After furor, Madden 11 patch to offer Strategy Pad choice

If you thought that developers ignored feedback from consumers, here’s some evidence to refute that belief. The Madden NFL 11 demo came out last week, and since its launch, hardcore Madden fans — who, apparently, are all old dogs who refuse to learn new tricks — have taken to message boards and Twitter to whine and moan about the new system for pre-play adjustments.

In Madden NFL 11, EA Tiburon has moved everything to the D-pad (dubbed the “Strategy Pad”); until now, different controls triggered different adjustments. For example, pressing Y/triangle on offense would let you alter receivers’ routes, while you could adjust linebacker positioning on defense with RB/R1. These combinations have long since been entered into muscle memory for veteran Madden players (including yours truly); learning a new scheme — a setup that requires extra button presses, in some cases — seems daunting. So Madden die-hards exercised their inalienable right to hop online and b*tch, shouting things like “it wasn’t broke, why’d you mess with it” at the developers.

But as creative director Ian Cummings asserts, “it was in fact broke.” In a blog post on the game’s official site, he explained the development team’s decision to introduce the Strategy Pad. Cummings brought out four strong arguments in favor of making a change from the old system, including some damning statistics derived from Madden NFL 10 data that EA Tiburon tracked [emphasis in original]:

…did you know that over 2 BILLION defensive hot route context states were entered in Madden NFL 10? That’s an average of more than 5 million per day. We discovered that of this number, more than 50% never called an actual hot route. So on more than 1 BILLION occasions, a gamer accidentally went into a pre-play contextual state that they didn’t mean to. As a game designer, you just can’t choose to ignore’s [sic] staggering.

Those numbers make two things clear to me: (1) switching to the Strategy Pad makes complete sense, and (2) hardcore Madden fans are a very small (but very vocal) minority. In light of the data, I’m siding with EA Tiburon here, and after spending a few hours with a final build of Madden NFL 11, I can say that the process of training my fingers to the Strategy Pad (and forgetting the old system) is well under way.

Even so, the loud longtime Madden players are getting their wish: in the wake of the backlash, Cummings promised that an upcoming patch — tentatively set for release in early September — will bring an option to go back to the old pre-play adjustment controls. My advice? Just suffer through the Strategy Pad learning process, because I don’t think the new system is going away anytime soon.

GameFlow and The Strategy Pad [Madden NFL 11 Blog]

Samit Sarkar