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X-Planations #6: Who Needs EA Online?
Written By:
Nick Arvites

I’ve been holding off on writing this article for some time. I figured I should give EA some time to at least attempt to correct their online issues, though it seems it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Before getting into the bulk of the article, here is my assessment of the online features in my review of Madden 2005:

So, how is the online portion of Madden? Well, if I had to sum it up in one phrase, I’d have to say “DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR.” As an (oft rabid) Xbox Live gamer, I’ve been waiting and complaining since the launch of the service about the lack of EA support. EA, as the largest 3rd party publishing company, has an obligation to satisfy their customers. Well, when they announced they would begin supporting the Xbox this year, gamers let out a cheer. Then, the results came back, and they were painfully clear: EA Online is terrible. Let me repeat this: EA IS TERRIBLE. I have NEVER experienced this degree of gross incompetence from one of the major players in the gaming industry, and I’ve dealt with SEGA and NINTENDO before. The first noticeable problem is that the majority of people take advantage of the lack of parity and only play as the following teams: Pats, Panthers, Redskins, Eagles, Falcons and Vikings. Needless to say that in real life, the chances of the Redskins or injury plagued Panthers stomping an opponent is slim-to-none. Less than a month after the game launched, it was soon discovered that there was an online glitch. This glitch involved using the formation shift audible rapidly, and it would drain the stamina of the defense. This was dubbed the “quicksand” glitch since your defenders moved so slow that it appeared they were stuck in the field. EA’s response to this problem? Turn off fatigue for ranked games. While that initially may not sound like a bad idea, the actual practice of it is one of the worst things that happened to the game. It demolished the idea of running the ball. Since defenses never wear down, there’s no point in even trying to run since you’ll never break a huge one unless the defense screws up badly. Defenders can now bump-and-run your WRs, shutting down the pass game, and they can blitz all day without ever tiring out. The one style that sums this up is the extensive use of Quarters formation (3 DLs, 1 LB, the rest DBs) to stop EVERY style of offense. Offenses can regress to Madden 2002 and simply streak Moss/T.O./any other high profile receiver and get enough long passes to stomp you or simply run with a mobile QB without the risk of injuries. Flags are never thrown unless they’re so obvious that a blind referee can see them. Roster updates have been few, and as of this writing (late Oct./early Nov.) they have yet to update it to include the trade-deadline deals (so McKenzie is still on the Packers, McCardell is still on the Bucs, Rice is still on the Raiders, etc). My online record before they turned off fatigue: 25-14. After they disabled fatigue, my record plummeted. The discovery of several other glitches has practically made this game unplayable. These include DL glitches that allow defenders to blow past the O-line, FG/Punt block glitches that involve sprinting past the line by anticipating the meter (since you can’t delay the kick), and an entire slew of money-play slants. If you don’t like to cheese-play, Madden is not playable online. While they promised league play, it wasn’t free and required a credit card number to sign up. This feature, when it launched a month behind schedule, was also marred with problems and is barely playable, let alone user-friendly. Overall, EA’s online report card gets an F- with additional points off for essentially releasing abandon ware.

When EA and Microsoft announced last May that EA would now support Xbox Live, gamers were thrilled. Finally, we could play Madden online. Well, in actual practice, things were not all beer and flowers. EA’s online plan is a sham and completely undermines the Xbox Live service.

The very notion that I should have to sign up for an EA Online account in addition to an Xbox Live account is idiotic. Sure, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but imagine if every game forced you to do this. This is an unneeded hassle. But sure, I’m making it out as a bigger problem than it really is. However, the notion of a Premium Pass is a huge problem. One of the selling points to Xbox Live was that my $50 USD a year was the only fee (outside of premium downloadable content) I would have to pay. If you don’t know what Premium Pass is, it’s essentially an online service inside Xbox Live. In order to use the league mode, users were required to sign up for Premium Pass. While there was no charge due to Dodge sponsoring it this year, you were still required to give your credit card billing information. Premium Pass members get access to special official boards (which have since turned into a massive complaint dump) and the online league functions. While this future charge could be justified if EA delivered on their promises, they frankly did not.

The much touted leagues were not initially ready when the game shipped. Reps on the official boards promised that the leagues would be up “by the first game of the season.” Well, in reality, the leagues were not up and running until October. To make it worse, the leagues were marred with a variety of problems, the most notable being the lack of the ability to boot people out of the league. Many of the league commissioners established “house rules” to counter the glitching and cheese-play, yet they could not actually enforce these rules due to the lack of a way to boot people out of the league. Honestly, one has to look at the horrible EA league system and compare it to the ESPN system, and wonder how EA can justify getting billing information in order to use it when ESPN offers a superior system for free.

Perhaps the one thing that’s completely turned me off of EA’s online services is the lack of any sort of support from the company. The official boards are littered with complaints of the various glitches. The EA Reps that work the boards are unaccountable corporate scum. Sure, they’re not the source of the problem, but rather the result of the overall problem of EA’s business model. Basically, when the first glitches and problems came through, the Reps would say something like “I’ll look into it,” and never came back. Once the fatigue was turned off, the Reps started an online poll in the Premium Pass board to get the opinions of the “hardcore” fans on the lack of fatigue. Basically, this poll’s result showed that the vast majority (up in the 90 percentiles) of the Premium Pass members wanted fatigue turned on. After weeks of no response by the Rep, he finally came back with a “well our online polls have shown that the vast majority of people online want fatigue off, and that patching the game [as suggested by people in the forum] is not possible because it is not possible to patch a console game.” Sorry, that is simply a lie. Practically every Xbox Live game with a community has been patched. SOCOM on the PS2 has been patched. Saying that “we won’t patch a game with a game-destroying glitch” is abandon ware, plain and simple. The overall condescending attitude of the EA Reps is disgusting, and only further angers the community. Cannot patch console games? Do they honestly think that people haven’t played other games online before? This isn’t 2002, this isn’t new. Console games have been patched with success.

Did they not TEST the game before it shipped? I find it extremely hard to believe that nobody thought to try the formation-shift in an online beta-test. It only took the people who bought the game a week or two to discover this glitch. How about the horrible DL glitches? How was it not foreseen that people would move Kearse or Peppers an inch over on the screen and blow by the O-line? Have these testers actually PLAYED games before? Who thought that not allowing a delay in kicking (like in the offline game) is a good thing? That prevents people from timing the snap and jumping off the bat to very cheaply block your punt or kick. It is near impossible to get a FG or Punt off without it being blocked. None of this should happen. Turning off fatigue is not a viable solution for a buggy product. Fix the glitch, or DISABLE FORMATION SHIFTING. Formation shifts are rarely, if ever, used. EA’s “fix” of turning off the fatigue has essentially turned this game into NFL Street on the Madden engine. .IF I WANTED NFL STREET, I WOULD HAVE BOUGHT IT.

Some of you may ask, “Aren’t you being too harsh on EA? They’re still new to Xbox Live?” No. I’m not. EA has been online on the Playstation for a few years, and they know what to expect. This isn’t like it is a cold start, they’re simply giving Xbox gamers what PS2 gamers have had for a while. Madden is their franchise title. If they treat Madden with this much disregard, why would you expect anything different for the lesser games with smaller user bases? Madden 2005 is a slap in the face of the Xbox Live service and community, and one has to question why any gamer would stick with the Madden franchise when ESPN offers a better experience with no extra costs for half the price.

EA, you’ve not only lost a fan, you’ve lost a customer.

Posted: 1-9-05
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