“In most cases, unless you’re in that 99 Club, you likely have a beef with us,” Madden 22 gameplay designer and ratings adjusterClint Oldenberg tells Boardroom.
The release of Madden every year is a spectacle among football fans and video gamers. Ironically, fans and players anxiously await to see what the players’ ratings will be. And when Madden ratings are revealed each year, players are either excited about their rating or furious and there isn’t a middle ground. It’s an established football ritual.
Players in Madden’s exclusive “99 Club” can’t complain and those that have been in it in the past are content with being rated slightly lower than the peak. Those who are avid Madden players but are not in a 99 reliably express dissatisfaction with the game’s developers. Even rookies expect their ratings to be in the 80s, but in most cases, they debut in the game in the 70s.
“We certainly want to hear from all players, whether they are upset or happy. But to be honest with you, in most cases, unless you’re in that 99 Club, you likely have a beef with us,” Clint Oldenberg, a former NFL offensive lineman turned Madden’s lead gameplay designer and adjustor, told Boardroom. “Ultimately, it’s not just the stat sheet that drives our ratings. Just like player evaluation in real life, there’s a lot more to the game than stats. We use data points from Pro Football Focus. We use Next Gen Stats, who Madden has a partnership with to evaluate players.”
In the past, player frustrations have arisen from a perception that those who have never played football professionally are evaluating them without any authentic experience. To combat this, EA Sports brought in several former players to serve as ratings adjusters.
The idea is that players would be more accepting of increases and decreases in their overall ratings if they come from fellow travelers who were once in that very same position. Former NFLers who have or currently are participating in the program include Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders and former Bengals wideout Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson.
Sanders has stood on NFL sidelines evaluating running backs, while Johnson can be found on the game’s official social channels starring in comical videos explaining which players are trending upward in Madden 22.
“On the other side, they bring another level of validation to our ratings,” Oldenberg said. “For example, it’s really easy for Keenan Allen to argue with me. Even though I played he doesn’t have any idea who I am, I was a backup offensive lineman. He can look at me and say, ‘What do you know about playing receiver? But if he’s having that discussion with Chad, he’s going to trust that he understands the nuance better.”
The 99 overall rating remains the ultimate Madden goal for any NFL player — but it wasn’t always this way. Twenty years ago, there were a select few players who were rated a 100 overall in Madden NFL 99 and Madden NFL 2000. No one has touched the 100 overall since then. At different points in time, there has been a small cohort to touch 100 in specific rating sub-categories like speed, which Devin Hester had in Madden NFL 08.
Tyreek Hill, who at the launch of Madden was rated at 98 — he’s now a 97 — has been campaigning to have his own speed rating changed to 100. As the Chiefs playmaker said in an Instagram post:
“I had a really fun time racing my brother [Mecole Hardman] in the 50m [dash]. We pride ourselves every day to prove who the fastest guy in the room [is]. Madden I need that 100 speed please.”
But game developers are still finding the balance as to how to utilize a potential 100 rating without delegitimizing the 99 Club. “It’s certainly something we’ve talked about [in] depth for a number of years. We’d love to do something there, but the challenge is making sure that if we can go above 99, we don’t want a player to feel like they have a 99, but a 100 makes the 99 feel like an 82,” Oldenberg said.
All told, Madden 22’s overall reception was improved compared to last year’s game, but fans are hoping developers continue to add new features that make the game even closer to a proper football simulation than it already is.
EA plans to release title updates throughout the year to help with this — but even decades from now, don’t expect players outside the absolute pinnacle of the game’s ratings leaderboard to sit in quiet contentment over where the game has them pegged.
It’s just tradition.