhere from the Web, or even the iPhone. You can be at work, make a trade using your iPhone, and the second you get back to your console, the change will already be made. It's real-time, no delay, and the minute you click on the submit button, it's ready to go.
ESPN: How many seasons will the mode support?
Phil Frazier: You can play up to ten seasons in this year's game. You have a rookie class coming in every season, and they'll be the same rookies that we use in offline franchise.
ESPN: How will free agency work?
Phil Frazier: This year we didn't get around to doing the true free agency model, so what we did is we've given the commissioner of your league god-like powers. We've found that a lot of people online, the hardest of the hardcore, they do just fine with making up their own free agency system as long as you give them the tool set to do it. So the free agent wire is in the game. You can pick up players and drop players as much as you want, and the commissioner can go in and add and drop players from any team as well. So if the commissioner sees that some team is being unfair in their pickups, they can go in and remove a player to make things fair. We don't have contracts, so we couldn't get true free agency in, but it's something that we're building on for the future.
ESPN: Can you import your NCAA roster to your online franchise?
Phil Frazier: There's no support for importing your NCAA draft class in online franchise. We do have it in offline franchise, though.
With everything we focused on, from Pro-Tak to online franchise, we focused on the core, we focused on making a great football game. We didn't focus on any gimmicks, or anything we view as gimmicks.
”-- "Madden NFL 10" producer Phil Frazier
Ian Cummings: But here's the thing, we can say no to all these features now, but it's not totally true. We can go in and update draft classes through roster updates because that's all server driven. It's one thing we're actually looking into, to see if we can push the NCAA draft classes out on our own.
So we might say, no we don't have free agency or no we don't have the NCAA draft classes, but it's on us to find ways around that. And they're not even patches. For NCAA it could just be a roster update. Since all of the draft classes come from us, hopefully we can just push the rosters from NCAA out there without the disc. That's the type of stuff we're looking at.
Phil Frazier: That's why we built everything to be server driven. It's easily updatable even after we ship. It doesn't require a patch, it doesn't require anything. We can update stuff to the Web site very easily and add new functionality. The future is endless when it comes to this sort of feature.
Ian Cummings: It took forever for us to build it. Our key thing was that if we spent all this time, let's make sure we can push new stuff to it without releasing patches. Since it's all server based, the new content will just show up.
ESPN: When you hear people already talking about how "Madden 10" should be the best "Madden" of all time, do you feel the pressure to deliver?
Ian Cummings: It's a lot of pressure, but at the same time, some people are going to be upset no matter what you do. Everything we did is a framework to build on. I don't think we added anything that was a one-and-done feature. When I look at what we've done with this game, I think we've set ourselves up for the next five years. If we didn't fulfill every wish list and every request, we sure fulfilled a hell of a lot of them.
Phil Frazier: With everything we focused on, from Pro-Tak to online franchise, we focused on the core, we focused on making a great football game. We didn't focus on any gimmicks, or anything we view as gimmicks, and I think in the end we'll be rewarded. Again, great new animations and tackles in Pro-Tak, solid presentation in cut scenes with new audio, new banners, plus online franchise ... Madden 10 is a full package.