Alright, let's get this out of the way right now: I'm a sports fan. I like sports. Those comics we did a while ago about me liking sports? Accurate. Judge me all you want; my friends do it anyway.
Brad bought me Madden '10 for Christmas, which made me happy. And I've been playing it and enjoying it well enough, until one day I looked and saw a menu option for an "Ultimate Team" mode.
Further inspection revealed a free downloadable title add-on, which changed the game by allowing players to build their own custom teams in a collectible card game type of system. "Hang on," I thought. "Football AND silly card games?? You have my attention, John Madden."
When you start the game type, you name your custom team (no swears!) and are given a "starter pack," of virtual football cards, containing just enough players to form a team, a coach card, playbook cards, and uniform cards. Now, none of the cards in the starter pack are very GOOD, mind you. Madden rates its players on a scale of 50-100 (weird scale, I know), and basically all the players in your starter pack are going to be in the 50s.
Once you've got your team in order, you can start playing with it, and as you play through games, you can earn "coins," which will allow you to purchase "booster packs" to enhance your team. However, these coins are given out at an alarmingly-slow rate. You'll have to play two or three games just to buy one of the lowest-tier booster packs. Of course, there IS the option of using Microsoft points (meaning, of course, real cash dollars) to BUY coins to spend on booster packs.
Some of you are rolling your eyes already, but remember, I LIKE this kind of thing, and the rate of exchange seemed pretty fair: There are four levels of boosters (bronze, silver, gold, platinum), and ~$5 is enough for a couple gold packs.
Stay with me here, we're getting to the point.
So anyway, initially I spent probably $10 and got some pretty good players and got my team up to the point where I felt I could be competitive against other players online. I won a couple games, earned some more coins, bought some more packs, etc. It was fun.
Now let's step back for a second.
The XBox 360 is NOT a well-made piece of hardware. I'm not breaking any new ground in saying that. I'm on my third 360, as are most of my friends. And while this one's on its last legs too, it does well enough. But like an old beater car with a degenerating engine, it has its foibles: It runs better sitting horizontally rather than vertically, sometimes the disk drive won't open on the first try, blah blah. In addition to these little things unique to MY box, it seems that EA Sports games tend to not run properly on A LOT of 360s. Specifically, they will freeze and give a "disc unreadable error" even on a perfectly clean disc (forum threads detailing this problem here, here, and here), a problem that has been rampant for several years, yet never addressed by EA.
So of course, I was in the middle of an Ultimate Team game online and got a disc unreadable error. Not only did this force me to eject the disc, wipe it clean (despite the fact that it was already clean), and put it back, but I didn't gain any coins for that game. This was annoying. When it happened two more times, I was getting really pissed off.
But a funny thing happened after the third bogus error: I turned the game back on, logged onto the Ultimate Team servers, and was met with a message: "Some of your players have contracts that are about to expire. Please go to your team management screen for details."
Confused, I followed its instructions, and was met with stomach-turning news: At the bottom of each player's card is the word "Contract" with a single-digit number after it. That single digit number represents the NUMBER OF GAMES YOU CAN PLAY WITH THAT PLAYER BEFORE HE DISAPPEARS FROM YOUR COLLECTION.
Now there are provisions against losing players from your deck: Contract Extension cards! They occasionally come in booster packs, or you can BUY THEM FROM THE ULTIMATE TEAM STORE! For more points! And like we discussed earlier, just playing games with your team doesn't earn you enough coins on its own to stem the tide of your players' contracts expiring, so after a while, you're losing players at a rate you cannot control unless you SPEND MORE MONEY.
And not only that, but every time I got an error message in the middle of a game? Yeah, it took a game off of EVERY PLAYER ON MY TEAM. If someone disconnects on you before a game is over, YOU GET DOCKED A GAME OFF EVERY PLAYER. I had one guy drop on me during the COIN TOSS and it docked a game from all my players. So now the expiration date on my players is coming up without even affording me the resources to stave it off. I was trying to think of the real-world equivalent for this, and the best I could come up with would be if two teams were playing an NFL game and one team decided to get on the buses and leave at halftime, and the owners were forced to refund all the ticket money to the fans. But even that doesn't really apply, because God wouldn't smite a handful of players off the team every time this happened.
"So just don't play," you're likely saying right now. "Just play the standard Madden game and don't worry about this Ultimate Team crap." Yeah, here's the problem: Even after reading the tutorial the first time you play, the idiosyncrasies of this game type don't REALLY become clear until well after you've invested money into this garbage. I personally had invested over $20 into buying cards before I figured out what was going on.
People have bitched for years about EA's greed and the way they fleece consumers, but this is going above and beyond, even for them. They present this game as a collectible card game, like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon. But the difference is, if a little girl buys a pack of Pokemon cards, they're HERS to do with what she will. A Nintendo executive won't come to her house and threaten to rip up her cards unless she agrees to buy them AGAIN.
Anyway, rant over. Enjoy the comic.
I completely feel your pain, man. I don't play Madden, but I've experienced EA's bullshit with other games.