How ‘Madden NFL 25’ Will Try To Make Franchise A Deeper, More Dynamic Mode

Every year, when EA Sports announces its upcoming edition of Madden, they release information about what they’ve added that will make this year’s version feel and play better than the year prior. The tricky part is, a one-year development cycle isn’t always enough to make major changes to the game — at least, changes that won’t have unintended negative consequences. But the folks at EA have learned their lesson not to rush attempts at innovation.

For example, this year’s big gameplay addition is BoomTech, a new physics-based tackling and ball-carrier engine that (at least, in my opinion) delivers on its promise to create an improved feel to running and tackling, and more realistic interactions between ball-carriers and defenders. It arrives in Madden NFL 25, but as senior game design director Connor Dougan explained, it’s been in development for two years and simply wasn’t ready to ship for ’24.

“A good example of that is actually with what we’re doing with BoomTech and gameplay,” Dougan said. “So we talk about an initiative which gives players more control more, more dynamic outcomes, less animation base. That’s a hard problem to solve, right? And we’ve been on this for two years. If we could have shipped it last year, we would have, but we now understand, especially like what we’re talking about with sports titles, you got to spend more time innovating, and maybe making some mistakes and taking the time to get it right. And I think from a Madden perspective, we’re really realizing the benefit of that in the product.”

That intent to build the game out not just for the immediate release but with the long-term in mind is also at the core of their efforts to revitalize Franchise mode. As EA Sports has spent years building up Ultimate Team and the game’s online functionality, fans have felt that Franchise mode has been a bit neglected. This year, they’re taking more of a focus on expanding and improving Franchise, with principal game designer Josh Looman returning to the Madden team this year and taking over the mode’s development. As Looman and Dougan explained to UPROXX, they wanted to push the team to create more immersion and make the game more dynamic, tasking the player with making tougher decisions that have impact beyond just the week-to-week and giving them a more realistic experience of running an NFL team.

“We’ve really got to nail immersion,” Looman said of his focus in returning to EA Sports. “Like, we’ve got to make this mode feel alive. We’ve got to keep doing that moving forward, but this year, especially, and let’s talk about how we can do that because, you know, that was my main feedback as I played the game last year. It was like there’s a lot of great new features, and they’re awesome, but I really would love to feel some surprises. You know, give me some new ways to develop my players and some things that I don’t expect and things I’ve got to manage and that kind of stuff along the way. And so I think that was our priority coming in.”

From a game design element, Dougan noted that the immersive element needed to not just be in creating a deeper story, but making sure the presentation matched that effort.

“When you think about what we’ve delivered in Franchise over the last two years, where, we’re really getting to a spot where we go, ‘Okay, what are we missing?’ Our fans, our players have told us that they need more, we’re delivering more and more and more,” Dougan said. “The experiences themselves are great experiences, but what we talked about — like free agency, what we could do with relocation in Madden 24 — but they’re also very menu based which is, a lot of players love that, don’t get me wrong. But creatively, I think there’s a huge opportunity, and obviously the franchise team agrees, to give you that immersion, to find new ways for you to control your team, and some surprise and delight moments. Josh and the team have added a ton of that, and then on top of that, so you got the immersion pillar, but then what else do Franchise players want? They want deep customization, we talk about that. And then of course, more depth everywhere, and they want this tuned, that tuned, this problem fixed that’s been nagging them since Madden 18 or whatever it may be. And there’s no shortage of things to improve in the mode from both a feature standpoint and just from what we call a core depth systems.”

Looman made it clear in his presentation at the Madden launch event in Orlando that he felt Franchise mode hadn’t been doing enough in terms of providing that immersive experience recently. So, when he returned to the EA Sports team, he dove in on developing a storyline that would give players a more realistic feeling of running a team, hoping to lay a foundation to continue building on for future iterations of the mode.

The result is at least 74 new dynamic storylines (with that number possibly growing by the time the game launches, “depending on how much sleep I get,” Looman noted) that will task players with more than just weekly checkpoints that pop up in the menu. During the season, you’ll see game-planning storylines pop up that are opponent specific, but also various dynamic storylines that can trigger based on what is happening in your season, and can last throughout the season — for example, managing a receiver on pace for a historic season and whether you push the ball more his way at the risk of getting out of your typical offense. As Dougan notes, the toughest part was whittling away at the countless ideas Looman brought to him, and dialing in what was vital to building that foundation and hitting on the things that would bring the biggest return on investment in this first year.

Having more in-season stories that go beyond single-game goals is exciting, but what I’m most intrigued by is how they are beefing up the offseason. What was once a list of checkpoints will now be much more built out, with the NFL Draft as a central focus now rather than a brief event on the calendar, and more roster management storylines in place. The goal was to give it a more lifelike feel, but also to force the player to think a bit deeper about their decision-making and create more consequences for actions.

“Really, it came down to looking at what teams do in real life, and coming up with a question of like, what’s your plan for the offseason?” Looman explained. “We have dynamic storylines where you could have a quarterback come to you and go, ‘I don’t have anybody to throw to. I don’t have a true number one wide receiver, and I want you to go get me one.’ And you can tell your quarterback how you’re going to do that, but you have to make some sort of promise. Or you can just say, ‘Look, you got to be fine with the guys you have,’ and he’s not going to be happy about that. But really presenting you with those moments that feel special, that makes sense contextually, and also like, force you to make tough decisions along the way. Like it’s another thing I’ve hated in stories in the past in all sports games, is sometimes it just feels like you’ve got two options and you’re like, ‘Okay, that one doesn’t matter and that one doesn’t matter.’ And I don’t want that. Like, I want to give you plenty of rewards with these things, but I also want you to have to make promises and hold to them. Because part of that is helping you develop your team and build your team down the road. So your quarterback’s right. Bryce Young does need weapons. Like he needs you to build around him and if bringing that to you through a storyline helps guide you through the process of making your team better, that’s a good thing.”

On the Draft side, they got Roger Goodell scanned into the game for the first time and built out the Draft presentation to look more like it does in real life. However, a better presentation can only get you so far with players, and as the Madden team knows, they have to continue to go back and look at how the game is playing and be self-critical about the areas that need improving. With regards to the Draft, they realized there wasn’t enough realism in the way guys moved up and down boards throughout the process, with little in the way of smaller moves within rounds and too many random guys jumping up a ton of spots.

This year, they’ll have guys shuffle up and down more from the Combine to Draft night. As the GM, you’ll have to be more aware of that movement on the draft projections to know if your top target will still be available when you’re picking, or if other teams have moved him up and you might need to look at trading up. As Looman notes, the Draft is too big a part of the NFL calendar to have it be a secondary element of Franchise mode.

“I think for me, it comes down to, it’s such an important part of real life,” Looman said. “It’s doing justice to real life in delivering that experience in Franchise mode, so that as you’re drafting you get this immediate feedback of like, there’s the actual guy and he’s holding up the jersey and like, this is a special moment for me. And then beyond that, it’s looking at all the systems around it, like we talked about and making sure that they all make sense too. So the fact that like nobody’s moving up and down draft boards at all, or you’ve got one fourth round guy that moves up 87 picks for no reason. It’s making sure that we keep an eye on that kind of stuff and carefully look at each of those things every year and go we gotta get that right. We know what happens in real life. That’s what our fans expect. Let’s deliver that same experience. If we’re not delivering it now.”

“When I look at the Draft or where the Draft is gonna end up, like, I think our players are going to be really happy with the result,” Dougan added. “But there’s always, in game development, there’s always more we can do. Like I mean, you look at the real NFL Draft and it’s a spectacle.”

Knowing what happens in real life and delivering on that in a video game is a tricky task, though, and goes beyond creating a story that captivates the person playing the game. The 31 other franchises also have to be running their teams in the background, and those decisions made by the game’s AI are just as impactful to the playing experience as the decisions Dougan, Looman, and their team are making on the story front. As such, they wanted to clean up some things that have been issues in the past, like getting players to age more realistically and having teams make roster decisions that make more sense.

“Those are our core systems that are a big part of Franchise mode, that every year require a lot of love,” Looman said. “Like you gotta do that due diligence and sit down and play it as a fan, and look at every decision that’s made. And look at them and go, why is that happening right there?”

“And every team has unique circumstances, because of salary cap, roster,” Dougan added. “So just in terms of like the matrix of all the different possibilities and scenarios, like there’s a lot of tuning and a lot of work to handle all the different cases for all the teams.”

“It really does come down to like understanding the fans’ perspective, and looking at all of the different systems, like progression and being able to recognize Derrick Henry should not be getting faster when he’s 31,” Looman noted. “It just shouldn’t be happening. So spending the time and effort to recognize those things and then be able to fix them.”

When the game releases on August 16, players will get the chance to see how much they’ve been able to improve the Franchise experience for Madden NFL 25. The team’s approach was to try and come at this as a fan of the game and be honest about what needed to change — Looman was that fan on the outside prior to his return to EA Sports.

The goal is to lay a foundation that makes the game more enjoyable and provides that richer, deeper experience. Creating that for the core Franchise player that’s playing deep into a career is a particularly unique challenge, and one Looman says is a work in progress. His goal this year was to create situations that have more depth, while also creating enough variance and unique stories to more specific situations so that players won’t feel like they’re running into the same recycled stories every single season.

“There are some limitations. Like it’s difficult to have a story that lasts like two years or something like that. But what I’ve tried to do is you are going to have some stories throughout the season that makes sense based on your opponent, right? So, like you’re facing somebody that’s got a weak offensive line, that makes sense, because that’s the team you’re playing that week and that kind of thing,” Looman explained. “But there’s also special situations, storylines that only trigger once you draft a rookie quarterback, or when you’ve got a high-round wide receiver or halfback. Like what’s your plan for that guy this year? Or, you know, we’ve got a great wide receiver right now that’s on pace like Tyreek Hill was last year halfway through the season to really like have an amazing year, that’s only going to trigger in that special situation. So you’re not going to run into that every year. But you could run into it in those moments where it makes sense over time. What I’ve tried to be careful of is, like, I don’t want the repetitive ones that show up every single week over and over and over. Your game plan ones will show up more, and setting your culture at the start of the season and that kind of stuff, but there’s others that really only are specific to your roster and show up when the situation presents itself, and I’d love to do more of those in the future.”

Uproxx was invited on a hosted trip by EA Sports for reporting on this piece. They did not review or approve this story. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.