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EA Sports VP Daryl Holt on Madden, Apex Legends, & the Return of NCAA Football

Last Updated: July 26, 2021
Ahead of this week’s #EAPlayLive event, the exec previewed what gamers can look forward to in the coming months.

Thursday marks EA Sports’ “EA Play Live” event, its annual showcase of what its millions of gamers around the world can expect in the coming months. Just like TV networks and tech companies have upfronts, this is EA Sports’ opportunity to preview what’s in store for its millions of fans around the world.

Ahead of the afternoon event, Boardroom spoke with EA Sports vice president and general manager Daryl Holt about a variety of subjects, most notably next summer’s long-awaited return of its NCAA Football title, which hasn’t been produced since 2013.

“Bringing college football back was certainly a mission of mine over the course of a few years,” Holt told Boardroom. “And that moment to be able to share that with our players, and the positive response across the industry and Internet is one of those things like ‘the Internet is all positive for a moment, let’s just enjoy it.’”

While there’s no release date to share just yet, Holt said the EA team has a lot of creative ideas in store. The biggest change, of course, since the last iteration of NCAA Football is new NIL legislation, which will be dealt with as the game is produced with the schools along with the logos, uniforms, and traditions to really represent the pageantry and traditions of college football.

If you’re eventually in player or franchise mode in NCAA Football, you’d think that NIL will ultimately become an integral component to those in-game features.

“Part of our challenge is to look at how do we authentically represent the world of sports, and in this case the college football landscape,” Holt said. “There’s new things that are coming down the pike here in the world of college football. So I think we’ll look at all types of opportunities to make sure we’re authentically representing that sport.”

When Madden NFL 22 comes out on Aug. 17, there will be plenty of changes for fans to expect, Holt said. That begins with the three key elements, in his words, to dynamic gameplay:  Gameday atmosphere, gameday momentum and the next phase of our NextGen stats and star-driven AI. But what fans were complaining about and clamoring for the most were changes to its franchise mode.

“Our core — our passionate core that gave us a lot of feedback — [was] not happy. And they were talking about Madden franchise and that we hadn’t done enough there,” Holt said. “Some of it definitely warranted. Some of it based on some features that actually, based on COVID, that we did not put in the game. It allowed us to just take a step back and listen hard to what the players were talking about, which is why franchise became a major focus.”

Looking ahead, key Madden updates include:

  • A new Face of the Franchise mode called United We Rise, which will include being able to play as a linebacker, plus a new unified class progression system to enhance the process of unlocking superstar abilities and x-factors for your player.
  • Additions and updates to The Yard and Superstar KO, including unified progression across the whole game, but also in Campaign Mode in The Yard. There will new venue rewards and live events, as well as extra customizations in Superstar KO allowing gamers to use authentic teams, stadiums, and rosters.

“Every part of the game probably has been touched in some way, including gameplay itself,” Holt said.

In terms of dynamic gameplay, EA aims to ensure making every game feel a little different whether you’re playing against other people on your couch in regular games or in franchise mode. Against AI, it’s about making sure each game is unique based on opponent, situation, location, and the emotional ebb and flow of the contest.

Cover art preview of Madden 22’s “MVP Edition” featuring Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes\
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Holt is also excited about EA Sports’ upcoming PGA Tour game in addition to the recently acquired Super Mega Baseball, which fills a longstanding gap for the company within the sport. EA is also bullish on Apex Legends, its first-person battle royale shooter game that launched in 2019, in terms of a growing player base and cross-platform engagement.

“It’s another momentum-builder for us,” he said.

What had the potential to stall momentum, however? A significant hack and data breach last month into EA, targeting FIFA, Madden, and an immense amount of source code. No player data was accessed, and there was no reason to believe there was any risk to any individual’s personal info, an EA spokesperson said at the time.

“We continue to believe that there’s no concern to any player privacy, no material risk to our games,” Holt said. “We’re working with federal law enforcement officials. It’s an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Holt and EA are looking forward to previewing what its fans can expect for the 2021-2022 sports season as it looks to build the momentum within the gaming industry from the pandemic and extend this growth period in the months and years to come. It’s part of a major internal push to grow from 230 million EA Sports players around the world to 500 million over the next five years.

“We feel bullish on sports,” Holt said. “And the company investing and growing that is a testament to that faith and why we feel confident.”