On Tuesday, EA Sports made a gigantic announcement when it revealed that it is bringing back its college football video game franchise under the EA Sports College Football title. The last time it made a college football game was with NCAA Football 14, which because of the scarcity and the seven-plus years that have gone by since its release can only be found for an exorbitant price on eBay and other places.
I am among those who has held tight to their copy of NCAA 14, as it (along with Skate 3) is the sole reason my Xbox 360 still has prime placement in my living room — I am currently working through a UMass Dynasty on our Uproxx Edge Twitch channel every Tuesday evening. I love the old NCAA games, as I had every title from 2005 through the final 2014 game, and spent much of my freshman year of college flunking classes because I was too busy working a two-team Dynasty with my roommate every day for an almost embarrassing number of hours each day.
Playing the 2014 edition is a reminder of some of the frustrations of old, and with the various issues and stagnation the Madden franchise has had — particularly with its career and franchise modes due to a lack of investment — we have some hopes for how EA will approach its new college football reboot. We’ll start with the things we want to see, from the “this should be in there” to the “please do this it’d be so much fun even if we know it won’t happen,” and then address some of the temptations that might come for EA’s development of the game that we know will be disastrous.
WHAT WE WANT
Focus On Dynasty Mode
I know that Ultimate Team modes are the focus for EA Sports with Madden and FIFA, sometimes to the detriment of the franchise/manager modes, but I am begging the good folks at EA to recognize why people loved the NCAA games and spend the majority of their time on the Dynasty Mode. It is the flagship mode of the franchise because it was so unique to any other franchise mode. In Madden, there’s only so much you do in free agency and trades. You aren’t going to make trades every week — or, at least, most people won’t — and free agency is a brief offseason note. FIFA is a little closer to the immersive nature of recruiting with the transfer windows and constant scouting of youth players, but it’s still just not quite the same. Recruiting is as big a deal as the games itself, and honestly you spend more time doing that than playing and it’s great, at least from my point of view.
I hope they really dive into the recruiting space and figure out how to expand it. Having played the 2014 game a lot recently, I’d like to see them go back to having a little more to do week-to-week in terms of picking what to talk with recruits about (or at least have that option) as well as negative recruiting other schools. Make visit weeks a bit more of a big deal and maybe even get into the dirty side of recruiting (hold this thought).
The Dynasty mode, by itself, is worth the price of the game if done right and while I know the temptation will be to try and create something new, I hope they simply try to make that mode the best it can be and invest most of their time into that. It’s why people love the game and have rallied to bring it back, and if you want to give them what they want, it’s expanding and dialing in the program building aspect of Dynasty.
Embrace College Football Offenses
The previous franchise did this pretty well and I just want to emphasize they should really spend some time to make sure they get this right rather than making tweaks to Madden playbooks. There is such a variance in college football in terms of what teams run and so many different schemes that separates it from the pros. It allows you to take advantage of things you have and mitigate deficiencies that come with being one of CFB’s have nots. The triple option will for sure be in there, but it goes well beyond that. There has been a lot of progression in college football offense since the last game came out, and it’ll take some serious conversations with coaches and research to get as much of that variety into the game. It would absolutely worth it, if not crucial, to really separate this from Madden — it is in no way a stretch to say that if this plays like Madden but with college football branding that this game would be viewed as a bit of a dud.
Let Us Commit Recruiting Violations
I understand why the NCAA games might have avoided this, because with NCAA licensing comes a partnership and the NCAA doesn’t exactly want to promote dirty recruiting. However, this is now licensed through CLC, which is just giving them rights to schools, stadiums, uniforms, etc. As such, I really hope they use the fact that they aren’t tethered to the NCAA to get into committing recruiting violations and the like. I want to get stripped of three national championships at Coastal Carolina because I got sloppy and was handing out $100s like candy on Halloween and have to restart my career at Nick Saban’s School For Wayward Boys (shouts to Michael Felder) as the offensive coordinator at Alabama to rebuild my image. Bring back recruiting promises, but add in being able to build a bag man network, and if you don’t meet your promises, that kid might go tell somebody about it and get you canned. The people crave it, let them have it now that you’re free from the NCAA.
Find A Way To Pay The Kids In Real Life
For now, the plan is to have the rosters be random groupings that share no resemblance to the names, images, and likeness of the players. That’s good, to start, but also as NIL legislation moves through the federal government, let’s make sure we find a way to get money to the kids, however that’s needed to be done. It seems as though that’s the plan, but it just needs to be said. It’s really cool to be in a video game, but it’s way cooler to be in a game when you’re getting paid.
WHAT WE DON’T WANT
Do Not Try To Make Targeting A Thing
Playing NCAA 14, I came to the horrific realization that if an NCAA game returned they would try to put targeting into it, because they are obsessed with realism. I do not play video games for complete and total realism, I play them to have fun. In NCAA 14, they became obsessed with replay reviews, a thing that, objectively, should not be in a video game. You are a game, you do not need to purposefully get things wrong just to review them. You are in total control here, video game, you can just make the right call, all the time, and not try to add “the human element” which is the thing people hate the most about officiating.
That brings me to targeting. Flagging dangerous hits to the head is important and necessary given the dangers, both short and long term, of head injuries. However, a video game does not have to worry about that, and we can save a lot of headaches by just not trying to make targeting a thing in the new game. It’s going to be tempting, because you’re a “simulation” game, but you can just ignore that one. There is no way in a video game to have full control of how your player tackles and so you’d just be spinning a wheel and randomly throwing guys out in the name of “realism.” Don’t do it. No one will miss it if it’s not in there.
Don’t Get Too Cute With The Coaching Carousel
I have seen people, mostly college football media folks, who have decided that it’d be cool to have coaching buyouts in the game. No. Just, no. We don’t need coaching salaries and buyouts and detailed contracts. Just hire me, fire me, and move on — again, hopefully I’m being fired for brazen recruiting violations. We don’t need buyout negotiations if I want to go to another school, and if we start having it to where you make money as a coach then you know that means microtransactions will somehow be put into this (more on this in about two seconds!). Let’s just not do that and keep it fun.
The microtransactions economy in video games is gross, we all know this. The ideal situation is that EA Sports makes the correct decision — which would also be based in goodwill since this was not in the last college football game it created — and just does not include them at all. But it seems extremely unlikely that would happen because of how much money microtransactions pull in for EA Sports, they are a rock upon which franchises like Madden and FIFA are built. Hopefully there can be something of a compromise position here, where microtransactions are used for totally innocuous stuff like old uniforms and other small things that add to the aesthetic of the game if you so choose and absolutely nothing more. If EA gets in way too deep here and makes it so VC is, say, crucial for Dynasty Mode to function — “you need X to improve your facilities, which makes it easier to recruit” or “for X you’re able to pay for a better academic staff so your players are academically eligible for games” — and the easiest way to get VC is to pay real money, it would be a major disappointment.
Don’t Spread Yourselves Thin
This one couples with the first point on focusing on Dynasty mode but it’s the thing that’s most concerning to me. There’s surely been a million ideas EA’s kicked around over the past seven or eight years about things they’d do with a college football game if they brought it back, but you can’t do it all in the first edition. Lay the foundation again and then build. That includes maybe not getting everything fans, including myself, ask for in this one, which is perfectly fine. Make Dynasty mode a hit again and work your way out from there. If you can do a story mode for a player career mode, that’d be really cool and I think there’s something there with starting in HS and getting recruited, but it doesn’t have to be a grandiose thing in the first game, especially if it comes at the expense of making your flagship mode worse. I’m sure they’ll try and make a CFB Ultimate Team mode, because that’s a revenue driver, but, really, don’t lose focus on what made people love this game.