Handicapping: Madden 09 TV spot


Did EA inadvertently confirm that handicapping exists in a TV spot used to advertise Madden 09? We will find out.

Back in 2008, EA released a TV spot as part of an advertising campaign for Madden 09. In the spot, the narrator says that “…the computer compensates for what she [his 8-year-old daughter] lacks defensively…” The clip is a regular part of the arsenal of purported evidence brought up by handicapping believers, because it talk about a Madden feature which would level the playing field between players with different capabilities.

As I however will explain in this post, the feature described in the Madden spot has no connection with the alleged FIFA handicap.

Game styles

Allow me to make a blunt, but nevertheless fully justified statement: The people who brought up this tv spot as evidence in favor of handicapping never played Madden 09. There wasn’t a handicap in Madden 09.

The TV spot refers to a concept called ‘game styles’. Before an offline multiplayer match, each of the players would choose a game style. If a player chose ‘Beginner’, he would get assisted by the AI and would essentially have fewer controls to worry about than a player who chose ‘Advanced’. Allowing players to compete across different capabilities was highly relevant in 2008 when online multiplayer gaming still was in its infancy. Most of the time, you would be playing against the AI or against your friend at home.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it.


Closing a capability gap

Although you can argue that game styles in some sense will even out a capability gap between two players, it ought to be clear that the concept fundamentally was different from the alleged FIFA handicap:

  • First and foremost, it wasn’t a handicap! Game styles didn’t make your players sluggish or slow, and it didn’t cause you to concede unfair goals etc. All it did was to determine the amount of assistance you would get when controlling your players.
  • Game styles wasn’t secretly enforced upon you against your will. As seen in the screen dump above, the players would pick their individual game style settings before the match started.
  • Think about this for a second: They advertised game styles back then! This is why it is a TV spot. If they put money into building something like handicapping, wouldn’t they go out and advertise its positive aspects rather than deny it’s existence? If this TV spot tells anything about EA’s mentality, this has to be it: They advertise their investments rather than keeping them a secret. Think about how they presented price ranges when they came out.

Cherry picking

The fact that the Madden spot is brought up as evidence illustrates a point that I have made on multiple occasions: People believe in scripting and handicapping for all the wrong reasons. Scientists look at all the evidence at hand and draw a conclusion. Handicapping believers, like all other conspiracy theorists, draw a conclusion and look for evidence to support it and ignore the information that doesn’t fit in.

In this case, the purported evidence consists of one single sentence, which – when you disconnect it completely from its context – in principle could fit with the handicapping theory.

The mere and not surprising fact that Madden 09 and all FIFA versions of course allows people with different capabilities to compete, obviously doesn’t lead to the conclusion that EA would be willing to implement a sinister concept like handicapping.

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