Old videos from Madden 05 and NFL 2K5 are a common sight in Madden subreddits these days. Invariably they'll include a clip of digital Chris Berman reading the highlights, or the old Tony Bruno radio show, with the first comment being, "Madden franchise sucks now! It's only about MUT!"
I tend to roll my eyes when I see these memes, if only because they seem obsessed with window dressing. Yes, presentation does matter, but there's a lot more ailing Madden's franchise mode than a lack of Chris Berman making cracks about "Brady's Bunch" over the highlights. But it does cut to the core of general fan discontent with Madden 20's flagship single-player mode. One way or another, fans feel like something is missing.
So what can the next Madden do to bring franchise mode in line with expectations? Well, I have some ideas.
I've sketched out some potential improvements below, most of which have been successfully implemented elsewhere. It's not quite a guaranteed roadmap to success, but if EA were to devote more resources into franchise mode for the next Madden, I would want it to be in these areas.
1. Madden franchise mode needs better customization options
Madden 20 has the fewest customization options of any sports sim outside of NBA Live (another Tiburon joint). NHL and NBA 2K let you build custom teams and treat them as full-blown expansion teams; FIFA lets you put the Seattle Sounders in La Liga, even MLB The Show lets you include legends on your roster. To its credit, Madden recently introduced custom draft classes, which allow enterprising players to replicate famous classes of the past, or build their own from scratch. But there's still work to be done.
The most straightforward change would be to decouple legends like John Elway from Madden Ultimate Team and make them accessible through franchise mode. This would freshen up the rosters and sharpen the sense of wish fulfillment that is core to the appeal of sports sims. Would I like to line up Randy Moss next to Adam Thielen? Yes, I would. And I wouldn't necessarily want to do it through Ultimate Team, which is its own distinct experience.
Short of that, realignment would be nice. Do you pine for the days when the Arizona Cardinals were inexplicably in the NFC East? Or when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the NFC Central? Well, ok, I don't either, but I'm firmly in favor of giving players the option to live out a bit of NFL history for themselves. The main objection I've heard is that it throws scheduling out of whack, but NHL and NBA 2K both manage it, and it was a staple in the old NCAA Football games (may they rest in peace).
More ambitious changes would include rule changes, the return of custom teams, and expansion—all features in other sports sims. Whatever form it might take, players should always have the freedom to chart their own course in modes like these. As it stands, Madden NFL doesn't do that nearly enough.
2. Madden needs to find interesting ways to make it easier to get through a season faster
One of the best updates to Madden franchise mode in recent memory is "Play the Moments"—a feature that automatically sims through a game and dynamically inserts you into big moments. It's been a staple of my franchise mode experience since its introduction in Madden 17, allowing me to crank through multiple seasons while keeping the games relatively interesting. In normal play, games takes 45 minutes and the outcome is almost a foregone conclusion; with Play the Moments, games wrap in 15 minutes and give you interesting challenges to overcome.
Future versions of Madden should be looking to expand this mode, with MLB The Show potentially pointing the way. While a little sterile, The Show has a large number of options for quickly playing through a 162 game season. Its most recent innovation is March to October, which dynamically inserts you into big games and simulates the rest of the season based on whether you succeed or fail. It's Play the Moments, but for an entire season.
This brings me to another point: Madden really needs a way to just play through a season without having to worry about all the GM functionality. A "March to the Super Bowl" mode would partly fulfill that need, and it would potentially offer some really nice Ultimate Team hooks as well.
3. Madden 20's franchise mode doesn't do enough to make progress feel meaningful
Madden 20's franchise mode has an engagement problem. That is to say that there's not much reward for continuing through multiple seasons. Sure, it's fun to build an unstoppable super team, but it doesn't mean much when the game barely acknowledges your accomplishments.
This was driven home for me during a brief but torrid affair with Football Manager Mobile last year. FM Mobile isn't nearly as deep as its PC counterpart, but it does a tremendous job of making you feel good about your success. When you win, your budget goes up, the board periodically tells you how awesome you are, and important transfers become easier to pull off. Keep winning, and the board will eventually name a stadium after you (rad), or even make you Manager for Life.
Madden 20, by contrast, basically hits the reset button with each new season. You never hear from your fans on social media, or even the team's owner. There's no league history log that lists previous championships and player awards. Outside of an appearance against your team's biggest rival on Thursday Night to open the season (a nice touch), and maybe a headline or two in your news feed that vaguely references defending your title, there's hardly any reference to your previous accomplishments. You would think winning six Super Bowls in a row would earn you a little cred with the announcers.
Anyway, this is all to say that Madden's franchise mode could do with a little more positive reinforcement. Ideally, EA would introduce in-game achievements: special badges earned by winning the Super Bowl with the Browns, or breaking the single season rushing record, or fleecing the Giants for Odell Beckham. But short of that, a little more acknowledgment would be nice.
4. Madden needs more meaningful interactions with coaches and players
One of my favorite things about NBA 2K's franchise mode is that it positions you as just one person in a larger organization. Yes, you still basically have carte blanche to do what you want with your team, but you also have employees with their own opinions. Often, assistants, players, and even the owner will weigh in on your decisions, and if you opt to ignore them, they will get upset.
Madden 20 takes one halting step down the road toward meaningful player interaction with this year's update. Its new "Scenario Engine" will periodically put you in touch with a player or coach, who will typically make a request of you during a game (for example, shutting down Todd Gurley). This is... fine... but it mostly just reframes the existing in-game objectives, and the penalty for not meeting your goals is a relatively modest drop in player morale.
FIFA tends to take a lot of crap from the community for not updating its franchise enough, but it's had decent player interaction for years. In a typical season, you will have to balance playing time against fatigue, and if a player becomes unhappy, they will sometimes stir up a controversy or force an exit. At their best, these little scenarios can stir up dynamic storylines that play out over the course of an entire season. These scenarios haven't been updated in close to a decade, which is why they're seen as quite stale, but the blueprint is there for a much more robust offering by Madden.
These moments matter because they offer more opportunities to make interesting decisions—the core of any good simulation. Madden's drafting scouting is one area that could be vastly improved with a little more interaction. As it stands, scouting is accomplished by mindlessly spending points to unlock stats on player, with basic combine stats and news headlines offering further clues regarding their potential. It's a fairly rote and boring experience, one that should be handled by your team's scouting department. Pretty much every other sports sim offers an example of how to handle scouting.
At the very least, the ability to hire offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators that grant individual team buffs would be nice.
5. It's time to fix Owner Mode
Owner Mode has been hopelessly broken since returning in Madden 25. Its economic system makes little sense and offers no meaningful feedback. The only reason to play it is to have the option to relocate and become one of the preset expansion teams (both NHL and NBA 2K eat Madden's lunch with far more available locations, the ability to have multiple teams in one city, expansion, and custom teams).
Nothing short of a total overhaul can save Owner Mode at this point, and it looks increasingly unlikely to ever happen. But if EA ever decided to try, I would point it toward a potentially interesting model: Pocket League Story. Kairosoft's delightful little soccer sim is simple on its face, but it features a number of mechanics that would work very well in a potential owner mode.
Pocket League Story is based on a tried and true formula. You earn money by winning games, and as you progress, you open up the ability to build new facilities, which in turn unlock unique opportunities to generate money and fan interest. More money allows you to recruit stronger coaches who can in turn draft and develop stronger players. Success is visualized through a team complex that progressively grows as your team gets bigger and more successful.
I would love for some enterprising development team to take up this model and truly bring Owner Mode into its own. Short of a miracle though, I don't expect EA to invest any resources into this long neglected side of Madden NFL.
6. Keep improving the presentation
You'll notice that I frequently use NBA 2K as a key example in this list. There's a reason for this: NBA 2K has one of the best franchise modes in this business. It even has a story-based GM mode that's taking cues from Persona of all games.
A key aspect that NBA 2K that consistently gets right is the presentation. Every game opens up with a unique pregame show featuring the crew from Inside the NBA, complete with special variants for holidays and the playoffs. Certain games will feature guest commentators like Kevin Garnett, who come in to talk about their career and offer insight on the game.
Madden has made its own push to improve its presentation, but its done so in ways that don't hit nearly as hard. It has a halftime show highlighting scores from around the league, but NBA 2K's halftime show works because it takes place during the loading screen, meaning you won't just click through it immediately (though you can still skip 75 percent of it if you want). Madden has some nice presentation elements, but they almost never vary through the season. NBA 2K has multiple overlays and promos that it rotates through every game. EA has a little text box where a reporter asks you some basic questions; NBA 2K has actual press conferences.
I get it, these elements are window dressing that take time and resources to develop. But here's one way Madden can improve its presentation without spending hundreds of hours on fancy cutscenes: get announcers Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin to actually emote when my receiver makes a game-winning miracle catch to win the Super Bowl. Little details like these do more than to hurt Madden's immersion than the lack of a pregame show ever will.
7. Madden's franchise mode needs to get the details right
Speaking of details, Madden continues to be way behind the ball when it comes to accurately presenting the realities of running an NFL team. Special Teams are pretty much limited to kicking and punting, so you can't develop the next Adam Thielen by starting them out as a special teams ace. There are no compensatory picks. There's no retricted free agency.
These details aren't important just because a bunch of hardcore franchise fans complain about them every single year. When you get omit basic elements like these, immersion suffers. Casual fans might not care either way, but diehard fans will loudly complain and color the perception of the mode for everyone else. And the diehards are definitely complaining.
A Few Kind Words for Madden 20's Franchise Mode
Madden 20's franchise mode obviously tends to catch a lot of flack from fans. I literally just spent 2500 words writing about how it could be better. But there are some things that it gets right, and they deserve to be highlighted as well.
- Madden 20 is one of the only remaining sports sims with a fully-featured online franchise mode. In just a few weeks, I will be reuniting with a bunch of old friends to kick off a full 32 team league. Only NBA 2K comes close to offering anything like it among sports sims.
- Play the Moments is still pretty good. It solves the problem of regular games taking 45 minutes, and it almost single-handedly makes me more interested in taking on multiple seasons. This was a good addition.
- It gets some details right, including Super Bowl winners playing on Thursday night, and the Super Bowl properly advancing through the right stadium rotation. It also has London games and the Pro Bowl now. I recognize this is a low bar to clear, but like I said, details like these matter.
- The Scenario Engine is limited, but I'm fine with having clearer micro-objectives to pursue during individual games. It's a good first step toward something greater. I like that it will be dynamically upgraded throughout the year.
- Progession seems more balanced this year. It looks much harder to have a Super Bowl winning dynasty while being millions under the cap. It's also not nearly as boring as it was a couple years ago, when you had to sit and pour hundreds of points into single stats to create unbalanced monsters at every position.
As it stands, Madden 20's franchise mode is functional. EA seems to think it's fine, which is probably a big reason it has chosen to devote resources elsewhere. Justified or not, the devs don't seem to think investing energy in franchise mode will do much to grow its playerbase.
But Madden's franchise mode becomes more of a sore point with each passing year, especially with NBA 2K, MLB The Show, and even NHL surging ahead. Even by the relatively modest standards of sports sim franchise modes, Madden 20 has fallen behind the competition. It's time for EA to invest the resources needed to close the gap.
Madden 20 is out now for EA Early Access users. It will enter full release on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on August 2. I will have additional thoughts, and possibly a review, later this week.