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Improving Freemium Design – Madden 25

By on September 27, 2013
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Improving Freemium Design – Madden 25


As a monetization consultant/designer I write about games I play. Historically, I’ve only written these articles on games from smaller studios because stereotypically they make more mistakes or are easier to critique. This streak ends today as I take on Madden 25. EA has the talent, relationships and budget to bring some seriously good F2P mobile titles such as Simpsons Tapped OutReal Racing 3 and all the Pop Cap games, but what happens when they take a premium franchise and make it freemium? Let’s check out Madden 25 for mobile!

What it does right

Presentation

No surprise here but the game looks great! It looks better than any other mobile football game I’ve seen. It actually has the real players since they’re working with the NFLPA and not just buying the right to only use NFL. The music and sound effects are great (for the most part). I’m pumped to play the game from the intro music and the main menu music. The only thing I could do without is the same guy saying “let’s go baby” at my play selection screen. Every time.

Building a team

I love the idea of building a team versus only playing with the current roster. This also works better with the freemium business model because there are definitely teams which would be better and thus should cost some sort of currency to use them. Here players can choose their favorite team, but that team won’t start better than everyone else. EA can also introduce new player packs over time to which will allow the game to last longer than one season/year.

Limited time content

Some players are only available for a limited time and there are special “players of the week” cards. This is crucial for collection games. Short, but most definitely impactful.

Up selling & great first purchase option

EA not only up sells card and play packs at a discount after matches, but they have a one-time beginner pack sold at a heavy discount. If you like the game this is a no-brainer and got me to spend $5 within the first couple play sessions.

Controls

Madden 25 is the first football game I’ve played on mobile where you don’t directly control a player all the time. The players will attempt to execute plays and adapt to plays as they unfold. I know some will disagree but moving away from virtual analog sticks and buttons is the right move for mobile (until there’s a decent controller). The swipe controls aren’t perfect, but once you get used to them the game is easy to play.

However, if you’re completely against swipe controls you can switch back to a virtual analog stick in the settings.

Auctions

I was surprised to see the auction system in Madden 25. I love the ability to sell or buy cards. This also allows me to search for players I really like to see what the stats are on them. It’s a great way to discover cards.

What could be improved?

Selling plays

In console Madden games they give users all the plays from the start. This isn’t true in Madden 25, and players have been extremely vocal about it. I sort of like the idea of “earning” plays after leveling up or completing a goal, but I could be in the minority here. If EA wants to monetize on plays and convert the way people feel about the subject then they shouldn’t throw the lack of plays in the players face. What do I mean? Don’t show players ALL of the plays that they don’t have. You’re just reminding them how little content you’re actually giving them.

In fact, I’d get away from selling most of the plays at all. Maybe reserve a couple trick plays for play packs, but I’d give players most things they’d need to play right away.

Charging to use plays

Some plays that a player has earned (or bought) cost soft currency to use. Don’t worry EA doesn’t charge 500 coins to use the play. They can vary in price but the lowest I’ve seen is 2 coins. That’s right. 2 coins. I understand the concept of sources and sinks to manage currency levels, but you’re not achieving anything by charging 2 coins to use a play. Except that you’re reminding players that they didn’t have this play when they originally started and conjuring those emotions again from your players.

[Update] It appears EA might’ve pulled this functionality while writing this article, but I’m keeping this point in the article because I think it’s ridiculous to charge premium currency for the majority of plays and then again charge grind currency to use them.

Upsell bug

Like I mentioned earlier, EA did a great job of upselling a beginners pack to me and I wanted it. I didn’t have enough currency, but I can just visit the store and get some to purchase the pack, right? Not exactly. There’s a bug that wouldn’t allow me to go to the store. After the fact, I found out from a co-worker that if you go through the menus in a certain sequence it’s possible, but I wasn’t able to take the direct route and make the purchase.

When planning menus and upsells, make sure all paths to the store are working. Who knows how many sales EA has missed because if this one menu bug.

Limited time content

Madden could do a much better job communicating who or what is limited. You want to show players the epic content so they WANT it. I’ve received the “player of the week” card twice now and my reaction was “oh cool, a rare card” versus “YES… that’s the card I’ve been trying to get!” I’m not as enthused to get the limited time content if I don’t know what the content is.

Base cards

I didn’t realize this at first (and neither did my colleagues) but player cards can come in a few different forms. There are “actual” cards with the player’s real stats, and there are “base” cards. When you first start playing the game you’re given “base” cards, but this wasn’t communicated. So when I chose the Vikings, Adrian Peterson’s rating was 70 out of 100. Arguably the best running back in football right now was a 70? I was confused, but some of my NFL-fanatic colleagues were outraged because they didn’t think the game was properly balanced. Some people I know deleted the app until I explained this to them so I wonder how many NFL fans (their target market) are uninstalling because they didn’t understand?

One “benefit” from the confusion is I was able to sell my base AP card on an Auction for 1,000 coins and someone bought it when there were better rated cards selling for less! I realize that they did this to give players some player cards that are recognizable, but EA could’ve done a better job of communicating this difference.

Balancing plays

Want to know how to win without purchasing players? HB Counter Trap left. The play is near unstoppable. Every once in a while the AI defense might stop it, but my average run is about 10 yards with about a 40% chance that I’ll break away for 30+ yards. That percentage only increases if you find a running back with 90+ rating for speed. 2 point conversions are almost guaranteed. Once you find an exploit like this the game might lose its appeal fast.

I understand this is a stat game. It’s just running simulations off of calculations so there might be a few hiccups here are there, but the game should be smart enough to shut down a play if it’s been run too frequently over the course of a game. For example, maybe HB Counter Trap left gains 10 yards the first time, 5 yards the second time but when you run it a third time in a quarter it’s shutdown.

Auction UX

It is nice to have the auction functionality, but what’s not nice is the UX. When the player selects to view auctions, the game displays auctions that are about to expire. On paper this sounds like a novel idea. However, it doesn’t give me enough time to review their stats before the auction expires. If I scroll to the right to load more auctions that are about to expire, they’ve all expired by the time they load.

What would I do?

  1. Don’t drop me off at expired auctions. I’d drop the player off at auctions with about 1-5 minutes left. That gives me time to review the stats, and if I decide to scroll to load more they won’t be expired.
  2. Reset auctions with more time. If you bid on a card that’s about to expire it resets the countdown to 15 seconds. I would reset to at least one minute. That would possibly give new players who are visiting the auctions a chance to get a bid in too. EA also needs to remember the players are on mobile devices which can sometime have shotty internet access. Like me… when I’m playing on the bus on my way into work. I can’t ever browse auctions, let alone, bid on one that’s about to expire.
  3. Implement sorting. Thank you for adding search filters, but sorting is just as important. I want quickly know who is selling the cheapest players without scrolling for hours. This also would help players price their auctions affordably. What’s the current market price for Drew Brees? Good luck telling me that.
  4. Fix the searching functionality. If I search for “Adrian Peterson” the game comes back with every Adrian in the NFL along with Adrian Peterson. This would make sense if I only typed Adrian or misspelt the name. However, if I know exactly who I want then please don’t make me sift through hundreds of auctions of players
  5. The funny thing about Madden 25 is I like it. I like American football, but I’m not “crazy” about it. I also don’t typically play sports games which means Madden 25 did something awesome in order to get me to like the game, or they did something very wrong for fans of the series. I think it’s a little of both. EA finally made a Madden game for mobile versus attempting to create the same console experience on a small touch screen device. Sure the launch hasn’t been perfect, but when you’re doing something for the first time you’re bound to make mistakes. I already think this is the best mobile football game to date, and feel free to quote me on this, but with a few tweaks and updates I think console Madden players will come to love the game as well.

If you’d like to talk about this or any other games you can find me here at my blog, the NativeX blog or on Twitter.

About Ben Sipe

Ben is a seasoned game producer/designer who has collaborated on hundreds of mobile, console and PC titles spanning all genres.