When Madden 20 came out, featuring some menu narration, some vibration queues, and some other assistive features, we were all so, so excited. Sure, Madden 20 wasn’t by any means a perfectly accessible game. Plenty of things that, ideally, should have been narrated, were not. The playbooks, tutorial messages, the entire first part of Face of the Franchise, text messages received during franchise mode, and a few others. Sure, vibration queues weren’t enough on their own to give us all the information we needed, and some additional audio queues would have been nice. Sure to all that and more. Yet still, we were stoked, and I ended up playing that game for months! Why? Because to us, it wasn’t just about that game. It was about the hope that Madden 20 represented. “Oh man,” we thought, and on occasion said aloud. “If Madden 20’s accessibility is this good, just imagine what Madden 21 is gonna be like! Oh man, I can’t wait!” Our hope gave those missing or incomplete accessibility features a pass because we knew, we just KNEW, that it was only going to get better from here.
Enter Madden 21, a game that has some people merely very, very disappointed, others up in arms with anger. I personally find myself switching between the 2 emotions. All our hope, all our certainty, and yes, all our feedback, amounted to absolutely nothing. Madden 21 is not only completely unimproved when it comes to accessibility, but in a couple ways, it is actually worse. This is not the game we had been dreaming of. The one we couldn’t wait for. It is, at least to the blind, almost the equivalent of a beta for Madden 20. Part of me finds this unacceptable. We should, after all, be striving for improvement. Part of me is simply sad at the copy/paste nature of the accessibility in this game, in spite of the fact that we had asked for things and provided feedback for the entirety of the previous year.
Let me take a moment briefly to outline why Madden 21 is actually worse than Madden 20. For me, this came down to 2 things. First, while Ultimate Team was never fully narrated, it was narrated enough that we could make due, and I had quite a lot of fun with it in Madden 20. Now, though, it has even les narration. Get a new player, and then attempt to compare them with the players filling the same slot on your roster. Madden 21’s text to speech will simply say “is selected” as you highlight each slot, and not give you the player breakdown it did last year. We have no idea who is in those slots now. Who we are comparing our brand new player to. Should we promote them to starter? Might they be better than who is there now? We don’t know. This was a tremendous letdown for me, as while I had already heard there were no improvements with text to speech, I really, really didn’t think it would actually get worse.
The second issue that got to me is one that some may not consider an accessibility feature, but absolutely is. Many sounds in the game, even with SFX at full volume, are much, much quieter. The menu sounds, for instance. All the menu sounds are brand new, which in itself isn’t a problem except that they are all very short, and quite difficult to hear with a roaring crowd in the background. In Madden 20, I used to use the menu sounds as a marker for when it was time to pick a play, because then I would more often avoid doing dumb things like spiking the ball, for instance. These sounds are so difficult to hear now that I can’t do this, and now simply just wait several seconds, hoping the play menu is up and that I’m not pressing a button I will regret.
The sound of a ball being thrown is also quite quiet now, and can also occasionally be drowned out. And while we have the vibration queue, whether EA realizes this or not, that vibration queue does not always trigger when a ball is thrown. Last year, I simply assumed that the not-triggering happened during moments where our player-controlled character could not hope to block the pass, but I never really knew why it didn’t always fire. Regardless, this was another sound I relied on, and while it isn’t as bad a situation as the menu noises, it is still a noticeable negative to my experience.
To be completely fair, there were a couple of non-accessibility-related auditory positives as well which I’ll mention. First, incoming text messages in Franchise mode play sounds now as each piece comes in, and they use the very commonly used iPhone messaging sounds. Second, I do like how the audio mix between commentary and stadium announcer is adjusted to stand out. If commentary is not actively speaking, the stadium announcer is brought into the forefront, making it much easier to hear. I uh, didn’t want this to be a wholly negative blog.
Positives aside, though, this is a blog I had to write the second I stopped playing the Madden 21 trial, of which I still have about 4 hours remaining. Whether you’re angry or disappointed in Madden 21, this cannot and should not be ignored. We had every reason to believe these things were being worked on, that they would be better in Madden 21 than they were in 20 because possibilities were being explored. EA Sports Accessibility lead Karen Stevens was, in my opinion, optimistic for the future. And for my part, I have expressed my desire to work with EA multiple times, even in person. Even now, despite all this, I would LOVE to dive in with them and see what we could come up with together.
So what happened? Why is Madden 21 not improved, even in the slightest? Why was none of our feedback on Madden 20 heard? Should we continue to hold out hope, or should we simply accept that EA has done all they ever intend to do? I don’t have these answers, but I do know this. This is not how you build trust. This is not how you retain customers. We wanted so badly to see what a fully accessible Madden game was like. We were ready after Madden 20. Instead, what we got was Madden 21. I’ll repeat here what I said on Twitter. I will absolutely not be purchasing the game, because I have no desire to support a game that continues not to care about what we want or need. I am constantly reminded that accessibility is a process, and I know this to be true in part. But it is a process Madden 21 does not follow. EA, do better. Thanks for reading.