Madden generally isn’t the kind of game to see headlines before the annual release cycle. Things have been pretty steady for EA’s premiere football series since 2013 or so, when Rex Dickson took over the series as creative director. Plenty of advances happened during that time, with Madden itself growing in complexity and accessibility. During this time Madden also grew in terms of presentation as NFL Films’ Brian Murray was brought in to work on the game, and more work was done to make the game look real in more ways than just the game. Last year’s game also introduced Longshot, making what Madden “is” an even more nebulous concept. But this month, Dickson announced that he has left EA after 12 years with the company.
Madden isn’t made by one person, but having the creative director of six years take off is a big deal. As he said in his own public statement, his departure opens the door for new blood, and a new creative director could mean a new direction for the franchise. We’ve already seen significant changes coming to the series with the latest entry, and this year’s path has likely been set for a while now. But what could be coming next for Madden?
It’s no surprise that Longshot did well. It was all anybody talked about when reviews dropped, which means that Longshot was able to push Madden to penetrate the mass market, and get new eyeballs on the game. Madden is already a hugely successful IP, but the level of buzz coming off just that mode was unheard of. And really, despite the known actors cast in the story and all the drive and talent behind it, it was pretty much still the rough draft. Imagine if the Madden story mode is considered a thing to do every year, what could happen with more experience behind the team’s belt? What could happen with a new person in charge?
Additionally, Madden 18 was also home to new changes in the gameplay department. While Madden gets as hardcore as the player wants it to, those games are not friendly to casual players. Even with all the different multiplayer options, what really helped Madden 18 be accessible was its more arcade-style play options. But there could still be more; Longshot introduced other modes of play in a technical sense, with limited-number teams, non-league play, and even some tutorial sequences that were much more effective than the usual training modes.
There’s a lot of stuff in there that could be mined for further new modes and audience growth. Other games from EA last year introduced ideas Madden could benefit from as well. UFC 3 had its Knockout mode, and NHL 18 had Threes. Both of these modes stripped down the simulation-style complexity in favor of faster, simpler, and flashier play, to great effect. Madden could really use something similar, something that could make football a more couch-friendly affair.
Madden won’t change overnight. But there is now the potential for the series to try something new, to move a different direction than just forward. With the departure of the creative director of several years, the team could be introduced and guided by a new perspective, or at least a fresh set of eyes that might look at the overall picture a little differently. Perhaps Madden continues to chase accessibility as it did in 2017. Perhaps EA runs away from the card-based Ultimate modes as part of the recoil from random loot and microtransactions; maybe the new creative director is a big part of that. Who knows? What we do know is that Madden was already in a great place after Madden 18, and the tools are in place to take advantage of that position.