Madden 25: a freemium fail or cash cow?

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Kevin Ford

September 19th, 2013

For the first time in its 25 years of existence, EA released a freemium version of Madden. Madden, their flagship game! Previous mobile versions sold for $4.99. This is significant because even though EA has publicly stated, “(freemium) is where things are going,” most of their legacy titles on mobile are still paid.

Because of this, the mobile version of Madden 25 has received mixed reviews, mostly in response to its aggressive in-app purchase strategy. As Ben Sipe points out in his post about King removing ads from Candy Crush Saga, strong IPs can live on in-app purchases, but they would make a lot more with ads because 95% of users will never make an in-app purchase.

Although EA is making a killing with Madden 25, many are skeptical about applying an IAP-based freemium strategy to a game that was born in the console world. Prior to the first update, the game was averaging a three star App Store rating with a dead split between five star reviews (37%) and one star reviews (36%). With so many conflicting reviews, we decided to ask the Games Task Force for their perspective.

 

The NativeX Games Task Force provides highly specialized one-on-one consultation to NativeX partners, helping them increase the engagement, retention, and monetization of their freemium games.

Was freemium the right approach for Madden 25?

Ben Sipe

Game and Monetization Consultant, NativeX Games Task Force
This is the right move for the Madden series on mobile. Madden has always been a skill game, but the controls just don’t work well on touch screens. Madden 12 was a little better with the “slow down” mechanic but it still wasn’t anywhere near the quality of the console versions.

The mobile version of Madden 25 takes the Madden series into a completely new category as a stat game. You build a team by obtaining cards, you earn plays by leveling up and you can play asynchronous games against friends. It’s like Madden with RPG elements!

Now of course there will be people who are upset by this (and they will be vocal about it) but it’s definitely the better experience for the platform. There are bugs, exploits and things that could have been done better, but like I said this is a step in the right direction for the Madden series on mobile.

With a few updates I think this will be the best football game on mobile to date.

 

Chris Harris

Game and Monetization Consultant, NativeX Games Task Force
I have to preface my response with the fact I am not an avid Madden player. I lost interest in the franchise in 2007 because my time was too limited for the increasingly complex controls, and I could no longer keep up with friends who were playing for hours every day. This is the primary reason I like the new Madden 25 for iOS.

The controls are simple enough for me to quickly understand without having to mess around. Turn based PVP games are fun enough for a quick play experience and I enjoy the card pack upgrades. Now for the pitfalls.

Madden 25 is in desperate need of some balance… At the start, I repeatedly ran the same play and got a touchdown (HB counter trap). The AI is not smart enough to pick up on multiple uses of a play! Also, plays start too limited and the cost of premium currency for unlocking more is way off. Not a fan of that.

I think this is a good start for a Madden mobile experience but they still have a long way to go for it to be great.

 

Trevor McCalmont

Games Analyst, NativeX Games Task Force
I dislike how Madden 25 constantly nickel and dimes the user. I started with 17 defensive plays, 5 running plays, and 8 passing plays. A few more plays were unlocked as I leveled up, but most of the plays are only available when you pay 25+ coins per use. There are 40-50 running plays, short passing plays, and long passing plays, but the user only has access to a little over 10% of them.

Also, there’s constantly an option to skip missions and games for premium currency. Most games are generous enough to at least let you have a taste of the advantages that premium currency unlocks, but not Madden 25.

To me, the freemium model means a user can experience some or most of a game for free, and power users or those who love the product have the option of spending money to unlock extra features, equipment, vanity items, or experience the content faster. We’ve seen EA get the freemium model right with The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Real Racing 3, but this is basically a paywall which, based on the thousands of 1-star App Store reviews, is alienating console Madden players (including me).

On to the game mechanics. The game is clunky. I’ve played for about an hour now and the AI is much better at controlling the players than I am. When I run the ball, I usually get 3-5 yards, and I have moderate success passing the ball. The AI running the same play over and over (HB Counter Trap) gets a TD 50% of the time.

When I’m on defense, there is a swipe mechanic to deflect passes. You drag your finger up the screen when the ball is near your player and he raises his arms to intercept/deflect the pass. The only problem is when the ball gets close to my cornerback and I swipe, he starts running the opposite direction making the catch easier for the WR. If I just let my defensive AI play, the pass is usually incomplete anyway. On both offense and defense, my team plays better when I don’t play. Not exactly the most fun video game when my best option is to do nothing.

I haven’t ruled out the option that I’m just bad at Madden 25, but I think someone who understands football fairly well and has played 10+ years of the Madden franchise should be able to pick up the mobile version within the first hour.

The next two points are a bit more petty, but they annoy me nonetheless. First, all of the missions/tasks are called Super Bowls. The opening goal is to beat the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Next, the user plays the Chiefs in a “Super Bowl,” and the third mission is to beat the Jaguars in a “Super Bowl.” This nomenclature quickly took the excitement out of my wins and just doesn’t make sense if you are making a football game whose primary audience I’m guessing would be football fans.

The second thing that annoys me is the player rankings are so removed from reality. My favorite team is the San Francisco 49ers. I grew up in the Bay Area and have been a Niners fan my whole life. Justin Smith, who ESPN recently ranked as the 11th best defensive player in football, has a value of 51 out of 99. Just for perspective, that makes Justin Smith the worst player on the 49ers defense in this distorted reality.

All that said, Madden 25 is climbing Top Grossing charts right now, so I’m clearly in the minority. Regardless, I’ll be sticking to my Xbox when I want to play a football game.

What are your thoughts on Madden 25 going freemium?

The Games Task Force was split 2:1 in favor of Madden going freemium. What’s your take? Let us know in the comments below.

Kevin Ford

Marketing Manager

2013-09-19

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